Monday, January 30, 2023

MTT Here and There

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony, gave concerts in the last few weeks with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and SFS. One of the programs (Debussy, Messiaen, Villa Lobos) was the same at the both orchestras. Jean-Yves Thibaudet played piano in both the Messiaen and Debussy Fantasy. Here's some of the reporting.
  • Joshua Kosman, SF Chronicle (Debussy, Messiaen, Villa Lobos in SF). Here's why we heard essentially no Messiaen from MTT over the years: "Where [JK] and other listeners heard vibrant orchestral colors and rapturous expressiveness, Thomas claimed to detect cheap theatrical tricks, easy to pull off and not really worth the effort." The first and only previous performances of Trois Petites Liturgies with SFS were in 1979, with Jeffrey Kahane as pianist, conducted by.....Michael Tilson Thomas.
  • Richard S. Ginell, SFCV (Debussy, Messiaen, Villa Lobos in LA)
  • Richard S. Ginell, SFCV (Mahler 9 in LA)
  • Alex Ross, The New Yorker (Both concerts in LA. The illustration gave me a bit of a start because MTT's glasses are blue, his favorite color, not red.)


Saturday, January 28, 2023

Tip of the Day

I've discovered that you can often find scores of new music on line at the publisher's web site.

For example:

San Francisco Opera 2023-24

War Memorial Opera House at Dusk
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

SF Opera announced its 2023-24 season the other day; herewith the lineup, with some comments. Parts of this were known in advance because SFO announced the three contemporary works in the season announcement for 2022-23, and they have indicated a plan for MD Eun Sun Kim to conduct one Verdi and one Wagner opera each season, leading up to an eventual Ring.

Fall, 2023:

Opening night gala concert, conducted by Music Director Kim, with tenor Roberto Alagna and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak.


Verdi, Il Trovatore. Kim/Arturo Chacon-Cruz, Angel Blue, George Petean, Anita Rachvelishvili. David McVicar production, seen here in 2009. Classic barn (and baby) burner. I see two potential issues: Chacon-Cruz doesn't strike me as having the right kind of voice for Manrico, and Rachvelishvili has been cancelling a lot owing to some health problems. This is 8 months out, so we'll see.


Mason Bates (c), Mark Campbell (l), The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. Michael Christie/John Moore (Steve Jobs), Sasha Cooke (Laureen Powell Jobs), Bille Bruley (Woz), Wei Wu (Chino Otogawa). No announcement of who is singing Chrisann Brennan, Jobs's girlfriend and the mother of his daughter Lisa. I saw this in 2017 at its Santa Fe Opera premiere and liked the music a lot. The libretto had big problems: the incredibly embarrassing and racist-trop role of Otogawa, advising Jobs from beyond the grave while being a "magic Bhuddist" and the poorly-written women's roles. An SFO co-commission.


Wagner, Lohengrin. Kim/Simon O'Neill (Lohengrin), Julie Adams (Elsa), Brian Mulligan (Telramund), Judit Kutasi (Ortrud), Kristinn Sigmundsson  (King Henry). David Alden production previously seen twice at Covent  Garden; not the production used in 2009 2012. My friend Mark Berry reviewed it at CG and liked it better the second time under the revival director, who is also directing this revival.

Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels (c), libretto by Rhiannon Giddens, Omar. John Kennedy/Jamez McCorkle (Omar), Taylor Raven (Fatima), Brittany Rene (Julie), Norman Garrett (Abdul and Abe), Daniel Okulitsch (Johnson and  Owen), Barry Banks (Auctioneer and Taylor). SFO co-commission.


Donizetti, L'elisir d'amore. Ramon Tebar/Pene Pati (Nemorino), Slávka Zámečníková (Adina), David Bižić (Belcore), Renato Girolami (Dulcamara). Production new to SFO, by Daniel Slater.


Summer 2024:


Mozart, Die Zauberflote. Kim/Amitai Pati (Tamino), Christina Gansch (Pamina), Lauri Vasar (Papageno), Kwangchul Youn (Sarastro), Anna Simińska (Queen of the Night), Zhengyi Bai (Monastatos). No Papagena announced. Production new to SF, by Barrie Kosky, set in the 1920s and using a lot of animation. It's been done in LA and Chicago and is popular.


