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


Museum Mondays

Ceiling of the Opera House
Palace of Versailles
February, 2019


Sunday, November 26, 2023

Saariaho Performances on the Web

Kaija Saariaho (and bits of Peter Sellars)
Santa Fe, August, 2008
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Found on line:

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
En Saga

  • Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
  • Hélène Collerette, violon solo
  • Sakari Oramo, direction

Kaija Saariaho (1952-2023)
Saarikoski Songs (création française)

  • Anu Komsi, soprano
  • Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
  • Sakari Oramo, direction

Helsinki Radio Philharmonic (I think), Susanna Mälkki, cond., with trumpeter Verneri Pohjola

Saariaho, HUSH (trumpet concerto)
Mahler, Symphony no. 9


Friday, November 24, 2023

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Gustavo?


Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Back in April, 2022, I reviewed a San Francisco Symphony program led by guest conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the outgoing music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. That program consisted of Mozart's Prague Symphony and Mahler's 5th. Among other things, I wrote:
The [Mahler] Adagietto lacked sinew and a sense of the underlying structure of the movement and seemed not just slow, but laggard. This was an issue for the entire work: Dudamel seemed to be conducting moment by moment, without illuminating the larger structure of each movement and the symphony as a whole. While his conducting wasn’t metronomic, he lacked an organic sense of the underlying pulse of each movement and thus lacked the kind of graceful rhythmic flexibility within a phrase that good Mahler conducting needs. And he too often overlooked subtle dynamic changes as well.
Dudamel was back at SFS tonight, for this program:

  • Gabriela Ortiz, Kauyumari
  • Gonzalo Grau, Odisea, concerto for cuatro (a four-string Venezuelan guitar)
  • Brahms, Symphony No. 2
I liked the Ortiz a great deal; it is a bouncy, not-exactly-minimalist work built around a theme from an earlier work of hers that in turn is based on a traditional story from Mexico. I'd love to hear more of her music.

Odisea was a lot of fun, with stunningly great playing by cuatro soloist Jorge Glem. I would not call it deep; I found it formally amorphous and somewhat episodic, but I'm also not sure that matters. It had plenty of color and big tunes. Glem is a marvel, a virtuoso, and fit splendidly into the changes of mood over the course of the 25-minute concerto. His encore was a quick trip through excerpts from a bunch of classical works and other tunes, and, again, great fun. I'd go see him play solo or in a small group any day.

And now the bad news: some things never change. The first two movements of the Brahms were Not Good. What I said in 2022 about lack of sinew and a sense of underlying structure applied here as well. The opening of the first movement dragged; what followed was episodic and seemingly boneless. The second movement was much the same. Brahms was, beyond a doubt, a structure guy, and if the listener have no sense of where the music is going, well, the conductor is doing something wrong. Brahms's phrases tend to be big, and Dudamel made them feel small. There was not much flow from phrase to phrase, either.

I don't know what happened between the second and third movements, but...the third was pretty good and the fourth movement worked really well. It was propulsive; it had direction; it had shape. I also must mention some particularly beautiful and elegant playing by principal horn Robert Ward, who is retiring at the end of the year. I am going to miss him.


Friday Photo

Daylight moon over New Mexico
August, 2019


Thursday, November 23, 2023

People and Things to be Thankful For

Somewhat similar to last year's post, though I had to take out "SF Opera's continuing mask requirement":

There's so much: I'm grateful for my partner Donna; for work I (mostly) like and can do from home; for my excellent work colleagues and the five people who've managed me in the last three years (they've been wonderfully supportive through thick and thin); for the roof over my head.  For the performance arts organizations without whose work my life would be so much poorer; for Eun Sun Kim and Esa-Pekka Salonen and the circumstances that brought them to San Francisco; for MTT; for West Edge Opera and Opera Parallel; for San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony. For my many friends, on and off the internet; for Deborah, Patrick, Craig, Joshua, Nan, Nina, Georgia, Lois, Lizzy, Lizzie, Liz, Steve S. and Steve H., Kalimac, Janos, Michael, Peter and SFCV; F. Paul; Ed, Imani, Alex, Mike, Charlise, Axel, Tim M. and Tim P., for Matt and Nancy, for Matt and Janet; for The Well, my online home since the last century; for musicology Twitter; for all of the members of the APA about relationships (my offline home since the last century). And for many folks not specifically named here. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Smith and Stravinsky at San Francisco Symphony


Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Reviews of From the Edge, the second San Francisco Symphony installment in the California Festival.
Joshua Kosman and I are on the same page about both Breathing Forests (fabulous) and Les Noces (dubious about the Stucky orchestral arrangement). Here I can mention a line that I didn't manage to squeeze into the review, in response to Smith saying that an organ is a forest of pipes: The wood-clad pipes of the Rosales organ in Walt Disney Concert Hall look a lot more like a forest than the austere white pipes of the Ruffatti organ in Davies.

I am more bluntly critical about the arrangement and the godawful videos accompanying Les Noces, a choral work that I know as well as anything that I've never actually sung. It is among my favorite works by Stravinsky, and in college I was lucky enough to turn pages for the first piano for a couple of performances of it. At the time, I figured I would get to sing it someday - I was in the chamber chorus that also performed on that program - but now, many years later, it remains elusive. It is a very great work, and, really, you want to hear it in the four-piano version.

There's an advantage to having first heard it, and internalized it, in English: I had a good idea of what was going on even when I wasn't looking at the animations. I mentioned that the sense of developing drunken revelry was somewhat lost Friday night, and how I knew this was because Paul Appleby's exhortation "Raise your voices!" didn't register as a command to the guests, and "Black her brows and beautiful!", which the half-drunk chorus men sing just flew by with little impact.

Museum Mondays

Gates of Versailles Palace
Paris, France
February, 2019


Sunday, November 19, 2023

San Francisco Opera 2024 Adler Fellows; Adler Concert


War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

San Francisco Opera announced the 2024 Adler Fellows at the beginning of October. Here's the basic information from the press release:

The Adler program has trained any number of young singers who went on to good careers in opera. It's always nice to be able to say "I knew them when," and the annual Alder concert is a great opportunity to hear these talented singers. Here are the details for the concert, which has a very interesting program:


Saturday, December 2, 2023, at 7:30 p.m.

Herbst Theatre, Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco


San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows

San Francisco Opera Orchestra

Ramón Tebar, conductor


Tickets for The Future Is Now range from $34–$69.


PROGRAM (subject to change)


Overture from Norma (Vincenzo Bellini)

San Francisco Opera Orchestra


"Va, crudele … Vieni in Roma!" from Norma (Vincenzo Bellini)

Gabrielle Beteag, Adalgisa • Moisés Salazar, Pollione


"Che più t'arresti … Tacea la notte ... Di tale amor" from Il Trovatore (Giuseppe Verdi)

Nikola Printz, Inez • Mikayla Sager, Leonora


"Amor ti vieta" from Fedora (Umberto Giordano)

Edward Graves, Count Loris


"Ch'il bel sogno di Doretta" from La Rondine (Giacomo Puccini)

Olivia Smith, Magda


"Riez, allez" from Don Quichotte (Jules Massenet)

Jongwon Han, Sancho


"Sull'aria" from Le Nozze di Figaro (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)

Olivia Smith, Countess Almaviva • Arianna Rodriguez, Susanna


"I was a woman" from prisoner of the state (David Lang)

Nikola Printz, the Assistant


"Sometimes th’ pain of missin' him" from Cold Sassy Tree (Carlisle Floyd)

Victor Cardamone, Will Tweedy


"Un dì, se ben rammentomi" from Rigoletto (Giuseppe Verdi)

Edward Graves, the Duke of Mantua • Nikola Printz, Maddalena • Arianna Rodriguez, Gilda • Jongwon Han, Rigoletto


