Sunday, December 31, 2023

A Suggestion to Non-Profit Organizations

I just unsubscribed from the mailing list of an organization that I've been donating to for several years, and earlier this fall, I exchanged email with a representative of an organization I've been donating to for decades. In both cases, it was because of the volume of email I'd received in a short period asking for a donation (in both cases, an additional donation).

In the first case, I'd received nine emails in December. That was after donating in July and having my employer match the amount of the donation. In the second, I had donated at or above my recent level and I'd gotten a partial match from my employer, but I'd received six different physical and email requests for an additional donation during November and early December.

I don't know who develops strategies for soliciting donors or what data they have backing up their strategies. I do know that no organization wants to irritate their regular donors. 

I'm also aware that I might be more irritable that most donors. I got so annoyed with an organization I've donated to since the late 1990s that I had them remove me from all email and physical mailings many years ago. It hasn't kept me from donating, because they serve a fundamental social need that's important to me to support. (Feeding the hungry - it's an obscenity that anyone goes hungry in our incredibly wealthy country.)

So here's the strategy that I would suggest nonprofits consider:
  • If a donor has donated once during the year, solicit them once and only once toward the end of the year for an additional. Make sure to thank them for the first donation.
  • If a donor has donated twice, again, solicit at most once more. And thank them for both of those donations.
  • If you're sending email to someone who has never donated, maybe think about why and whether sending multiple solicitations is going to work. Do you survey nondonors to see what they are thinking?
Maybe the repeated solicitations get more money from some donors; maybe they shake loose the first donation from others. I have no data, and presumably the organizations following these patterns do. I'm not a donor at the level of tens or hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars; I'm sure that those donors get kid-glove treatment from the organizations they donate to, and absolutely never feel harassed. I don't want that kind of treatment (even if I were able to donate at that level....), but I definitely do not want to feel bombarded by the organizations I donate to. And I don't think that is too much to ask.

Opera 2023

Over at Boulezian, Mark Berry has a summary of his operatic year, and after reading it, I decided to do one myself. In the process, I discovered that three operas never made it onto the list of operas I've seen, so, I'm particularly glad to have gone through this exercise. Here's what I saw in 2023, in alphabetical order by composer.

  • Aa, van der, Blank Out
  • Bates, The Revolution of Steve Jobs
  • Britten, The Rape of Lucretia
  • Davis, The Life and Times of Malcolm X (Met HD)
  • Debussy, Pelléas et Mélisande (Two productions, superb in every way at LA Opera, a muddled production at Santa Fe)
  • Dvořák, Rusalka
  • Frank, El último sueño de Frida y Diego
  • Giddens and Abel, Omar
  • Martinez, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna
  • Monteverdi, L'Orfeo
  • Monteverdi, L'incoronazione di Poppea
  • Moravec, The Shining
  • Oh, The Emissary
  • Puccini, Madama Butterfly
  • Reagon and Reagon, Octavia Butler's The Parable of the Sower
  • Saariaho, Adriana Mater
  • Schoenberg, Erwartung
  • Shearer, Prospero's Ghost
  • Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten
  • Stravinsky, The Nightingale
  • Verdi, Il Trovatore
  • Verdi, Falstaff
  • Wagner, Die Fliegende Hollander
  • Wagner, Lohengrin
  • Wallen, Dido's Ghost
Twenty-six operas, twelve of them new to me. I saw multiple performances of the operas I reviewed at San Francisco (Frida y Diego, Frau, Omar, Lohengrin) and the LAO Pelléas

Looking forward to 2024, most companies haven't announced their seasons, but there are Der Zwerg and Highway 1 at LAO, Bulrusher at West Edge Opera, Bluebeard's Castle at SFS, The Cunning Little Vixen and The Merry Wives of Windsor at Pocket Opera, Florencia en el Amazonas at Opera San José, The Finch Opera, Balls, and Fellow Travelers at Opera Parallele, the Barrie Kosky Magic Flute at SFO, and above all,  the American premiere of Kaija Saariaho's Innocence, also at SFO. I expect to see all of the Santa Fe operas but it's more individual performances than the particular operas that I'm looking forward to.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Public Service Announcement: SFS/Salonen, Scriabin, Bartók Program

Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco
November, 2023
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