Kaija Saariaho (c), Sofi Oksanen and Aleksi Barrière (l); Innocence. Clément Mao-Takacs/Ruxandra Donose, Claire de Sevigne, Rod GIlfry, Miles Mykkanen, Kristinn Sigmundsson, Lucy Shlton, Vilma Jaa. US premiere, SFO co-production. Innocence got excellent reviews from Zachary Woolfe (NY Times) and Alex Ross (TNY). "Sung in English, Finnish, Czech, Romanian, French, Swedish, German, Spanish and Greek with English supertitles." I've been looking forward to this ever since Matthew Shilvock said, at the public annual meeting about five years ago, that the company had commissioned a "very interesting woman composer." My only disappointment about this is that Susanna Mälkki, who led the premiere, isn't conducting at SFO.


Handel, Partenope. Christopher Moulds/Julie Fuchs (Partenope), Daniela Mack (Rosmira), Carlo Vistoli (Arsace), Nicholas Tamagna (Armindo), Alek Shrader (Emilio), Hadleigh Adams (Ormonte). The same Christopher Alden production seen in 2014; a revival was canceled owing to the pandemic. The music is great but I kinda hated this overly-jokey production.


Other commentary: I'm wondering if this is the first season with productions by brothers. I like this season, because what's not to like about an eight-opera season with three new operas? (And five new operas over two seasons!) I will say that I'd hoped to go another decade without seeing The Magic Flute, but I'm intrigued by the Kosky production. I'm not much of a fan of Elisir, but I am a fan of the adorable and golden-voiced Pene Pati. It's been too long since the last Trovatore (2009) and there just hasn't been much Wagner since the departure of Donald Runnicles (Ring, 2011 and 2018; Lohengrin (2012); Meistersinger, 2015). It's great that Kim will be conducting Wagner annually.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Distanced Together at MassMoCA

Photo of a large room with a mottled floor and ceiling and a gigantic circle of loudspeakers, each on an individual stand.

I can't get to an event in Massachusetts, but this performance, taking place on Friday, January 27, 2023 looks interesting:

The size and scale of this immersive performance is unprecedented. Unlike at a traditional orchestra concert, there is no divide between the musicians and the audience. Instead, twelve string quintets will be arranged in a large circle, resembling a clock, in a 10,000 square foot theater. The participants will navigate the space walking their way around and through the piece on an emotional and temporal journey. Just as they each experienced the pandemic individually, they will traverse the music from their own unique perspectives, all with different instruments. 
 “Once the world reopened we all threw ourselves back into normal life because we were so eager to move past the pain of 2020,” said Murray Hidary.  “Now, we’re asking the audience to look back to those early moments of uncertainty and chaos, to join the musicians on an emotional journey, and hopefully, rediscover healing and light.”

Hidary intends this to be a collective, cathartic and healing journey with the music acting as the soundtrack tracing the arc of the pandemic. The work explores the emotional challenges of this period as it navigates the feelings of uncertainty, fear, isolation, and collective longing for connection that were so prevalent at the height of the COVID-19 quarantine period. 

There's also a big sound installation that has already been installed and will be at MassMoCA for some time. More details at MassMoCA's web site. It's already at capacity, but folks often don't turn up even with they've got tickets.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Robin Ticciati at San Francisco Symphony

Photo of Davies Symphony Hall, a two-story building on a street corner. The corner facade of the building is curved. Above the ground floor are two glass-walled floors. Those floors are lit up. The sky beyond is blue.

Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Quite a difference of opinion between myself and Joshua Kosman as to last week's SFS program of Jörg Widmann's (first) violin concerto and Mahler's fourth symphony:
A couple of comments:
  • Joshua Kosman knows the Widmann better than I do, although my preparation did include listening to the Tetzlaff recordings a couple of times with the score.
  • My companion and I were both mesmerized by the piece, which came across well.
  • I heard a couple of very bad Mahler performances last year (Dudamel, Shani) and heard nothing like that in Ticciati's Mahler. 


Monday, January 23, 2023

Museum Mondays

Photo of a child's pull toy. A flat red wheeled platform, with a green articulated platform on top of it. On top of the green platform is a gray elephant with a red blanket over its midsection, holding a wire with a small bell on each end.

Child's pull toy
Girard Collection, Museum of International Folk Art
Santa Fe, NM
August, 2019


Friday, January 20, 2023

Friday Photo

Photo. Water with a half-oval spit of land coming out of the right side of the photo. A couple of dozen wading birds, mostly white and black American Avocets, are scattered around the edge of the sand. They're standing in the water. A couple of godwits are there too.