"Scostatevi ... il Re giunge … Fin dall'età più tenera ... Salirà d'Inghilterra" from Anna Bolena (Gaetano Donizetti)

Jongwon Han, Enrico • Mikayla Sager, Anna Bolena • Victor Cardamone, Percy • Edward Graves, Hervey


"Giunse alfin il momento … Deh, vieni non tardar" from Le Nozze di Figaro (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)

Arianna Rodriguez, Susanna


"Let me look around once more … To leave, to break" from Vanessa (Samuel Barber)

Olivia Smith, Vanessa • Edward Graves, Anatol • Nikola Printz, Erika • Gabriella Beteag, Old Baroness • Jongwon Han, Old Doctor


"Nessun dorma" from Turandot (Giacomo Puccini)

Moisés Salazar, Calaf


"Les Troyens … Je vais mourir … Adieu, fière cite" from Les Troyens (Hector Berlioz)

Gabrielle Beteag, Didon • Nikola Printz, Anna • Jongwon Han, Narbal • Victor Cardamone, Iopas


"Già che il caso ci unisce … Beva al tuo fresco sorriso" from La Rondine (Giacomo Puccini)

Edward Graves, Ruggero • Olivia Smith, Magda • Arianna Rodriguez, Lisette • Victor Cardamone, Prunier • The Adler Fellows, chorus


More SFS Retirements


Davies Symphony Hall, SF
Photo by Lisa Hirsch
October, 2023

San Francisco Symphony sent word the other week about two year-end retirements: Yukiko Kurakata, section first violinist, after 30 years in the orchestra, and Robert Ward, principal French horn, after 43 years.

Kurakata has had a distinguished career as a performer and teacher. Ward joined the orchestra in 1980 as associate principal horn, following stints in the Atlantic Symphony of Halifax and the Denver Symphony. He was named principal horn in 2007, after an inexplicably long period as acting principal. He is a great player with a beautiful sound and I will miss him a great deal.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

San Francisco Opera: Omar


Jamez McCorckle and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus
Omar, Act 2
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

I filed my Omar review early this morning, after wrestling with it quite a bit: I have two different saved version of it, and when I filed, I was somewhat unhappy with it. My editors tightened it up, but I realized I was more equivocal about it than my review conveyed. So I added a bit to make that clearer. Still, the length of my review kept it less focussed than it could have been.

  • Maura Hogan, The Post and Courier
  • Alex Ross, The New Yorker. "...the strength of the conception lies less in its narrative energy than in its ritual atmosphere."
  • Charles McNulty, LA Times theater critic. He notes right off the bat that Omar is "too fluid to be classified in discrete musical or dramatic genres."
  • Edward Ball, NY Review of Books

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Mysteries of Publicity

Throwback Sunday?
  • I'm reminded of an older post in which I lamented that I'm much more likely to attend a concert if I know what you're playing. I've now received two emails from a small chorus that not only don't tell you what they're performing, except in general terms, but which don't contain a link back to the group's web site. And if you look up that web site, it doesn't even contain a list of composers whose works will be performed. This...is not a way to get people to your concerts.
  • Email from a different small organization identifies it as "the San Francisco Bay Area’s premier professional chamber choir." Did this come from Volti? SFCA? the chorus of PBO or American Bach? No, it came from a chorus that has not yet performed in public. This, too, is the kind of publicity that makes me want to stay home.
  • Lastly, I received a Facebook invitation to a concert, but the page for the concert.... doesn't appear to mention who the performers are. Come ON. 
This is really basic who/what/where/when stuff, ya know?? Check out my publicity basics page for basic information about publicity!

