Monday, October 30, 2023

California Festival

I've only blogged once before about the California Festival, but it is upon us, starting this Friday, November 3. I'm not going to be able to get out of the Bay Area in the first two weeks of the month, owing to reviews the next two weeks and looming work deadlines, so it took until today for me to take a look at the Festival's web site. That was with prompting from a friend, who mentioned that he "was hoping [I'd] tell [him] there was some obvious way of sorting the California Festival events by location on their website."

Well, I looked, and I was appalled by what I saw. Let me count, er, bullet-list the issues: 

  • There's no way to sort the events by location. This is a real problem with a festival that stretches from Fort Bragg to somewhere south of San Diego. (I think - the map to the left of the concert list is of dubious usefulness because you can't click on a location and see what's being performed there or when.)
  • The address for each participating organization in the chronological listing bears no resemblance to the concert locations and in some cases to the physical location of the organization. I am highly dubious that 15 Van Ness Avenue is the, or a, correct address for the San Francisco Symphony, one of the three orchestras that organized the festival. That's not the address of Davies Symphony Hall, and in fact it's south of Market Street! What's with the Nordhoff St. address of the Colburn School of Music in LA? The school is across the street and down the block from Walt Disney Concert Hall. Nordhoff Street seems to "Sherwood Forest"?
  • You can't copy/paste from the concert list page.
  • You can't do an effective search on the concert list page because the page doesn't scroll in response to a search in your browser.
  • The site is slow, even on my M2 Mac Mini. Transitions from page to page don't actually take forever, but it seems that way: I'm counting between two and three seconds when you navigate from a details page to the list page. Whoever designed the site seems not to have tested on older computers.
  • It's...ugly. Somehow there's enough contrast on the concert listing page even though I think that it features green type on a cream background. 
  • All those exploding graphics do nothing for usability; they slow down the site; there are two of them every time you navigate from concert details to the concert listing.
  • There is no persistence! If you view a particular listing, when you click Back, you are taken back to listings for November 3. That's right: view a listing for November 17, try to get back to the list page, and you'll be looking at listings for November 3.
Folks, web sites are about 30 years old. I created my person web site in 1996, with a copy of Laura LeMay's Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML in a Week. That web site is still posted, though I rarely update it. It is much faster to navigate than the California Festival web site, because it's as basic as you can get. Regardless, there is no damn excuse for a festival sponsored by three of the biggest performing arts organizations in the state to have such a very terrible web site.

Jake Heggie's Intelligence: Media Round-Up

I haven't seen this opera, though I can say that when I read about it a few weeks ago I was surprised and dismayed to see that two white men were telling the story of two women, one Black and one white, in a story set during the American Civil War. (Shades of Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison's Margaret Garner, which is based on the same historical incident as Morrison's novel Beloved.)  I am not the only person who had this reaction.

Museum Mondays

Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, August, 2018


Friday, October 27, 2023

Monday, October 23, 2023

Museum Mondays

Detail from "Marianna"
John Everett Millais
Palace of the Legion of Honor
August, 2018


Friday, October 20, 2023



  • Stephen Rubin died last Friday, October 13, at 81, of complications of sepsis following an infection. He was an immensely successful publisher, a career he started at 43 after twenty years as a freelance journalist. We never met, but I knew him as the founder of the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism. The Rubin Institute has held alternate-years seminars for young classical music critics; the seminars moved around for the first few occurrences but now they are settled into the SF Conservatory of Music. Rubin has also funded music critic positions at several newspapers, at a time when journalism is in retreat and the number of such positions is greatly diminished. He was a smart guy with a great eye for a best seller and I'm grateful for his work on behalf of classical music journalism.
  • The Emerson String Quartet is about to play its last concert, after nearly a half-century of standard-setting performances and recordings. They've played it all, from the earliest string quartets to recent works, including pieces they commissioned.
  • Waltraud Meier is retiring from the stage; her last performance took place today. She sang Klytemnestra in Patrice Chereau's Elektra staging in Berlin. Ben Miller interviewed her for the Times.

I Gemelli : Performances I Wish I Could Get To

(Photo care of I Gemelli)

The Toulouse-based Baroque music group I Gemelli has a short North American tour next month, with a program called A Room Full of Mirrors. Based on their video preview, these concerts sound like a lot of fun. They'll be performing works by Castelani, Turini, Marini, Falconieri, Frescobaldi, Castello, Castaldi, Gregori, D’India, Notari and Sabbatini. Note that the Boston concert will be streamable for two weeks in December!

