Monday, July 31, 2023

Museum Mondays

Brünnhilde costume and winged helmet, worn by soprano Kirsten Flagstad 
at the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera.
Exhibit at San Francisco International Airport
on the occasion of S.F. Opera's 100th season.
Costume care of the Metropolitan Opera Archive


Monday, July 24, 2023

Sunday, July 23, 2023


Well....when a new professional chorus sends out its first email and uses the phrase "a commitment to artistic innovation," you naturally look at the repertory that they have decided to perform.

And when you find that they're performing music by eight white men, six of them dead and the two living ones 60 and older, you wonder what "innovative" means to them. The composers are from six different countries (good!) and the particular works do look interesting in and of themselves. But still: it's as though the group missed much of the discussion about innovation and diversity in the music that gets performed.

There's time for this to change, though: their first concert will be next February. Best of luck, of course, and I look forward to hearing more about what "artistic innovation" means to the music director.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Friday Photo

Stroweger PAX phone
PAX = private automatic exchange
War Memorial Opera House
June, 2023
I suspect that it's inoperable.


Monday, July 17, 2023

Museum Mondays

Detail of a painting and frame
John Singer Sargent and Spain Show
Palace of the Legion of Honor, SF
May, 2023


Wednesday, July 12, 2023

San Francisco Symphony Contract

Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Yesterday, San Francisco Classical Voice published an article that Janos Gereben and I co-wrote. It is one of the more important articles I've had any responsibility for, and it grew out of Janos's long history of reporting on labor relations at SFS and my dogged tracking of vacancies at San Francisco Symphony, here and elsewhere on this blog. 

To make an extremely long story (it ran 2600 words or so) as short as possible: the SFS musicians took a huge pay cut during the pandemic and have been working without a contract since last November; there are currently more than 20 vacancies in the orchestra, some apparently spurred by a combination of the pandemic and incentives to retire; all parties in the negotiations have been surprisingly quiet during the talks. There was a one low-key public outreach effort by the musicians: back in January, they handed out flyers in the Davies lobby before a concert, politely chatted up curious audience members, then, after intermission, held up their information flyers from the stage.

A few odd ends didn't make it into the story, but they might be relevant.
  • The orchestra has alleged $40 million in losses. This tracks with the drop in the endowment from fiscal year ending August, 2021 to fiscal year ending August, 2022, and corresponds to a big drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the same period. The DJIA has gone up a lot in the last year, but the audited financials for FY ending August, 2023, won't be out until next year. It's possible that the endowment has recovered; it's possible that the $40 million comes from somewhere else.
  • The late Robin Sutherland, principal keyboard for more than 45 years, retired in 2018. Five years later, his position has not been filled, although he occupied a named chair that is funded in perpetuity. I have to assume that this is a matter of priorities; Marc Shapiro and others have played piano and other keyboards very ably, but still.
  • Freelance musicians subbing with the orchestra are paid the low end of the full-time contractual salary, but on a per-service basis, with some modifications for instrument doubling (flute and alto flute, for example) or playing in a principal position. 
  • You might have seen a notorious classical music site linking to the article and using the phrase "XX musicians have left under Esa-Pekka Salonen," which is despicable phrasing, implying that somehow Salonen had something to do with this. It's the orchestra that negotiates musician contracts; it's the board that's responsible for making sure the money is there to pay the musicians appropriately; it's the board and orchestra that apparently offered some financial incentives to encourage retirements. Salonen, as I hope the article makes clear, has no responsibilities in these areas.
I also want to mention that the freelancers who've been playing in the orchestra are, by and large, terrific musicians. I wish, for their sake and that of the orchestra, that they were being hired on an annual basis rather than a per-service basis. Job stability is an all-around good thing.


Monday, July 10, 2023

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Santa Fe Opera: A Further Cast Change

Received earlier today:

Santa Fe, NM —  The Santa Fe Opera announces soprano Leah Hawkins will sing all remaining performances of Tosca, which opened the 2023 Season on June 30 and runs for 11 performances through August 26. This comes as a result of the withdrawal of Angel Blue, who was most recently scheduled for four performances: July 1421, August 1 and 7. Blue has stepped down owing to an unexpected family emergency and has also withdrawn from all other upcoming engagements in the month of July.