The San Francisco Symphony program for March 1-3, 2024, is as follows:
  • Scriabin, Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano)
  • Bartók, Duke Bluebeard's Castle (Gerald Finley, Michelle DeYoung)
A few weeks ago, SFS sent around a press release with what I will call an update to the above program. The works and performers remain the same, but there are additions:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—The San Francisco Symphony and Cartier are pleased to announce a multisensory performance of Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus, The Poem of FireMarch 1–3, 2024 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.  
Devised by San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Cartier in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent, this collaboration marks the world premiere of an immersive presentation of Prometheus that combines a dynamic musical and light performance with olfactory curation. 
In ancient Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus stole fire from his fellow gods on Mount Olympus and gifted it to humankind, thereby endowing mortals with the technology vital for civilization. Scriabin’s 1910 tone poem, Prometheus, The Poem of Fire, captures the monumentality of this legend and its consequences for humanity. Scriabin envisioned a total, consuming work of art, one that encapsulated his own synesthetic leanings (he reportedly saw sound in color), ultimately subliming his audiences to another plane of consciousness.   
“Scriabin scored Prometheus for light and color as well as music, but one of his dreams was to add more senses to the score, including scent. This idea has always fascinated me, as somebody who has always loved working together with artists from a variety of disciplines,” says Thibaudet. “I am excited that we now have the technology to bring Scriabin’s dream to life, and to be a part of this project with Esa-Pekka and Mathilde. This project shows us what is possible when there is collaboration within the arts: how different art forms and different senses can enrich one another, and in doing so enrich our lives and our experiences both inside and outside of the concert hall.” 
As it was, the technology required to translate Scriabin’s total vision did not exist in his lifetime. In fact, the final version of Prometheus was scored only for music and “color organ,” an instrument he conceived of which projected light of different colors linked to harmonic changes in music. In the last century, the piece has been performed internationally with an array of lighting accompaniments, some of which came closer to Scriabin’s original intentions than others. The San Francisco Symphony performances of Prometheus aim to go further in realizing Scriabin’s vision of a truly synesthetic work of art. Scent accords created specifically for the performance by Laurent in close collaboration with Thibaudet and Salonen will be delivered during key moments of the performance using technology developed by Cartier and Desind, specialists in digital scent systems based in France.  
Laurent states, “For Prometheus, my task was to ensure that the scent stirred a primary, universal, and instinctive emotion, far removed from any aesthetic aim. I wanted to bolster and consolidate the feelings instilled by music, by focusing – through olfaction – on the animal nature of every spectator, to get them to physically engage with the piece, without ever overshadowing it or competing with its aesthetics.”  
“Prometheus stole fire from the gods, and in doing so kickstarted a millennia-long process of technological development that has led to the civilization we have today,” says Salonen. “Looking at where we've ended up, in terms of our environmental crises and the proliferation of weapons of war, that seems to have been a mixed blessing. But this project is optimistic: it shows that technology can be used for very noble purposes, for art and enhancing people's natural sensory experiences in this world. Prometheus paid dearly, but we don’t have to—it's up to us to decide.” 
Paired with state-of-the-art lighting technology, which will illuminate the concert hall in vibrant colors aligned with Scriabin’s color organ, the performances aspire towards transcendence, stirring our collective memory as the mortal beneficiaries of Prometheus’ brazen generosity.  

So, color me skeptical: this doesn't sound like a great idea: Smell-o-Vision, or maybe I mean Smell-O-Rama, was not a big hit at the movies.  I had some questions about the performances for SFS: What information is being provided to existing and potential audience members about this program, because some attendeeswill have allergies to particular scents? And I asked whether the orchestra would provide refunds and exchanges to ticketholders unable to attend because of their allergies?

SFS communications very kindly replied as follows:
 Information about the scent and lighting experience will be communicated with all ticketholders, including those who already purchased their tickets before this announcement. More information about the experience is available on, and I’m including those details below.   

The dry-air scent diffusion system used in this performance does not create scent mist or droplet residue in the air (as a perfume would), reducing the risk of many health-related issues, including allergies.

But we of course know there may be some people who have allergies or sensitivities, and we completely understand that this experience may not be for everyone. Our Patron Services team is on hand at (415) 864-6000 or to help ticketholders who have questions, or who want to refund their tickets or exchange them for another program.