American Avocets and a couple of godwits.
Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary
Alameda, CA
December, 2022


Thursday, January 19, 2023

San Francisco Opera Yields

War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building
Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco
Collection of Lisa Hirsch

Well, damn. Here's the text of an email that went to SFO patrons a little while ago:

Health and Safety Updates


As we start the new year, we would like to thank you for helping us keep our fellow patrons, employees, and artists safe during our Centennial Season. Our collective efforts allowed this landmark season to take place without delay or cancellations.

After discussing our current health and safety protocols with our advisory group of University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) doctors led by epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford, we have decided to adjust our Covid policies.

Effective February 1, 2023, proof of Covid-19 vaccination and masking is no longer required to attend San Francisco Opera performances in the War Memorial Opera House or Wilsey Center.

We continue to encourage patrons to wear a mask when attending a performance to protect themselves. San Francisco Opera will have masks available upon request.

In addition, drinks will now be allowed in the theater during performances. 

If you have questions about this change, please visit or call the Box Office at (415) 864-3330.

What a disappointment. An enraging disappointment, I should say: SFO is no longer the local big-organization holdout against the pretense that the COVID-19 pandemic is over and we can all go back to normal.

If you think that the pandemic is over, I call the following to your attention:

  • The NY Times reports that the seven-day rolling average is 54,000 new cases in the US.
  • Worldwide, there were around 278,000 new cases.
  • About 482 people died in the US. That's a new 9/11 every 6.2 days.


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Seattle Opera 2023-24

Seattle Opera announced its 2023-24 season the other day, and it looks like a retrenchment of some kind: there are only four operas, plus a holiday chorus concert and a concert celebrating the company's 60th anniversary.

  • Wagner, Das Rheingold, Minnesota Opera production directed by Brian Staufenbiel, conducted by Ludovic Morlot. August 12-20, 2023. This is not the start of a new Ring, alas.
  • Handel, Alcina. October 14-28, 2024.
  • Holiday Chorus Concert, December 8-10, 2023.
  • Davis, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.  February 24-March 9, 2024.
  • Rossini, The Barber of Seville, May 4-19, 2024.
  • 60th Anniversary Concert, May 11, 2024.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Dido Reimagined

I reviewed this well-programmed concert by Dawn Upshaw and the Brentano String Quartet the other day. Here are links to my review and Patrick Vaz's blog post about it. The texts of the program are available at the web site of SF Performances.

Museum Mondays

Photo of Mexican folk art in a display case. The display includes a toy cathedral, many dolls in colorful outfits standing facing the cathedral, some tents indicating a street market. A carved treelike structure with carved flowers and a carved statue of the Virgin Mary are also visible.

From the Girard Collection
Museum of International Folk Art
Santa Fe, NM
August, 2019


Friday, January 13, 2023

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Metropolitan Opera Future Seasons

Soprano Dawn Upshaw, interviewed in San Francisco Classical Voice in advance of her Dido, Reimagined program this coming Thursday, discloses that she'll be singing in Kaija Saariaho's Innocence at the Met in 2026. Upshaw has worked with Saariaho for many years, and created the role of Clémence, Countess of Tripoli, in the composer's first opera, L'amour de loin.  That's not all that caught my eye in the article, but it's the big operatic news. 

Friday, January 06, 2023

Speculation: San Francisco Opera, 2023-24 Season

War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building
Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco
Collection of Lisa Hirsch

San Francisco Opera will be announcing its next season later this month. I don't have the date yet, but for the past few years, they've sent the press release out during the last full week of the month, so probably around January 24, 2023. We can actually put together the shape of the season from the centennial season press release and other public information. That the first three operas would be in the 2023-24 season was in that press release. We also know that there's a plan for Music Director Eun Sun Kim to conduct one Verdi opera and one Wagner opera per season.

Assuming that we're still looking at eight-opera seasons, here's what is known or might be guessed at:
  1. Kaija Saariaho, Innocence (U.S. premiere, as far as I know). Presumably this would be conducted by Susanna Mälkki.
  2. Mason Bates, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
  3. Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels, Omar
  4. Verdi, TBD, conducted by Eun Sun Kim. Could be Rigoletto, could be Macbeth. Could be the canceled Ernani. Could be something that hasn't been done in a long time, like Les vepres Sicilienne/I vespri Siciliani.
  5. Wagner, TBD, conducted by Eun Sun Kim. I have heard rumors of Lohengrin and of Tristan und Isolde, with Simon O'Neill's name attached to both.
  6. Speculation: Puccini, La Boheme. This is my guess, based on something Matthew Shilvock said at the opening concert last year. Maybe conducted by Eun Sun Kim, or maybe this will be for former music director Nicola Luisotti.
  7. Speculation: Saint-Saens, Samson et Dalilah. 
  8. Speculation: Something Russian? One of the Opera for All commissions?
Also speculating: Eun Sun Kim conducted or conducts four of this season's operas plus two concerts, so she'll lead at least four of the above plus the opening night gala.