Writes Ms. Blue, “I am deeply saddened to confirm that, due to an unexpected family emergency, I will be canceling all of my professional engagements in the month of July and therefore will be unable to sing the role of Tosca at Santa Fe Opera. I am heartbroken not to be performing this season, as Santa Fe Opera is truly a highlight for any opera singer, but I am confident that the audiences on those nights will be astonished by Leah Hawkins’ phenomenal talent and brilliant interpretation of the title character. I would like to extend my heartfelt apologies for the sudden change, as I know that I would not be the Tosca that Santa Fe Opera deserves while managing this personal matter. Thank you for your understanding.” The Santa Fe Opera wishes Angel Blue and her family well during this difficult time.

On June 30 rising soprano Leah Hawkins made her Santa Fe Opera debut in the titular role; early critical acclaim for her performance includes: 

“Her opening night performance was riveting throughout, but her Act 2 aria “Vissi d’arte,” in which the character entreats God wondering what she has done to deserve such a fate when she only lived for love and for art, was a showstopper… those of us who saw Hawkins in the role will someday boast of catching her early in her career.”
— Julia Goldberg, Santa Fe Reporter 

“In the title role, Leah Hawkins provided tonal and dynamic variety vocally, along with beautiful tone…”
—Mark Tiarks, Santa Fe New Mexican

“Hawkins truly has a splendid voice: powerful, with a golden medium range and clear‑cut high notes.”
—Christian Dalzon,

About Leah Hawkins
Leah Hawkins is a graduate of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at
The Metropolitan Opera, 2021 winner of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Women in Classical Music Career Advancement Award and 2022 Richard Tucker Career Grant recipient. Her Santa Fe Opera debut as Tosca is her second journey into the opera world’s beloved diva. When asked for three fun facts about herself, Hawkins shared:

  • I started piano lessons at 9, voice lessons at 12 and I have performed 25+ operatic roles, including 5 that I premiered/created.
  • I love costume jewelry. One-of-a-kind, funky, geometric pieces make me happy!
  • I also collect magnets. They are usually from places I have visited or worked.


Best wishes to Angel Blue and her family; toi toi toi to Leah Hawkins!

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Museum Mondays

Majorcan Fisherman
John Singer Sargant, 1908
Palace of the Legion of Honor, SF
May, 2023


Monday, July 03, 2023

All of the Openings at San Francisco Symphony, Filled or Not


Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

San Francisco Symphony has had an enormous number of openings for the last couple of years. Here's a list of all of the openings I've noted, including Robert Ward's upcoming retirement, and who filled those openings that have been filled:

  1. Principal flute 
  2. Associate principal flute 
  3. Associate principal clarinet/Eb clarinet (was Louis Baez, now Matthew Griffith)
  4. Clarinet 
  5. Bassoon
  6. Contrabassoon
  7. Principal horn
  8. Assistant Principal and Third Horn
  9. Bass trombone
  10. Section percussion
  11. Associate concertmaster
  12. Section violin (4) (two of the four filled by Katarzyna Bryla-Weiss and Leonid Plashinov-Johnson)
  13. Section viola (3)
  14. Principal cello (was Michael Grebanier, now Rainer Eudeikis)
  15. Section cello (3)
  16. Section bass (2)
  17. Principal harp
  18. Assistant principal librarian
That's a total of 26 openings since the beginning of 2020, of which it looks as though....four (4) have been filled. Not included in the above: I've seen no signs that they're planning to hire full-time replacements for Ragnar Bohlin, the former chorus director, or the late Robin Sutherland, principal keyboard. So maybe....there have been 28 openings.

It's possible that one of the principal flute finalists will be hired; there have also been auditions recently for associate concertmaster and principal horn, so we'll see what happens there. But this is very worrisome: SFS has not been hiring one-year substitutes, so there have been a lot of substitutes floating in and out on an as-needed basis. This reduces financial costs - you don't have to pay benefits or accrue pension credit when you're paying on a per-service basis - but there's a musical cost to such inconsistency. 