If you have concerns about the scent diffusion part of the concert, there's always catching the broadcast (which you might also want to do in addition to seeing the program; I cannot get enough of Bluebeard, so). Here are the details:
BROADCAST / ARCHIVED STREAM: A broadcast of these performances will air Sunday, March 24, at 7:00 pm on Classical KDFC 90.3 San Francisco, 104.9 San Jose, 89.9 Napa, and, where it will be available for on-demand streaming for 21 days following the broadcast. 


Sunday, December 24, 2023

More on Les Noces

Last month, I reviewed San Francisco Symphony playing Steven Stucky's orchestral arrangement of Stravinsky's great ballet score Les Noces. Stravinsky struggled over how, exactly, to orchestrate the work, and in 1923 eventually settled on four pianos and percussion. But before that, in 1917, he created a version for woodwinds, brass, strings, harp, piano, harpsichord & cimbalom. In the 1980s, Peter Eötvös recorded this version as well as the 1923 version.

A friend was kind enough to lend me his copy - I'll probably buy it eventually - and it makes interesting listening. It is considerably more astringent and Stravinsky-like than Stucky's too-soft orchestration, and of course it's by Stravinsky and sounds and works better than the Stucky. It's not entirely successfully; the trumpet playing what eventually became piano glissandos just isn't as good as the pianos, for example. If you want to hear this version, and it is certainly interesting, someone has uploaded it to a discussion of different Les Noces recordings. One of the respondents in the thread cites Karel Ancerl's recording, and I think that is indeed very good.

Today, though, I gave a listen to Stravinsky's own recording of the work, made in the 1960s and in English. I like it a lot; the composer keeps it moving, the soloists really understand the work, as does the chorus. There's a sense of reverence in some of the more religious bits that is unusual to hear. It definitely gets wilder as the celebration goes on. The soloists are distinctive and have character, which is more important than having beautiful voices. The recording is in English, and while I think that overall Les Noces sounds better in Russian, there are advantages to having the chorus and soloists performing in their native language, and being able to understand the text.

I have a couple of minor caveats about Stravinsky's recording: the chorus is small enough that I can pick out some of the individual voices, and I wish the pianos were more forward in the mix. There are a couple of moments of imprecision in the piano playing that made me think that maybe the pianists hadn't played the work a lot.

This is...probably the case. I had to look it up on line - the booklet for the big Stravinsky Edition set isn't in the box - but Stravinsky had a classy lineup of pianists for the recording, none of whom made their living primarily by playing the piano: Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Lukas Foss, and Roger Sessions.

Saturday, December 23, 2023


War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building
Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Vintage postcard from my collection

San Francisco Opera's 2023-24 season is under way, with opera no. 3 of 8 opening in two days and the 2024-25 season announcement three-plus months away, so obviously it's time to speculate! Here's what I have on my Rumor & Gossip Operatic Future Seasons page:

I keep hoping that Matthew Shilvock will finally be able to stage his dream opera, which is Schoenberg's formidable Moses und Aron. As I mentioned a few years back, when he said this at a Wagner Society. meeting, there was an audible gasp in the room. The only staging in the US that I can recall offhand was at the Met, decades ago, with John Tomlinson. 
    • Wagner TBD, conducted by Eun Sun Kim. We know it won't be Lohengrin. Matthew Shilvock did promise us Parsifal at some point. Note that Kim is conducting Parsifal in Houston in January, 2024.
    • Verdi TBD, conducted by Eun Sun Kim. Maybe next season we will get Ernani, which was cancelled owing to the pandemic. My personal hope is for I Vespri Siciliani / Les Vepres Sicilienne, which I've never seen. An interview Kim in the Lohengrin program mentions Simon Boccanegra, a favorite of mine.
    • Puccini, La Boheme. At the opening night gala for 2022-23, Matthew Shilvock slipped in the news that Pene Pati would be singing Rodolfo here soon. Pati is singing Nemorino in 23-24, so maybe next year.
    • Samson et Dalilah, Brandon Jovanovich as Samson. Given when I heard about this, maybe in 2023-24 or the season after. Obviously not in 2023-24, so maybe next season?
    • Madame White Snake, by Zhou Long. A friend spotted "this will be done at SFO in 2023" in the composer's bio in a San Francisco Symphony program. I asked SFO about it and the response was "San Francisco Opera has not made any announcement about this." Well, I knew that, and would bet that the composer's agent broke the usual restrictions on premature announcements and also that various people at SFO are now banging the walls or have their heads in their hands. Note: not done at SFO in 2023. Some year in the future?
Operas from the canceled 2020-21 season that haven't been staged included Rigoletto, which will surely be back at some point; Der Zwerg, and The Handmaid's Tale. I hope the latter two are staged eventually. The Handmaid's Tale, sadly, goes well with one of the more eye-rolling messages of Die Frau ohne SchattenUpdate, 12/23/23: The February, 2024, issue of Opera has, in its "We Hear That..." column the news that SFO will stage The Handmaid's Tale in the 2024-25 season. We'll know for sure in about five weeks, but...I think that news in this particular column is generally leaked provided by the companies in question.