I Gemelli with Emiliano Gonzalez Toro and Zachary Wilder
  • November 16 - New York City - Morgan Library (co-presented by the Boston Early Music Festival)  
  • November 18 - Boston - Jordan Hall presented by Boston Early Music Festival (available to stream online December 2-16)
  • November 22 - Montréal - Salle Bourgie


Friday Photo


At the grave of Charles Garnier
Architect of the Opéra Garnier, Paris
October, 2018

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Why I Keep Wearing a Mask and Dining Outside at Restaurants

The Monday before last, that is, October 9, I had dinner with a friend - outdoors. On Friday, I emailed him to say it was great to see him (it was!) and he'd had a positive COVID test that morning. There was quite a lot of nail-biting on my part until I'd had two negative test and he had figured out that probably he and other friends, all testing positive, had been exposed the following night when they were out together. 


But...on Sunday, I had lunch with a friend - again outdoors - and then we sat next to each other for a long, long opera. I wore a mast during the performance, but chatted with various people ummasked at intermission. And this morning my friend, who has been under the weather since yesterday, tested positive. This is a friend who has been extremely cautious throughout the pandemic and its current more endemic phase.

I am once again biting my nails, and once again urging people to wear masks when you're on public transit, in public places, in stores, anywhere where you don't know everyone else's status, etc. Masking is most effective when everyone does it, and I am doing my bit with the masking.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

San Francisco Opera: The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs


Bille Bruley as Steve Wozniak and John Moore as Steve Jobs
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Pushing this post, from September 26, to the top, now that I've seen it again.

I feel pretty much the same way as I did in 2017. I think there were some improvements: I am reasonably sure that an embarrassing line about how Steve and Laurene "adopted" Lisa Brennan-Jobs is now gone, and I think that Laurene has more music. But the opera still fails to show how Jobs evolved; he is awful throughout. Reviews of Brennan-Jobs's memoir, Small Fry, makes Jobs and Laurene both sound awful. And in 2023, it's hard for me to be anything but cynical about tech moguls considering everything that has gone on in the last few years (the destruction of Twitter; working for an extremely profitable company that overhired during the pandemic, then laid of 12,000 people while paying its CEO nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, etc.).

I still liked the music and the performers are fine, although Sasha Cooke's general artistic profile isn't glamorous rich lady, and that might affect how I see her performance. John Moore and Bille Burley are great as Jobs and Woz, and it was good to see Adler Fellow Olivia Smith in a larger role. 

I was given a nice seat upgrade to the orchestra section, Row J just off the center aisle, and I gotta say that the orchestra sounded amazing from there; I could hear more details than in Santa Fe, where who knows how much sound goes out the back and sides of the theater. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

San Francisco Opera: Lohengrin

Lohengrin, Act III
David Alden production, staged at San Francisco Opera
Kristinn Sigmundsson as King Heinrich
SFO Chorus
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

SFO's Lohengrin opened on Sunday, October 15, and I'd say they've got a hit. The production has its issues, discussed in greater or lesser detail in Joshua Kosman's review and mine. He's more positive about Simon O'Neill than I am. Let me note that O'Neill is fine; he sings musically and with a lot of power. But the three other principals are all outstanding and outshine him vocally and dramatically. Better direction would have helped, to be sure; I feel that he's underdirected. 

The debuts and the excellence of Eun Sun Kim's Wagner are the truly big stories here. After decades of mostly hearing the great Donald Runnicles in Wagner, with Nicola Luisotti dipping a toe only into the German romantic repertory, with Lohengrin and Salome, of course I wondered what she'd be like. By the end of the Act I prelude I knew all was well and that the opera was in good hands; the performance was truly magnificent.

More reviews to come, I'm sure:


Monday, October 16, 2023

Museum Mondays

Detail of the Virgin, Child, St. George, and an Angel, with a Donor
Hans Memling
Palace of the Legion of Honor
August, 2018


Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Adès Program Replacement: Concerts with Sting

Davies Sypmphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

                                        STING AND THE SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY
Wednesday, February 14, 2024 at 7:30pm
          Thursday, February 15, 2024 at 7:30pm        

Edwin Outwater conducts.

Subscribers can buy tickets now by logging in to their SFS account, non-subscribers on Friday

Monday, October 09, 2023

Uhhhhh, what?

Davies Symphony Hall
October, 2023
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

A few weeks ago, Thomas Adès withdrew from his planned February concerts at SF Symphony and SFSoundBox. At the time, the orchestra announced that there would be an announcement about replacements for February 15-16 and 18.