And, you know, how long will it take to fill the remaining openings? It's a complicated and time consuming process, and Esa-Pekka Salonen isn't in SF all the time. At the current rate, it is going to take years to fill the vacancies. MTT spent 25 years building this orchestra and making a lot of great hires; it is really sad to see the gaps and know that Salonen is having to do so much rebuilding.

Also, note Mr. CKDH's post at All is Yar, which implies that associate principal horn Mark Almond and principal viola Jonathan Vinocour are looking around. Could the lack of a contract have something to do with this? I bet it could, and I think it is shameful that the musicians have had to work since last November without a contract that at least starts to get them back to pre-pandemic salaries.

San Francisco Symphony: Retirements and Other Departures


Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

A press release from SFS updates the personnel list with several retirements and two additional departures.

  • Wayne Roden, viola, after 49 years in the orchestra
  • Caroline McIntosh, cello, after 42 years
  • Anne Pinsker, cello, after 41 years
  • John Campbell, assistant librarian, after 32 years
  • Bruce Roberts, assistant principal and third horn, after 35 years
Left for other reasons:
  • Helen Kim, violin, is now the associate concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony
  • Eliot Lev, violin, who is now a mental health professional. He was the first openly transgender member of a major U.S. orchestra. From his web site: I'm Eliot (he/him) a multicultural, sexually and gender-expansive mental health therapist dedicated to supporting diverse LGBTQ+ people through integrative, anti-oppressive and evidence-based mental health practices.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Flute Finalists?

Davies Symphony Hall, SF
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

You might have noticed, over the last year or so, a number of flutists rotating through the San Francisco Symphony flute section. That's since principal flutist Tim Day and associate principal flutist Robin McKee retired. The first round of auditions supposedly resulted in an offer that was turned down. 

A second round of auditions took place this spring. There were several guest flutists recently, including the following:  
  • Yubeen Kim, principal flutist of the Konzerthausorchester, Berlin, in the Beethoven concert
  • Kayla Burggraf of the Kansas City Symphony, in the Busoni concert (she has been a substitute more than once this season)
  • Blair Francis Paponiu, associate principal flute of the Naples Philharmonic (FL), in the last program (Julia Bullock and Daphis et Chloe)
I can't recall whether there was a guest flutist for Adriana Mater. Only flutists in concerts conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen would be playing trial weeks, so no flutists who appeared when he wasn't conducting are under consideration for the principal flute job. Best of luck to everyone who tried for the job; there are so many good players out there who are capable of filling the role!


Ojai Music Festival Streaming

I should have gotten this out last month, when the Ojai Music Festival was live, but I did not - oh, well! The streams are still available. As usually, the programs are fabulous, and I wish Ojai were in almost any month but June, which is always packed in the SF area.

The streams are all free! Here's the list of available concerts and repertory that Ojai circulated some time ago, but note that there might have been updates.

Thursday, June 8 



Libbey Bowl  
Rhiannon Giddens vocals Kayhan Kalhor kamancheh | Attacca Quartet | Steven Schick percussion/director| red fish blue fish percussion  


Gabriela ORTIZ Liquid Borders  

Franz Joseph HAYDN String Quartet in F major, Op. 77 No. 2 Hob. III:82 

Zakir HUSSAIN Pallavi (arr. Reena Esmail)  
Philip GLASS First Movement from String Quartet No. 3 (“Mishima”)  

Colin JACOBSEN  Beloved do not let me be discouraged  

Geeshie WILEY  Last Kind Words 

Rhiannon GIDDENS  Lullaby 

David CROSBY/Nathan SCHRAM  Where We Are Not (arr. Nathan Schram) 

Caroline SHAW  Stem and Root from The Evergreen  

John ADAMS  Judah to Ocean, Rag the Bone from John’s Book of Alleged Dances  



Friday, June 9 


10:00am | VIS-À-VIS 

Libbey Bowl 

Gloria Cheng piano | Emi Ferguson flute | Mario Gotoh viola | Leonard Hayes piano | Karen Ouzounian cello Joshua Rubin clarinet | Steven Schick percussion | Michi Wiancko violin | Wu Man pipa  

Shawn OKPEBHOLO mi sueño: afro-flamenco 

Tyson Gholston DAVIS American Tableau (Tableau XI) 

Margaret BONDS Troubled Water (Wade in the Water)   

Michael ABELS  Iconoclasm  

Jessie MONTGOMERY Rhapsody No. 2  

Nasim KHORASSANI Growth  

Nina BARZEGAR  Inexorable Passage  

Lei LIANG vis-à-vis 




Libbey Bowl  


An intimate concert with Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi with music ranging from the Baroque to Appalachian ballads and traditional Black American songs. 