Speculation: Open Music Director Positions

So, there are multiple important music director positions open around the world. A couple of them will surely be settled within the next few months, others are likely to be open for a while.

  • New York Philharmonic: Jaap van Zweden leaves the position at the end of the 2023-24 season. I expect an announcement early this year, ahead of Deborah Borda's retirement at the end of the 2022-23 season. Is Gustavo Dudamel going to take this? Will someone Finnish be appointed? Will the new music director be a complete surprise?
  • Chicago Symphony: Riccardo Muti leaves the position at the end of the current (2022-23) season. I suppose it's possible that they won't have a successor chosen by then, but it seems unlikely.
  • Seattle Symphony: Thomas Dausgaard left abruptly a year ago. No successor has been announced yet. It's possible that the unfortunate circumstances have made potential candidates wary.
  • Berlin State Opera: Daniel Barenboim has resigned, effective the end of this month. Unless a successor is already lined up, this is likely to take some time.
  • Corollary to that first bullet: If Dudamel goes to the NY Philharmonic, who will be appointed at the LA Philharmonic? Principal guest conductor Susanna Mälkki's appointment at the Helsinki Philharmonic closes with the 2023-24 season. There was a time when MGT, who was an assistant conductor at the LA Phil, would have been a candidate, but it's clear that she's not looking right now.

Daniel Barenboim Retires from Berlin State Opera

Here's a huge change, though also a change that looked more and more possible over the last six months: Daniel Barenboim, suffering from deteriorating health, is resigning as music director of the Berlin State Opera. His resignation is effective on January 31, 2023. He has held this position since 1992, a remarkable run of 30 years.

Open positions:

  • Berlin State Opera
  • Marin Symphony
  • Indianapolis Symphony
  • 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 leaves at the end of 2022-23
  • Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra: open in 2024
  • New York Philharmonic, when Jaap van Zweden leaves in 2024.
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic, when Jaap van Zweden leaves in 2024.
  • Oakland Symphony, owing to the death of Michael Morgan in August, 2021.
  • 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. 
  • Virginia Symphony: JoAnn Falletta is now laureate, but nsuccessor has been named.
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • 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): 
  • Christian Thielemann
  • Osmo Vänskä
  • Alasdair Neale (Not currently seeking a new position)
  • Ben Simon (Not currently seeking a new position)
  • Susanna Mälkki, who leaves the Helsinki Philharmonic at the end of 2023-24
  • MGT (apparently does not want a full-time job, as of early 2022)
  • Krzysztof Urbański
  • Miguel Harth-Bedoya
  • Lionel Bringuier
  • Sian Edwards
  • Ingo Metzmacher
  • Jac van Steen
  • Mark Wigglesworth
  • David Robertson
  • Peter Oundjian
  • Philippe Auguin
  • Kwame Ryan
  • Ilan Volkov
  • Aleksandr Markovic
  • Lothar Koenigs
  • Henrik Nanasi
  • Philippe Jordan, eventually
And closed:
  • Helsinki Philharmonic: Jukka-Pekka Saraste to succeed Susanna Mälkki.
  • San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, with the appointment of Cosette Justo Valdés.
  • 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.
  • Garry Walker: now full-time music director of Opera North
  • Jun Markl: music director of the Malaysian Philharmonic
  • Juanjo Mena: music director of the Cincinnati May Festival
  • Eric Jacobsen is the new music director of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
  • Andrés Orozco-Estrada is now music director of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (not to be confused with the Vienna Philhamonic).
  • James Gaffigan appointed Music Director of the Komische Oper in Berlin, succeeding Henrik Nanasi, who left several years ago. 
  • Royal Stockholm Philharmonic: Ryan Bancroft is chief conductor designate. He starts in 2023-24.
  • Anja Bihlmaier is the new chief conductor of the Residentie Orchestra, The Hague.
  • Dalia Stasevska is the new chief conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.
  • Daniela Candillari named principal conductor of OTSL.
  • Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, where Klaus Mäkelä, now their artistic partner, becomes chief conductor in 2027.
  • Jonathon Heyward becomes music director of the Baltimore Symphony, succeeding Marin Alsop. Baltimore is not in great shape; they've had terrible management and terrible financial problems, although they've also hired Mark Hanson, who is known to be competent.
  • Thomas Søndergård becomes music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, succeeding Osmo Vänskä. (The NY Times can manage the umlauts in Vänskä, but not the diacriticals in Søndergård. C'mon, you can do better than that.) Two interesting things about Søndergård: he was a timpanist, unusual among conductors, who tend to be pianists; he married his partner, a baritone, less than two weeks ago. Me, I'm wondering whether he was worried that Obergefell might be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, given Justice Thomas's threat in Dobbs.
  • Michigan Opera Theater: new principal conductor is Daniela Candillari.
  • Teatro Comunale, Bologna: Oksana Lyniv becomes music director.
  • Sarasota Orchestra: Bramwell Tovey becomes MD in 2022-23.
  • Atlanta Symphony: Nathalie Stutzmann to succeed Robert Spano in 2022-23.
  • Carlos Kalmar is now Director of Orchestral and Conducting Programs and Principal Conductor of the Cleveland Institute of Musicas well as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago. 
  • Houston Synphony: Juraj Valčuha to succeed Andrés Orozco-Estrada.
  • Opera de Paris: Gustavo Dudamel succeeds Philippe Jordan.
  • Melbourne Symphony: Jaime Martin becomes chief conductor in 2022. Sir Andrew Davis left at the end of 2019. 
  • City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: Kazuki Yamada replaces MGT when she leaves at the end of 2021-22
  • London Symphony Orchestra: Sir Antonio Pappano becomes Chief Conductor Designate in September, 2023, Chief Conductor the following year.
  • Fort Worth Symphony: Robert Spano to succeed Miguel Harth-Bedoya.
  • Oregon Symphony: David Danzmayr succeeds Carlos Kalmar at the beginning of the 2021-22 season.
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Maxim Emelyanychev has succeeded Robin Ticciati
  • Orchestre de Paris: Klaus Mäkelä to succeed Daniel Harding
  • Montreal Symphony Orchestra: Rafael Payare has succeeded Kent Nagano.
  • Richmond Symphony: Valentina Peleggi succeeds Steven Smith.
  • Singapore Symphony: Hans Graf succeeded Lan Shui.
  • BBC National Orchestra of Wales: Ryan Bancroft succeeded Thomas Søndergård
  • BRSO hires Sir Simon Rattle to succeed the late Mariss Jansons, effective 2023.

Friday Photo

Photograph. A shoreline, with some beach visible at the bottom of the photo. In the shallow water are many small white and black wading birds (nonbreeding American Avocets) and one tall white bird (snowy egret). The egret has its back to the photographer. Most of the avocets are in profile.

American Avocets and a Snowy Egret
Elsie Roemer Bird Sanctuary, Alameda, CA
December, 2022


Thursday, January 05, 2023

Interview with Kip Cranna


Scan of a hand-colored photo postcard. Two Neo-classical buildings on Van Ness Ave., SF, the War Memorial Opera House and the Veterans Building. Also on the street, a number of 1930s automobiles.

War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building
Hand-colored photo postcard
Lisa Hirsch collection

Violinist, former Metropolitan Opera Orchestra member, and writer Erica Miner interviewed SF Opera Dramaturg Emeritus Kip Cranna for Broadway World. Cranna has been with SFO for 40 years and there isn't much about the company's history that he doesn't know. He is also smart and a very nice person, as far as I can tell; we've exchanged email once or twice and he was kind enough to dig up for me the cut sheet for those abbreviated productions of Les Troyens with Crespin from decades ago. The interview, in two parts, is very well worth reading!

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Elayne Jones

Elayne Jones, the first Black woman to hold a principal position in a major U.S. orchestra, has died at 94.

Jones joined the San Francisco Symphony in 1972, when Seiji Ozawa was the orchestra's music director. She was denied tenure twice. The first time, two members of the tenure committee had the nerve to score her skill level at 1 out of 100, which is obviously racist and sexist bullshit: you wouldn't get past the send-us-a-tape stage of the audition process with that skill level. Nor would you have graduated from Juilliard or played in the NY City Opera orchestra or had a freelance career in NYC. The second time, they had doubts about her intonation. I wasn't there, but one certainly wonders whether this was the case.

UPDATED: 1/3/2023, 1/28/2023

Monday, January 02, 2023