Now we've got the announcement that they're just cancelling. Ticketholders can do one of the following:

  • Exchange the tickets for another concert.
  • Exchange tickets for a San Francisco Symphony gift certificate, which can be used at any time.
  • Donate tickets and receive a tax deduction for the total ticket value. 
  • Receive a refund for the value of the tickets.
Color me befuddled. With more than four months notice, the orchestra was unable to find a conductor who could turn up for the rehearsal period and performance period with a program that would be within the means of a great professional orchestra? Really? Truly? There was no one available? 

The orchestra hasn't currently got an associate/assistant conductor, but it does have Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser (resident conductor of engagement and education), Daniel Stewart (music director of the youth orchestra), and Jenny Wong (chorus director), all of whom are competent to lead the orchestra in a range of repertory. (It's possible that Wong has a conflict with the L.A. Master Chorale, of course.) And I find it unbelievable that of the dozens of good to great conductors in the world, no one could conduct SFS that week. Not to mention, bring in the right soloist and you can sell out the hall. I see that Yuja Wang, for example, seems to be free from February 10 to sometime in March.

I'll just assume that this is a money-saving decision.

Okay, okay; in the press release, but not the customer announcement: "Alternate programming for this week will be announced at a later date." 


Museum Mondays

Virgin and Child Enthroned with Angels (detail)
The Master of the St. Lucy Legend
Palace of the Legion of Honor
August, 2018


Friday, October 06, 2023

Vallejo Festival Orchestra: Three Tenors! The Next Generation

Thomas Conlin and the Vallejo Festival Orchestra have a concert coming up at the end of the month that looks like a lot of fun: three young tenors, an excellent orchestra and conductor, and a program of Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, and other well-loved Italian composers. The singers are Taylor Comstock, Spencer Hamlin, and Alex McKissick. I checked out some of their videos, and there's lots of talent here! It's a special thrill to hear singers at the beginning of their careers, too.

From the web site:
Expect a night of vocal splendor as the Vallejo Center for the Arts brings together three extraordinary young tenors who are set to captivate audiences with their remarkable talent, soaring voices, and electrifying performances!

Three Tenors! – The Next Generation is a tribute to the iconic “3 Tenors” concerts that have captivated the world for decades. Building upon the legendary legacy of Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras, this concert celebrates the new generation of talented tenors who are poised to carry the torch forward.

Grammy award-winning conductor Thomas Conlin will direct the magnificent Vallejo Festival Orchestra in a program of popular songs and arias by Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti and other well-known Italian opera composers, along with overtures and choice orchestral excerpts from Tosca, La traviata, La bohème and other audience favorites.

Featuring a wide-ranging repertoire that spans the Golden Age of Italian Opera, this concert will delight opera lovers as well as music lovers from all walks of life. Our three tenors, selected for their exceptional vocal prowess, stage presence, and their ability to seamlessly blend traditional operatic technique with contemporary styles, will create a mesmerizing and unforgettable musical experience.

Empress Theatre,  Vallejo

Saturday, October 28, 2023, 7:30 PM; Tickets $35-$95

Friday Photo

Courtyard of the Louvre
Building, pavement, lamps, people, a corner of the pyramid
Paris, February, 2019


Thursday, October 05, 2023

Belated Museum Mondays

Detail of a painting at the Musée du Louvre
Paris, February, 2019


Missed Opportunity, or, I Can't Believe I'm Writing This in 2023.

The Alexander String Quartet almost always has a Saturday morning series at Herbst, accompanied by talks by composer/musicologist Robert Greenberg. This year's series is called Music as a Mirror of Our World: The String Quartet from 1905 to 1946. The title is....partially correct. It's a mirror of our world if you think only white men compose string quartets.

Here's the programming for the full series. For each concert, I've suggested an alternative quartet they might have programmed.

Program 1: Austria. Quartets by Schoenberg and Webern. Add Johanna Beyer String Quartet 1 or 2.

Program 2: Russia. Quartets by Stravinsky and Prokofiev. No obvious pick here, so let's go for the unknown-to-me Varvara Adrianovna Gaigerova, who wrote two strings quartets.

Program 3: Czechoslovakia. Quartets by Haas and Janacek. Vítězslava Kaprálová wrote eight string quartets; take your pick.

Program 4: United States. Quartets by Barber and Piston. Add Ruth Crawford Seeger's sole quartet.

Program 5: Austria. Quartets by Zemlinsky and Korngold. The loveliest girl in Vienna didn't get to write a string quartet, so let's move on to Johanna Müller-Hermann, who wrote two.

Program 6: United Kingdom: Quartets by Walton and Britten, both English, so "United Kingdom" isn't exactly accurate. Let's take any of Elizabeth Maconchy's superb quartets that were written in or before 1946.

My article Lend Me a Pick Ax was published in 2008, and I'm still having to write blog posts like this.