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:

Monday, March 28, 2022

Friday, March 25, 2022

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Belated Museum Mondays

Stone effigy of a man, seen from shoulders up only, head resting on a pillow, hilt of a sword in his hand.

Effigy of Don García de Osorio (detail)
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
November, 2019


Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Professor Jane Carr

Professor Jane Carr, far left, judging a kata contest.
Healdsburg, 1987

Professor Jane Carr, 10th degree black belt, whom I'd known for nearly 40 years, died early in March at 83, following health problems, the details of which I'm not privy to, that culminated in a severe stroke. 

Prof. Carr started practicing jujitsu in 1960 not long after her first or second daughter was born. She was school head of the Redding Jujitsu Academy for at least the last 45 years, I think longer.


She was incredibly tough and consequently got hurt many times when she was coming up through the ranks. Bad knees, bad shoulders, thrown on her head once, etc. I remember her saying sometime in the last few years that she hoped the folks she was talking to - in a class or a side conversation - would be more careful with their bodies than she was. 


She taught Danzan Ryu jujitsu and, not at all incidentally, some very serious self-defense classes. I was once present when she described how she ran the final class: she divided up her dojo, which is quite large, into screened-off sections, with one self-defense student in each, and then she would enter each section and attack, with the student having to then defend herself against a high-ranking black belt. If you survived that, well, you were well-equipped to survive a physical attack by a less-well-equipped  person.


Prof. Carr taught these classes in part because of her own history of childhood sex abuse, I think by a family member. She was extremely forthright about this, unusual, I think, for a woman of her generation.

She had thousands of students over the years, in part because she had a large and active kids' program. I saw her teach a kids' class once and it was inspirational. She had rules and expectations that the kids would follow them; she was completely respectful of them as individuals, and she knew how to safely challenge them to their limits.


She was married four times (twice divorced, twice widowed) and had two daughters from her first marriage; she had several grandchildren.


She was enormously influential in the American Judo & Jujitsu Foundation and trained I-don't-know-how-many black belts, as well as being sensei to two other women currently on the AJJF board of professors, one her own daughter. I have fond memories of a short self-defense class that she taught at camp one year; I had bruises from blocking full-speed strikes for a week. And also fond memories of her beautiful jujitsu; at the 2015 AJJF convention, when she was 75 I remember her demonstrating techniques from one of the advanced lists of techniques, and I'll tell you that I have not seen them done more beautifully than she did them that day.

When I started jujitsu in 1982, Prof. Carr and Prof. Betty Maillette, who founded my first dojo, were the only active professors who were women. They were very different in teaching style and how they lived their lives. They were not natural allies and I suspect that there might have been some friction between them. I've always been sorry about that, while understanding the reasons. They were both important to my training, and because Prof. Maillette retired from jujitsu around when I started, I had quite a bit more mat time with Prof. Carr. Because I was in Prof. Maillette's dojo and a student of her students, I still trained more in her tradition than Prof. Carr's.


RIP Laurel Jane Carr-Rhyn, to give her her full name as printed in her obit. All of Danzan Ryu will miss you.

Goings-on at San Francisco Symphony

Davies Symphony Hall, a concert hall with large glass windows and a curved corner, lit up at night.

Davies Symphony Hall at Night

Regular readers and fans of San Francisco Symphony know that the orchestra has many openings, following a large number of retirements and the death of principal cellist Michael Grebanier. (The list in my link doesn't include the recently retired principal harp Douglas Rioth and associate concertmaster Nadya Tichman's decision to step down from that post.) SFS has conducted auditions for several of the openings (principal flute, principal cello) and recently it has looked as though candidates are getting trial weeks. We've seen the following players in the orchestra recently:
  • Erik Gratton, principal flute of the Nashville Symphony, in the Creatures of Prometheus concert and the program with the Bryce Dessner violin concerto on it.
  • Denis Bouriakov, principal flute of the LA Philharmonic, program with Song of the Flaming Phoenix
  •  Sébastian Jacot, principal flute of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, in the Ogonek/Stravinsky program. He's the guy with the wooden flute, a novelty in a US orchestra
  • Austin Huntington, principal cellist of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (Liszt/Scriabin)
  • Rainer Eudeikis, principal cello of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Creatures of Prometheus)
If you've missed SFS principal trumpet Mark Inouye, he has been on leave but expect to be back soon.


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Nikola Printz Schwabacher Recital Media Round-Up

Nikola Printz, mezzo-soprano, in a masculine suit, in front of a piano, with Jon Mendle on guitar.

Nikola Printz, mezzo-soprano, with Jon Mendle, guitar (and theorbo).
They're performing Schubert.
Photo by Kristen Loken, care of San Francisco Opera

Last week, I got to hear (and review) a truly remarkable recital by Nikola Printz, mezzo-soprano. Fabulously sung and acted, marvelously chosen repertory, great collaborators. What more could you ask?