Did I ever mention here who was sitting immediately in front of me at the Cal Performances staging of Michel van der Aa's Blank Out? None other than SFO music director Eun Sun Kim, general director Matthew Shilvock, and artistic administration Gregory Henkel. Blank Out was astonishing and I hope that they were on a scouting mission.

Update, 11/13/23: Given the success of Frida y Diego, Omar, and Dream of the Red Chamber, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Madam White Snake, Florencia en el Amazonas, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, or Malcolm X on next year's schedule.

Please feel free to speculate in comments....or send me email!

Friday, December 22, 2023

Music Director Updates

I am sadly far behind in maintaining this. Here are some updates. I'm absolutely certain that I am missing some.

  • Donald Runnicles leaves the Deutsche Oper Berlin at the end of 2025-26.
  • Donald Runnicles takes up the Dresden Philharmonic at the beginning of 2025-26. He succeeds Marek Janowski.
  • Christian Thielemann succeeds Daniel Barenboim at the Berlin State Opera.
  • Daniele Gatti succeeds Christian Thielemann at the Dresden Staatskapelle in mid-2024. (Note: he lost a job earlier in this century owing to accusations of sexual misconduct.)
  • Krzysztof Urbański becomes chief conductor of the Bern Symphony Orchestra at the beginning of the 2024-25 season.
  • Eric Jacobsen is now music director of the Virginia Symphony.
  • Long Yu is now the music director of the Shanghai Symphony.
  • David Robertson appointed creative partner of Utah Opera / Utah Symphony, for three-year period starting in 2023-24.
  • Kwame Ryan appointed music director of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra as of the 2024-25 season.
  • Philippe Auguin is conductor-in-residence of the Greek National Opera Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center.
  • Giancarlo Guerrero to leave the Nashville Symphony at the end of the 2024-25 season.
  • Gustavo Dudamel resigned from the Paris Opera after only two years.

Open positions:

  • Paris Opera is currently without a music director.
  • Nashville Symphony, when Giancarlo Guerrero leaves.
  • Deutsche Oper Berlin, when Donald Runnicles leaves.
  • Hallé Orchestra, when Mark Elder leaves.
  • Rottedam Philharmonic, when Lahav Shani leaves.
  • Los Angeles Philharmonic, as of 2026-27, when Gustavo Dudamel leaves for NY.
  • Indianapolis Symphony, where Jun Märkel is artistic advisor.
  • Sarasota Orchestra, following the death of Bramwell Tovey.
  • Seattle Symphony, following Thomas Dausgaard's abrupt departure in January, 2022.
  • Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where Riccardo Muti left at the end of 2022-23.
  • Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra: open in 2024 when Louis Langree steps down.
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic, when Jaap van Zweden leaves in 2024.
  • Oakland Symphony, owing to the death of Michael Morgan in August, 2021.
  • Teatro Regio Turin: Open now with departure of Gianandrea Noseda. The Teatro Regio has not named a new music director.
  • Minnesota Opera: Michael Christie has left. MO has not named a new music director. 
  • Marin Symphony, at the end of 2022-23.
  • Vienna Staatsoper, when Philippe Jordan leaves at the end of 2025.
Conductors looking for jobs (that is, as of the near future, or now, they do not have a posting). The big mystery, to me, is why an orchestra hasn't snapped up Susanna Mälkki. Slightly lesser mystery: Henrik Nanasi, whose superb Cosi fan tutte is still lingering in my ears.
  • Osmo Vänskä
  • Susanna Mälkki, who left the Helsinki Philharmonic at the end of 2022-23.
  • MGT (apparently does not want a full-time job, as of early 2022)
  • Miguel Harth-Bedoya (seems settled in at Baylor)
  • Lionel Bringuier
  • Sian Edwards
  • Ingo Metzmacher
  • Jac van Steen
  • Mark Wigglesworth
  • Peter Oundjian
  • Ilan Volkov
  • Aleksandr Markovic
  • Lothar Koenigs
  • Henrik Nanasi
  • Philippe Jordan, eventually
And closed:

  • Update and correction: San Francisco Chamber Orchestra was unable to hire Cosette Justo Valdés. Instead, Jory Fankuchen, a violinist in the orchestra, has been named Principal Conductor and will lead this season's programs.
  • Shanghai Symphony, with the appointment of Long Yu.
  • Virginia Symphony, with the appointment of Eric Jacobsen.
  • Bern Symphony, with the appointment of Krzysztof Urbański.
  • Berlin State Opera, with the appointment of Christian Thielemann.
  • Dresden Philharmonic, with the appointment of Donald Runnicles.
  • New York Philharmonic, with the appointment of Gustavo Dudamel. Note that Jaap van Zweden leaves in 2024 and there will be a two-season gap until Dudamel arrives.
  • Helsinki Philharmonic: Jukka-Pekka Saraste to succeed Susanna Mälkki.
  • Staatskapelle Dresden, with the appointment of Daniele Gatti.
  • Seoul Philharmonic appoints Jaap van Zweden.
  • Royal Opera appoints Jakub Hrůša to succeed Antonio Pappano in September, 2025.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Congratulations and Happy Birthday to Gordon Getty!

Hand-Colored Vintage Postcard
War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building, San Francisco
Collection of Lisa Hirsch

Gordon Getty turns 90 this month, and San Francisco Opera has presented Getty, a longtime patron of the company as well as a composer, with The Spirit of the Opera Award. From the press release:

At the conclusion of San Francisco Opera’s December 9 fall season final performance of The Elixir of Love, the Company honored composer and philanthropist Gordon Getty in an onstage ceremony. Standing amidst the cast of Donizetti’s opera, San Francisco Opera Dianne and Tad Taube General Director Matthew Shilvock presented Mr. Getty with the Company’s Spirit of the Opera award in recognition of extraordinary artistic excellence and philanthropic leadership.


Shilvock said: “Gordon Getty is one of the great champions of this art form and someone who has devoted his life to the creation, enrichment and vitality of opera in America. As a composer, he brings to our stages a beautiful lyricism borne out of a profound appreciation for the human voice. As a philanthropist, Mr. Getty, along with his wife, Ann, has quietly, humbly and with monumental impact, propelled forward arts companies not only in San Francisco and Los Angeles but across America and the world. And as a humanist, he has enriched the very fabric of our society, bringing together subject matters as disparate as music, biology, economics and viticulture into a holistic worldview that leaves one in awe at the staggering embrace he has of the interconnectedness of life.


“The Spirit of the Opera Award is given in recognition of lasting and profound support of this company and so it is my great honor to present Gordon Getty with the award with the heartfelt gratitude of this house and this community for the transformational impact he has had on this company and this art form in so many ways—as a composer, philanthropist, historian and as a carrier of the torch that keeps opera vital in our lives.”


Following the presentation, the performance’s conductor, Ramón Tebar, led the cast, Chorus, Orchestra and audience in a celebratory rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Getty, who turns 90 this month.

For more than four decades, Gordon Getty and his late wife, Ann, have been stalwart supporters of San Francisco Opera. Their generosity has enabled the Company to maintain its position among the art form’s leading institutions throughout the nation and world. Ann and Gordon Getty’s commitment to the Company has helped bring to the War Memorial Opera House stage the world premieres of many new works, including John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West, Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’sDream of the Red Chamber, Marco Tutino’s Two Women and Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne along with bolstering the core repertoire with new productions of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, Puccini’s La Bohème and Madama Butterfly, among others and epochal revivals including the 2018 presentations of Wagner’s Ring cycle.


Mr. Getty has been awarded the Gold Baton of the American Symphony Orchestra League, honored as an Outstanding American Composer at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, received the European Culture Prize and was Legacy Honoree and Artist in Residence of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. In 2020, he was named by OPERA America as one of the ten inaugural inductees for the Opera Hall of Fame, joining Dawn Upshaw, Grace Bumbry, David Gockley, Simon Estes and other luminaries. Getty’s life in music is the subject of the 2015 documentary There Will Be Music.