Saturday, June 10 


Libbey Bowl  

Gloria Cheng piano | Kayhan Kalhor kamancheh | Karen Ouzounian cello | Nathan Schram viola | Wu Man pipa  

Niloufar NOURBAKHSH Veiled  

Lei LIANG Mother’s Songs

GE Gan-Ru Gong (from Gu Yue) 

CHOU Wen-Chung The Willows are New

Kayhan KALHOR Solo Improvisation 


8:00pm | OMAR’S JOURNEY   

Libbey Bowl  

Limmie Pulliam tenor (Omar) | Rhiannon Giddens soprano (Julie) | Cheryse McLeod Lewis mezzo-soprano (Fatima) | Michael Preacely bass-baritone (Abdul/Abe) | Andy Papas bass-baritone (Owen/Johnson) 
Emi Ferguson flute | Joshua Rubin clarinet | Mazz Swift, Michi Wiancko violins | Mario Gotoh viola  

Karen Ouzounian cello | Shawn Conley bass | Leonard Hayes piano | Ross Karre, Francesco Turrisi percussion Justin Robinson fiddle | Seckou Keita kora 

Music from Senegal and the Carolinas 

Music by Rhiannon GIDDENS and Michael ABELS Omar’s Journey     World Premiere 

Libretto by Rhiannon Giddens  

An Ojai-commissioned work for voices and chamber ensemble drawn from the opera Omar, by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels, framed by traditional music that traces the journey of the real-life Omar Ibn Said from Senegal to the Carolinas.  


Sunday, June 11 

10:00am | EARLY MUSIC  

Libbey Bowl  


Francesco Turrisi curator and keyboards 
Attacca Quartet | Rhiannon Giddens vocals | Kayhan Kalhor kamancheh | Karen Ouzounian cello  
Wu Man pipa | Joshua Stauffer theorbo  

This concert challenges the idea of late Renaissance and early Baroque music and reinterprets it as a universal language that can connect the 17th century to today through an imagined historical and geographical journey.  



Libbey Bowl 

Amy Schroeder violin | Kayhan Kalhor kamancheh | Seckou Keita kora | Rhiannon Giddens vocals/multi-instrumentalist Wu Man pipa | Francesco Turrisi multi-instrumentalist | Mazz Swift, Michi Wiancko violins | Mario Gotoh viola | Karen Ouzounian cello | Shawn Conley bass | Joshua Stauffer theorbo  
A musical summit of Festival artists and a jam session featuring solos and collaborations bringing together bowed and plucked string instruments from the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. An exuberant finale celebrating the many musical stories featured at this year’s Festival! 

Santa Fe Opera Cast Changes

Santa Fe Opera House from Parking Lot
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

I'd already read that Angel Blue would be released from some of her performances so that she could tour with the Met. Surprising number of cast changes in other major roles, though:

Tosca Cast and Creative Team Updates
Soprano Leah Hawkins sings three additional performances in the title role on June 30July 5 and 8. She steps in for the originally scheduled Angel Blue, who will be on tour with The Metropolitan OperaAngel Blue appears in four performances from July 14 through August 7. Bass-baritone Dale Travis sings the Sacristan, young singer Kai Edgar makes his company debut as the Shepherd Boy and three Santa Fe Opera Apprentice singers make company debuts: Spencer Hamlin(Spoletta); second-year Apprentice singer Ben Brady (Sciarrone); and Dylan Gregg(Jailer). Katharina Eva Kastening makes her company debut as the Associate Director and Rick SordeletChristian Kelly-Sordelet and Shireen Yehya serve as Fight and Intimacy Directors for Tosca and all productions in the 2023 Season. 