Printz will be in the Merola Opera program this summer, so look for more opportunities to hear them then.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Trinity Church Fires Julian Wachner

Monument in the Trinity Church graveyard

Well, that didn't take long. On February 28, Trinity Church learned of a sexual assault allegation against its choir director Julian Wachner, who runs their very well-funded music programs. (Trinity owns real estate in NYC and has an investment portfolio worth $6 billion, which is not a typo. This is the kind of thing that happens when you have held on to real property since the 18th c.) He was put on leave within the last couple of days, as Javier C. Hernández reported yesterday. Today, Trinity fired him, issuing a statement indicating that it "concluded based on recent information that Julian has otherwise conducted himself in a manner that is inconsistent with our expectations of anyone who occupies a leadership position."

I saw some comments on Facebook indicating that Wachner has a reputation for bullying people he works with in various capacities, which would be sufficient reason, in my opinion, to fire someone. Trinity's statement says that the investigation into him is ongoing.

Compare and contrast Trinity's actions with those of, say, the Metropolitan Opera, which heard those rumors about James Levine for decades before finally being forced to conduct an investigation that found credible evidence of his misbehavior.


Museum Mondays


Household Shrine and Household Goods from Villa B
Last Supper at Pompeii
Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
August, 2021

Friday, March 11, 2022

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Regional Opera Companies

On Twitter this morning, I mentioned that I appreciate Joshua Kosman taking note in his LVO Otello review of the value of what regional companies do. That production is a stellar example of what a small company can do with imagination, strong casting, smart direction, and great conducting. In addition to LVO, West Edge Opera, Opéra Parallele, Opera San José, West Bay Opera, Ars Minerva, and other small companies do vital work.

These companies are often able to stage works that the heavy hitter in our neck of the woods - San Francisco Opera - doesn't do, or hasn't gotten to, or fears they can't sell tickets to. These days, I'm seeing way more operas new to me at the smaller companies than at SFO, because they're not invested in staging Butterfly / Traviata / Barber / Magic Flute all the time. SFO is bigger, needs to sell more tickets, and is more risk-averse because of the size of their house and the size of their budget. 

SFO has a spectacular centennial season coming up, and yet the only two works on it that I've never seen are the two commissions. Even with all of the hoopla and fundraising associated with the season, they couldn't get above presenting eight operas. As recently as the 1980s and 90s, they were scheduling far more operas. Look at 1990-91: I'm counting....15 operas, although Suor Angelica and Pagliacci must have been a double bill. There were also four concerts! There were more subscribers, which meant more room for risk, more operas with fewer performances of each, and more choices for opera goers. Now, with fewer subscribers, there are real limits on what companies think they can sell. Wondering why you haven't seen Wozzeck or Lulu at SFO in a while? That's why.

So treasure your regional opera companies. They're taking chances, staging rarities, reviving recent works that haven't been heard since their premieres, spotlighting wonderful singers who don't appear on the international circuit, and doing this all on small budgets. Buy tickets, donate if you can, support their work.

Otello at Livermore Valley Opera

My SFCV review of Livermore Valley Opera's Otello is now posted. Briefly, it is a rave. Joshua Kosman also raved, more eloquently than I did. Our vocabulary overlaps a bit; you'll find "electrifying" in both reviews. I didn't discuss one regular problem with productions of the opera, on the grounds that the production photos would speak to the issue.

This definitely falls under the rubric of "the little opera company that could." LVO has an annual budget of under $500,000, according to the 990 forms that I glanced at this weekend, and yet they've managed to stage a production of Verdi's Otello - a problem opera if ever there was one - that I found more dramatically cogent and just plain exciting than the last two bring-ups at San Francisco Opera, a company that spends roughly $1 million per performance.

I mean, those productions had issues. The 2002 production was announced with Ben Heppner singing the title role. He withdrew and was replaced by four tenors, each singing from one to four and a fraction performances. Yes, really: Jon Fredric West dropped out of the performance of October 26 after one act, with Antonio Barasorda singing acts 2, 3, and 4. I caught Vladimir Galouzine and remember him sounding vocally clumsy. Sergei Leiferkus, a wonderful singer in the right repertory, was badly miscast as Jago; he had the trill (YES THERE'S A TRILL THERE) but sounded nothing like an Italian baritone. Patricia Racette sang beautifully. I vaguely recall that Donald Runnicles wasn't at his best. I should check; I probably have notes someplace.