Scenes from Getty’s first opera, Plump Jack, had their 1984 premiere with the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas. In December 2015, San Francisco Opera presented his opera Usher House as part of a double bill with the American premiere of Debussy’s La Chute de la Maison Usher (reconstructed and orchestrated by Robert Orledge), as both stage works were inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 Gothic horror story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Getty’s major stage works also include The Canterville Ghost, which was presented by Leipzig Opera in 2015 and as part of a double bill with Usher House in Los Angeles and New York City, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, an opera which had its premiere in cinematic form in 2021 at the Mill Valley Film Festival and has since been screened by New York City Opera, Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O22 and OPERA America. Getty’s operas, along with his other vocal, instrumental and orchestral works, are available on the Pentatone label.


San Francisco Opera’s Spirit of the Opera award was created in 1995 as a tribute to individuals whose devotion to the Company epitomizes a high level of commitment to advancing the success of San Francisco Opera and supporting the art form. Past recipients include Bob and Terri Ryan, Jeannik Méquet Littlefield, Joe Brucia, Patricia Yakutis, Diana Dollar Knowles, Harriet Quarre, Diane B. Wilsey, Maggie Wetzel, Barbara Jackson, Susan Anderson-Norby, Kary Schulman, Sylvia Lindsey, Louise Gund and Maria Manetti Shrem.


Update on MTT's Upcoming SFS Programs


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

MTT has withdrawn from two of his three scheduled concerts with San Francisco Symphony and reduced the program on the remaining concerts. I am not surprised, and I'm glad that he'll be leading the Mahler, but I am sad. As always, wishing him the best.

From the press release:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—San Francisco Symphony Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas is reducing his upcoming conducting schedule with the Orchestra and has withdrawn from his upcoming January 18–20 and February 23–25 programs in order to focus on his health. 
MTT will remain on the January 25-27 program, conducting the SF Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra will no longer be performed on this program so MTT can focus his energies on the Mahler. These concerts mark MTT’s final subscription series conducting the San Francisco Symphony. Further information about the concerts will be announced in early January. 
Dalia Stasevska will conduct the San Francisco Symphony January 18–20. The first half of the program—Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 featuring Seong-Jin Cho—remains the same. Following intermission, Stasevska will conduct Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, From the New World, which replaces Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. 
The February 23–25 program will be conducted by SF Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. The new program will feature Julia Fischer in Brahms’s Violin Concerto in place of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Beethoven’s Romance No. 1 in G major. Fischer and Salonen recently performed Brahms’ Violin Concerto with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the Nobel Prize Concert earlier this month. Stravinsky’s Pulcinella will remain on the program, featuring mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Nicholas Phan, and baritone Luca Pisaroni. Mozart’s Overture from Le nozze di Figaro, K.492 will also no longer be performed.  

2023 Retrospective

 As usual, there won't be a list of best or favorite recordings of 2023, because I don't make any kind of attempt to keep track of new releases - there are so many - or listen to some percentage of them. But it's been an interesting year, for sure.

As you can see from the page where I link to all of my music writing, this year I wrote 25 reviews, covering 16 operas, six orchestra concerts (including one of the SFSoundBox concerts), three string quartet concerts, a concert of new and old vocal music by Trio Medieval, and Pan, a theater piece by Marcos Balter for solo flute and community chorus, brilliantly played by Claire Chase. One of those reviews covered four of Santa Fe Opera's five operas. Weirdly, my first and last reviews of the year were of works based on the story of Dido and Aeneas. 

In addition to the reviews, I wrote two news articles for SFCV, one in collaboration with Janos Gereben, about comings and goings in San Francisco Symphony, plus profiles of conductor JoAnn Falletta and tenor Arturo Chácon-Cruz, and an article about the film Tár.

Next year, I'm hoping to branch out with the reviewing: more chamber music and solo programs, more orchestra concerts. I am extremely sorry that Opera News is no more; perhaps I will pitch successfully to Opera.

For me, the single worst thing to happen this year was the death of composer Kaija Saariaho, in June at only 70. There were many tears a few days later when San Francisco Symphony performed her second opera, Adriana Mater. There will be many more when her last opera, Innocence, is performed in June at San Francisco Opera.