Friday, November 10, 2023

Friday Photo

Griffith Observatory
Seen from the parking lot of Hollyhock House
Los Angeles, April, 2023


Belated Museum Mondays

Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington, El Cid Campeador (Ruy Diaz de Bivar, 10401099), 1921
Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
August, 2018


Thursday, November 09, 2023

SF Performances Announces Postponement of Stephen Hough; Castalian String Quartet

Veterans Building, with Herbst Theater, in the distance; War Memorial Opera House, foreground
Vintage post card, collection of Lisa Hirsch

San Francisco Performance sent out a press release this afternoon with postponements of two upcoming concerts:

Stephen Hough: was November 14, 20223, 7:30 pm; new date TBA
Castalian String Quartet: was November 15, 2023, 7:30 pm; new date TBA

Both concerts were at Herbst Theater. "Travel difficulties" is the reason for both postponements.

I was going to get a ticket to see the Castalian; they played a tremendous concert earlier this year at Cal Performances (Haydn, Saariaho, Schubert) and I was very much looking forward to the planned SFP program (Janacek, Beethoven, Turnage). Ah, well; later in the season, I hope.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Thoughts on Lohengrin


Judit Kutasi as Ortrud
Act 2, Lohengrin
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Since the SFO Lohengrin opened, I've been thinking a fair amount about the opera and some of the details in it; also, having the odd second thought about my review. I should have praised Simon O'Neill more than I did; he sang tirelessly and musically in a solid and Wagnerian-sized voice. I realize that I have internalized an ideal Lohengrin and he's not it.

You will understand this when I mention that my previous three Lohengrins were:
  • Ben Heppner, who had a great voice and was an excellent physical actor.
  • Brandon Jovanovich, who has a beautiful voice, is tall and handsome, and has a natural and confident masculinity. Honestly, this makes him just the kind of guy I would want to turn up to defend me if I had been falsely accused of murdering my brother.
  • Klaus Florian Vogt, who is handsome in a completely different way from Jovanovich and who has a voice of unearthly beauty, of a type you rarely, if ever, find singing Wagner successfully. If you have not seen the video of the Neuenfels Lohengin from Bayreuth, I can't recommend it highly enough. It played better in the house than on video (friends found the video a little silly; on stage, it was weirdly beautiful) but whatever. It's an amazing production and accurately represents Vogt's Lohengrin.
The Alden production that SFO staged muted a couple of points that are in the libretto. One is that there are both Saxons and Brabantians in the crowd when the curtain goes up on Act 1. We are in the 10th century, when Heinrich der Vogler (Henry the Fowler) was Duke of Saxony; he's in Brabant to recruit an army to stand up to the Hungarians. (It's always the Hungarians coming after you.) 

A staging could reasonably distingush between the Saxons and the men of Brabant, in the opening and throughout. The King's men and the locals might just behave somewhat differently through the action of the opera.

Another point that comes out primarily in the text is that Ortrud's family, alone among those in the opera, is pagan. Her lineage is noted by Telramund when he's claiming that Elsa murdered her brother Gottfried: "Ortrud, scion of Radbod, Prince of Frisia." Radbod was King of Frisia in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. Wikipedia tells us that a predecessor of his brought Christianity to Frisia, but Radbod tried to extirpate the religion.

The entire opera has as a hidden theme the people of the old gods versus the Christians, which amounts to Ortrud versus everyone else. A production could very reasonably dress her completely differently from the rest of the nobles, and also give her a different bearing or manner from everyone else's. She has hardly anything to sing in Act 1, so it's an opportunity to do something interesting with her physically. Traditionally, the character mostly skulks around the stage. But she's an extremely powerful witch: she can change a child into a swan! That's a very real power in opposition to Lohengrin's power as a representative of the Grail. And yet, in the Alden production, she's reduced to being an anonymous briefcase-carrying bureaucrat, dressed like everyone else.

Friday, November 03, 2023

Friday Photo

Pointy-headed cabbage
The last time I saw one of these it was an Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage.
Description: a pointy green cabbage sitting on a soapstone counter. Green subway tile and art tile on the wall behind the cabbage.
October, 2023
Oakland, CA