Okay, my comments about 2002:

 Galouzine was okay, which is much better than anyone has said West was;   it's the right kind of voice except that he sounds like a baritone. I don't just mean baritonal, I mean _baritone_, as in more of a baritone than Leiferkus. (I get impressions of nausea from everyone who has mentioned West.) Racette was terrific; Leiferkus sounds very dry and verging on wobble - at least he can trill and sound nasty at will. 
The performance didn't really gel very well. The orch. was surprisingly sloppy and Runnicles seemed to be beating time at various points. The scene with the Venetian ambassador lost all momentum, for example.

The most recent production, in November, 2009, had completely different problems. I heard the last performance, and Nicola Luisotti's conducting sounded so disengaged that I figured he was already mentally checked out and on his way to guest conduct elsewhere. Marco Vratogna shouted most of Jago. Zvetelina Vassileva was forgettable, and had so little chemistry with Johan Botha that she never looked at him during the love duet! Botha...what can one say? He sang like an angel; I know that I'll never hear a more beautiful sound in the love duet. But he could not act, was facially inexpressive, and not very mobile on stage. It was a really dispiriting performance.

So it's a real thrill to see an Otello production that's firing on more cylinders than you would think possible: terrific singing from the three principals, real drama, good direction, and fiery conducting.

There are two more performances, on Saturday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, March 13 at 2 p.m. Really, you should go!

Monday, March 07, 2022

Museum Mondays

Fresco of Bacchus and Mount Vesuvius
Last Supper at Pompeii
Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
August, 2021


Thursday, March 03, 2022

Classical Music and the Invasion of Ukraine

Mark Rothko
Untitled ("Blue and Yellow", 1954)

It appears that the international career of Putin-loving conductor Valery Gergiev is over. Here are links to a few articles.

Related: Anna Netrebko won't be singing at the Met this season or next, and Peter Gelb says it's hard to imagine a scenario where she returns. The soprano and her husband withdrew this week from some European engagements as well. It's a big deal for the Met; Netrebko is one of the very few singers who reliably sell out the giant theater. Another is no longer appearing with the company for heinous personal behavior.

At the Teatro Real in Madrid, this happened at the last performance of Robert Carsen's Götterdämmerung:

I imagine there was a collective gasp from the audience. The performance, under Pedro Heras-Casado, sounds crackling. Gutrune is Amanda Majeski; Hagen is the great Stephen Milling. Adreas Schager is presumably under the shroud.

All over the world, performers are dedicating performances to Ukraine and Ukrainians; the Ukrainian national anthem is being sung before performances (Metropolitan Opera before Don Carlos; Czech Philharmonic, where Semyon Bychkov denounced the invasion), and so on.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Update on MTT

Michael Tilson Thomas
Photo by Brandon Patoc (c), 2019
Courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

Well, damn. MTT, who was diagnosed last year with a brain tumor, is stepping down as the artistic director of the New World Symphony. He has released a moving letter with some details of his diagnosis and treatment:

Dear Friends,

My return to performing these last months has been very special. The 20 concerts with the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the San Francisco Symphony were heartwarming. Making music with these great artists and for so many friends in the audience felt like coming home, like coming back to life. I couldn’t have been happier.

It takes strength to meet the demands of the music and to collaborate on the highest level with the remarkable musicians who so generously welcomed me. I now see that it is time for me to consider what level of work and responsibilities I can sustain in the future.

I have not publicly discussed my medical diagnosis. I have Glioblastoma Multiforme, a type of aggressive brain cancer. I had an operation to remove what was visible and had radiation and chemotherapy. Currently the cancer is in check. But the future is uncertain as Glioblastoma is a stealthy adversary. Its recurrence is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception.

I’m taking stock of my life and will be reducing my administrative responsibilities. I have decided that, after 34 years, I will be stepping down as the Artistic Director of the New World Symphony. This organization, which I co-founded with Lin and Ted Arison, has been and will continue to be a vital and ever-growing resource for musicians. I’m proud of what we have accomplished and very proud of our 1,200 alumni. I will soon assume the role of Artistic Director Laureate and will dedicate myself to working with the NWS Fellows and Alumni on adventurous projects that have long been close to my heart.

I look forward to my work the remainder of this season with orchestras in the United States and Europe and to the many musical collaborations planned for next season. I intend to stick around for a bit. Creating and collaborating to make great music is what it’s all about for me. Every moment on stage with my colleagues is memorable. I want to thank all who have been supportive during this time, especially my husband Joshua Robison. He has always been by my side and is, as ever, my hero.

I will continue to compose, to write, and to mull over your thoughts and mine. I’m planning more time to wonder, wander, cook, and spend time with loved ones – two legged and four. Life is precious.

I send affection and gratitude.

Michael TT

Affection and profound gratitude back at you, Michael TT. Wishing you the best.