It's pretty easy, looking back at 2023, to pick out the biggest musical lowlight: Christian Thielemann and the Vienna Philharmonic, of all things. Apparently the program the night before was a lot better, including what sounds like a splendid Strauss Alpine Symphony, and I can't comment on the last night, which included Bruckner, but holy moly, the Mendelssohn and Brahms program was the worst concert I have ever heard from such an illustrious conductor and orchestra.

The other big disappointment was Julia Wolfe's Her Story, which promised a lot and did not deliver. And while it's always good to hear Britten's War Requiem, last time around Semyon Bychkov conducted, and he was a lot better than Philippe Jordan.

The highlights of the year? Well, there were many!

  • Esa-Pekka Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony. I liked almost every one of his concerts.The orchestra sounded awfully good for him and others, even with many, many substitutes in critical positions. I loved his Beethoven, his new clarinet concerto kínēma, which was on his first California Festival program, Gabriella Smith's mighty organ concerto Breathing Forests, and so much else.
  • Die Frau ohne Schatten at San Francisco Opera. Donald Runnicles making magic with a strong cast.
  • El último sueño de Frida y Diego, by Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz. This wonderful new opera was a huge surprise, definitely my favorite among the new operas I heard this year.
  • Rusalka at Santa Fe, a fabulous David Pountney production with great performances from Ailyn Pérez,  James Creswell, and Raehann Bryce-Davis.
  • Orfeo at Santa Fe, again, a great Yuval Sharon production with a terrific performance by Rolando Villazon in the title role and everyone else in the production.
  • Pelléas et Melisande in Los Angeles; James Conlon conducted, magnificently, a fine McVicar production, with an explosive Golaud from Kyle Ketelsen and beautifully sung and acted performances by Will Liverman and Sydney Mancasola in the title roles.
  • Osmo Vänskä's Sibelius at the LA Phil.
  • Dalia Stasevska's Sibelius at SFS.
  • Gabriel Kahane's emergency shelter intake form at SFS, on a program where Conrad Tao played Gershwin, brilliantly, as well.
  • Falstaff at Opera San José. Yes, too too many fat jokes, but oh! what a lovely performance.
  • Michel van der Aa's Blank Out, an opera with one character on video and the other live. A beautiful and moving work. I hope to hear more of his music in the future.
  • Adriana Mater at SF Symphony.
  • Pan, by Marcos Balter, performed by Claire Chase.
  • JACK Quartet playing music of John Luther Adams.
  • Thomas Conlin and the Vallejo Festival Orchestra in Sibelius. Some beautifully-sung songs and a fine 2nd Symphony made this a highlight, and it was particularly satisfying in the same week as the Thielemann/VPO program. Remember that there are treasures everywhere among the regional orchestras and opera companies.
  • West Edge Opera's double bill of Stravinsky's Nightingale and Schoenberg's Erwartung, the latter featuring a knockout performance by Mary Evelyn Hangley.
I heartily endorse Joshua Kosman's year-end roundup, which overlaps a good deal with my list. I thought the Hillborg and Busoni both great. MTT's LvB 9 was very special. And maybe I should have included Salonen's E-flat Beethoven concert, with a marvelous Eroica and a great Emperor concerto with Igor Levit.

I have to mention some of the odder goings-on in, well, musical institution personnel news:
  • Gustavo Dudamel leaves the Paris Opera after only two seasons.
  • Chad Smith leaves the LA Phil after many years, moving to Boston, where his former LA Phil colleague Gail Samuel lasted only 18 months as CEO.
  • The CSO hasn't announced a new music director, despite the years of lead time Muti gave them and the plethora of talent.
  • The Seattle Symphony hasn't announced a new music director nearly two years after Thomas Dausgaard's abrupt departure, possibly explained by the apparent administrative turmoil and a CEO, Krishna Thiagarajan, who seems difficult to work with.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Interviews with Robert Ward

Now there are two very good interviews with retiring San Francisco Symphony principal horn Robert Ward:

I might've asked about favorite works and favorite performances, conductors he would like to work with again, and also the one that got away, if there was one: a work he wanted to perform but didn't get to. 

