Saturday, April 29, 2023

Prospero's Island

I reviewed Allen Shearer (composer) and Claudia Stevens's Propsero's Island (link to opera web site), which is based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, last month, and so did Jeff Dunn.

Dalia Stasevska at San Francisco Symphony


Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Ukranian-Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska made her debut at SFS this week, in a program of Sibelius standards with an opener of Anna Meredith's brief Nautilus. Davies had a big crowd last night, and it took me some time to realize that the reason was not the Sibelius or Stasevska herself, but the presence of violinist Joshua Bell on the program.

I was not particularly enthused about the perpetually boyish Bell myself; at 55, throwing his head back, closing his eyes, and communing with his bow and violin are wearing thin. Of course, I could close my eyes myself, or focus on Stasevska and the orchestra during the Sibelius violin concerto, a great work and among my favorites.

And mostly I did that! But here I have to make a confession: I imprinted strongly and early on the Ormandy/Oistrakh/Philly LP of the piece, which was issued with a magnificent Swan of Tuonela as well. It's a fairly wild ride, and honestly I can't attest to how rhythmically accurate Oistrakh is, but his passion and technical brilliance are dead on. And also his clean articulation and rich tone.

Bell's trademark sound is smooooooooth, smooth like butter, and alas not really what I want to hear in the piece. I want to hear the violinist's bowing, dammit. Bell's style tends to homogenize the phrases and that's beautiful but...for me, not in this piece.  I confess that I spent some time with my eyes closed....wondering what Alina Ibragimova or Leila Josefowicz would sound like in this concerto.

As well, I thought I heard a few bobbles from Bell here and there, with a couple someplace in the first movement and another coming out of the passage in harmonics in the last. I own that I also thought I heard more portamento than you usually get from the soloist in this work. I approve of portamento, so good for him.

Deep breath. It wasn't the only thing on the program. Nautilus is for a biggish orchestra with a lot of percussion, bouncy and minimalist and really a lot of fun. For it, Stasevska and several of the percussionists -- and maybe some other players -- had earpieces, I assume for a click track. The work was originally written for electronics, but was then orchestrated later.

The big revelation of the evening was Stasevska herself, who led a fabulous performance of Sibelius's Symphony No. 2. She's a conductor of big, sweeping gestures, and her conception of the work was big and sweeping, which, of course, it is. Her tempo for the first movement was brisker than I've heard previous and it worked marvelously well. Throughout, the orchestra sounded fantastic, with an especially rich sound from the strings, and stunning playing from the entire brass section. The flutes sounded especially good in the last movement; Linda Lukas was in the second chair, and while I recognized the player in the first chair, I can't dig up his name from my memory. They were great together.

Lastly, and this is comparatively trivial, Stasevska conducted in loose black pants and an extremely beautiful and colorful jacket over a black shell, breaking the conductors-all-wear-black model. You can see it in the photos in Joshua Kosman's review, link below.

Updates: Yes, there was a click track in Nautilus and that's the reason for the earpieces that Stasevska and some of the musicians wore. And I forgot to say that seeing associate principal timpani Bryce Leafman playing a timpano barehanded in the work was extremely cool.


Meet Julius


Our dear Japanese Bobtail cat Sunny died last September at almost 18; she had been diagnosed with an inoperable and untreatable cancer in February. She was her charming self until almost the end; when she started having intermittent breathing problems, we elected home euthanasia and she left us very peacefully. We were then catless, but earlier this month, I spotted a handsome ginger cat at Oakland Animal Services, and brought him home on April 20. He hid under the couch overnight, but since then has been master of all he surveys.

His name is Julius (yes -- orange Julius), and he is a big guy at 13 lbs. He lives up to ginger cats' reputation for sweetness. He likes being near us, purrs a lot, is very talkative, and just lay there purring as I clipped his nails yesterday. He's around 7; he was brought to the shelter as a stay, but he had a chip. The shelter workers called and his people surrendered him. More photos here.

Saturday, April 15, 2023


On my way to Los Angeles:

  • Sibelius 3rd symphony, Sir Colin Davis
  • Hesperion XXI, Vallancicos y danzas criollas
  • Four recordings of Le Sacre du Printemps
    • Esa-Pekka Salonen, LA Phil
    • Zubin Mehta, LA Phil
    • Michael Tilson Thomas, Boston Symphony
    • Myung-Whun Chung, Orchestre de Paris

On my way home:
  • Two recordings of Le Sacre du Printemps
    • Riccardo Chailly, Cleveland Orchestra
    • Pierre Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra
  • Csokolom, Ludo, Luda
  • Les Troyens, John Nelson, Act I
  • There must have been more, but what was it?

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Osmo Vänskä at the LA Phil

Walt Disney Concert Hall, seen from across the street. Masses of stainless steel rising into the air and a broad band of the same across the street-level facade.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch
March, 2017

I was in LA last week and took in the LA Phil with Osmo Vänskä, formerly the music director of the Lahti Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, and Seoul Philharmonic. He was tremendous in his two most recent SFS appearances and was tremendous in the second half of this program, which featured a new work by the South Korean composer Donghoon Shin and Sibelius's Third. I hadn't heard the latter live in many years, not since Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted it at the Sibelius Unbound festival. The Brahms piano concerto no. 1 was less impressive but had its moments. I reviewed for SFCV; I would have sworn that was Mark Swed a few rows ahead of me, but I haven't been able to find a review in the LA Times yet. I'll update this post if I find a review.

My plus-one for the evening thought the Shin sounded like Danny Elfman or the first two Pink Floyd albums. I am woefully ignorant of certain genres and need to check out the Pink Floyd, but the Shin didn't sound at all like the Elfman cello concerto that I reviewed this past fall.

UPDATE, April 17, 2027: A final note. I'd inquired as to whether the commission to Donghoon Shin resulted from Vänskä's tenure at the Seoul Philharmonic. No: Upon His Ghostly Solitude was a commission for the LA Phil's Seoul Festival, which was cancelled because of COVID.

Monday, April 03, 2023

LA Opera Pelleas et Melisande: Run, Do Not Walk

 I saw LA Opera's Pelleas et Melisande yesterday, and it is magnificent. A David McVicar production, but McVicar at his best (Leah Hausmann directs the revival). James Conlon conducts this beautiful score magnificently; the cast is superb. Will Liverman's Pelleas, Sydney Mansacola's Melisande, Kyle Ketelsen's Golaud, Feruccio Furlanetto's Arkel - they will all haunt you. All are gorgeously sung and intensely acted.

Arkel seems like the perfect role for Furlanetto (as did Don Alfonso in the SFO Cosi); his sheer authority is exactly right. Ketelsen was a revelation to me: I cannot believe that SFO has had him only as Escamillo in the last two Carmen runs. He was fine, but his Golaud is a roiling mass of conflicting emotions.

Boy soprano Kai Edgar is marvelous as Yniold and Susan Graham her customary excellent self as  Genevieve.

I'll be going back to see it again while I'm here.