The Flying Dutchman Cast and Creative Team Updates
Replacing Richard Trey Smagur, tenor Chad Shelton makes his company debut in the role of Erik as does Apprentice singer Gretchen Krupp who sings the role of Mary, rounding out the talented cast. The creative team is completed with Brendan Gonzales Boston in his company debut as Associate Scenic Designer. 

Pelléas et Mélisande Cast and Creative Team Updates
Stepping in for originally scheduled Ain Anger, bass Raymond Aceto takes on the role of Arkel. Former Apprentice singer Zachary Nelson joins the cast as Golaud replacing Gihoon Kim and Kai Edgar continues his work with the company, singing the role of Yniold. Ben Brady sings the Physician (through August 9) and Arkel (August 18) while three other Apprentice singers make company debuts: Emma Rose Sorenson (Geneviève August 18); Brandon Bell (the Shepherd); and Sam Dhobhany (Physician August 18). Joining the skilled creative team is Projection Associate Amelia Scott in her company debut.

Rusalka Cast and Creative Team Updates
In her company debut, mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis sings the role of Ježibaba replacing Michaela Martens, while several Apprentice artists make company debuts: Ilanah Lobel-Torres (First Wood Sprite); Lydia Grindatto(Second Wood Sprite); Meridian Prall (Third Wood Sprite); Jordan Loyd (Gamekeeper); Spencer Reichman (Hunter); and the role of the Kitchen Girl is shared by Apprentice singers Kaylee Nichols (through August 8) and Tessa Fackelmann (August 1722). Zeb Lalljee joins the creative team as the Costume Realizer and Nicola Bowie is the Choreographer.

Orfeo Cast and Creative Team Updates
Joining the production are talented artists in key roles: bass James Creswell portrays Caronte, baritone Blake Denson sings Plutone and second-year Apprentice singer Amber Norelai takes on the role of the Euridice. Recent Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition winner and first-year Apprentice singer Christian Simmons makes his company debut in the role of Apollo. Other Apprentice debuts or assignments include Caitlin Aloia (Proserpina), Lucy Evans(La Ninfa through August 16, La Messaggera August 24), Meridian Prall (La Ninfa August 24), Philippe L’Esperance (First Pastore), Brandon Bell (Second Pastore), and Luke Elmer (Third Pastore). Younggwang Park takes on the dual roles of the Fourth Pastore and the First Spirit and Le Bu sings the Fifth Pastore and the Second Spirit. Julie Kim makes her company debut as Associate Producer while Costume Designer Carlos J Soto and Sound Designer Mark Grey return to the Santa Fe Opera.


Arun Ramamurthy Trio

The Arun Ramamurthy Trio has two Bay Area concerts next weekend, in Berkeley and SF. Here's how the press release describes this group:

The Arun Ramamurthy Trio brings a fresh and seamless fusion of South Indian classical and jazz music. Through explosive improvisation, they reimagine traditional Carnatic compositions while incorporating modern jazz elements. 

Arun's original music, influenced by Carnatic ragas and rhythms, is complemented by the rhythmic prowess of drummer Sameer Gupta and electric bassist Damon Banks. The trio's collaboration finds a harmonious balance between the rigor of Indian classical modes and the freedom of a jazz trio. 

Ramamurthy's violin blends the beauty of Indian classical melodies with the soulful essence of American fiddle, evoking feelings of longing and joy reminiscent of both Indian devotional music and certain strains of jazz. 

Saturday, July 8, 8:00 – 9:30 PM

California Jazz Conservatory

2040 Addison Street, 2040 Addison Street

Berkeley, CA

Sunday, July 9, 8:00 – 9:30 PM

The Battery

717 Battery Street 

San Francisco, CA

LA Philharmonic on the Air

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

I have removed almost all of the information I had in this post, because a reader called to my attention that WFMT's LA Phil broadcasts are on Thursdays, not Tuesdays. Further, the concerts I posted didn't match what is on the WFMT web site. So, I will provide one link only, to WFMT's LA Phil page. Their broadcasts are Thursdays at 9 pm Central Time.