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Belated Museum Monday

Marble Lion on a Staircase Threatening a Young Blond Woman Seated on the Stairs.
Genoa, May or June 1982

Not actually in a museum, but in a palazzo near the waterfront. That's all I know about it except that I took it while on tour with the Stony Brook Chamber Singers. Update: Thank you, Google image search. This fine lion is in the Palazzo dell'università.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Blomstedt Withdraws From SFS and Other Programs

Herbert Blomstedt
San Francisco Symphony Condutor Laureate
Photo courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

Herbert Blomstedt, 96-year-old Conductor Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony, has withdrawn on doctors' recommendations from a number of upcoming conducting engagements, following a fall that has put him in the hospital. At SFS, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic, will conduct the February 2-4 concerts at Davies Symphony Hall; he'll lead the same works that Blomstedt scheduled.

Falls are dangerous at any age and especially trying for a person of HB's age. Best wishes to Herbert Blomstedt for a swift and complete recovery!

Here's the press release:


Maestro Blomstedt is currently being treated in hospital after a fall and has been advised by his doctors to cancel his concert engagements until further notice 
SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste will step in for San Francisco Symphony Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt for the Orchestra’s upcoming February 2–4 program featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Schubert’s Symphony No. 6. Maestro Blomstedt is currently being treated in hospital after a fall and has been advised by his doctors to cancel his concert engagements until further notice. 
Patrons who already purchased tickets for the February 2–4 concerts do not need to do anything; tickets and seat location will be honored. For assistance with tickets, patrons can contact the Box Office by phone at 415.864.6000, email at, or in person at the Davies Symphony Hall Box Office, on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street in San Francisco. 


Friday Photo

Foggy morning; two office building in the distance, crosswalk in the foreground, a red and white circus tent in the middle ground

A slightly foggy mornings, office buildings,  and a temporary circus tent in downtown SF.
December, 2023


Monday, December 04, 2023

Inquiring Minds Want to Know....

.....why the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle, The New Yorker, and San Francisco Classical Voice all think they know better than the composer how to style the title of a particular work?

  • Those publications all styled Esa-Pekka Salonen's recent work for clarinet and strings as Kínēma.
  • The San Francisco Symphony program noteSalonen's publisher's web site and the title page of the score style the work as kínēma. (I believe that it was italicized in the SFS program.)
  • The SFS program page listing the works on the program capitalizes the K.
  • Below is a screen shot from the publisher's web site.

  • Below is a screen shot of the first page of the score.

I submitted my linked review with the title in all lower case. If I were guessing about this, some kind of amorphous style guideline about capitalizing titles, although since TNY and the Chron enclose titles in quotation marks and SFCV (more correctly, SORRY TNY and Chron) italicizes titles, there's no ambiguity that's resolved by capitalizing a work title against the composer's styling.

UPDATE, December 5: There were several updates to this post on the 4th. SFS communications responded to my query with ""kínēma (lower case) is correct, and based on Esa-Pekka’s note and the score."

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Current Auditions at San Francisco Symphony

Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

  • Associate principal cello, filling Peter Wyrick's position
  • Substitute violin, Bay Area only
  • Fourth chair and section bass (I think these are two positions)
  • Associate principal second violin (There's a note that "Section Violin positions may also be offered as a result of this audition.")
  • Second clarinet (this is the chair formerly held by David Neuman; filling it will mean that the open clarinet positions will have all been filled)
  • Assistant principal/third horn (this is the position just vacated by Bruce Roberts, who retired at the end of the 2022-23 season, but who has played a couple of concerts since then)

Monday, November 27, 2023

There's Runnicles

A scene from Act 2
Photo: Evan Zimmerman / Met Opera

He's conducting the Met's Tannhäuser, which opens this week. The production is....moth-eaten, from 1977, one of the hyper-realistic (and kinda dull!) Schenk/Schneider-Siemssen productions. BUT it's an excellent cast and conductor:


Music by Richard Wagner

Libretto by the composer


Thursday, November 30, at 7PM

Sunday, December 3, at 2PM

Wednesday, December 6, at 7PM

Saturday, December 9, at 7PM

Tuesday, December 12, at 7PM

Saturday, December 16, at 7PM

Tuesday, December 19, at 7PM

Saturday, December 23, at 1PM



Donald Runnicles


Otto Schenk

Set Designer

Günther Schneider-Siemssen

Costume Designer

Patricia Zipprodt

Lighting Designer

Gil Wechsler


Norbert Vesak




Elza van den Heever


Ekaterina Gubanova


Andreas Schager


Christian Gerhaher*

Landgraf Hermann

Georg Zeppenfeld