Monday, February 26, 2024

Beethoven in Vallejo

The Vallejo Festival Orchestra, founded and conducted by Thomas Conlin, has a concert next Saturday, March 2, 2024, at 7:30 PM. They'll be performing the following all-Beethoven program:
  • Egmonont Overture
  • Coriolanus Overture
  • Prometheus Overture (I presume this is the overture to The Creatures of Prometheus.)
  • Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Eroica
I can't get there, alas, but let me remind you that this orchestra and conductor gave a Sibelius program last year that was really terrific. I liked it a whole lot more than what the hallowed Vienna Philharmonic and Christian Thielemann did with Mendelssohn and Brahms that same week. So if you're anywhere near the Empress Theater in Vallejo next Saturday, be there or be square.

Museum Monday

Painted Panel
Part of a Triptych Altarpiece
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
November, 2019


Saturday, February 24, 2024

There's a Bay Area Conductor Who Eats Very, Very Well.


Friday, February 23, 2024

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Jules Harlow

Rabbi Jules Harlow died at 92, on February 12, 2024. From his NY Times obituary:

Many of Rabbi Harlow’s liturgical innovations were in “Siddur Sim Shalom,” a daily and Sabbath prayer book published in 1985. 
The volume also included several original poems by Rabbi Harlow, among them “Changing Light,” which was offered as an alternative to parts of the evening service known as ma’ariv:
Resplendent skies, sunset, sunrise
The grandeur of creation lifts our lives
Evening darkness, morning dawn
Renew our lives as You renew all time.
The full poem was even set to music, by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. The piece had its world premiere in Helsinki in 2002, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, and its American premiere at Carnegie Hall in 2003.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Music Director Updates, Part XXX

 Some new reports:

  • Marin Alsop becomes principal guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, I believe succeeding Nathalie Stutzmann.
  • Simon Rattle becomes principal guest conductor of the Czech Philharonic.
  • John Storgards will becomes chief conductor of the Turku Philharmonic.

Open positions:

  • Phoenix Symphony
  • Cleveland Orchestra, as of June, 2027.
  • Paris Opera is currently without a music director.
  • Nashville Symphony, when Giancarlo Guerrero leaves.
  • Deutsche Oper Berlin, when Donald Runnicles leaves.
  • Hallé Orchestra, when Mark Elder leaves.
  • Rottedam Philharmonic, when Lahav Shani leaves.
  • Los Angeles Philharmonic, as of 2026-27, when Gustavo Dudamel leaves for NY.
  • 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 left at the end of 2022-23.
  • Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra: open in 2024 when Louis Langree steps down.
  • 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. 
  • 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). The big mystery, to me, is why an orchestra hasn't snapped up Susanna Mälkki. Slightly lesser mystery: Henrik Nanasi, whose superb Cosi fan tutte is still lingering in my ears.
  • Tito Muñoz 
  • Andrey Boreyko
  • Osmo Vänskä
  • Susanna Mälkki, who left the Helsinki Philharmonic at the end of 2022-23.
  • MGT (apparently does not want a full-time job, as of early 2022)
  • Miguel Harth-Bedoya (seems settled in at Baylor)
  • Lionel Bringuier
  • Sian Edwards
  • Ingo Metzmacher
  • Jac van Steen
  • Mark Wigglesworth
  • Peter Oundjian
  • Ilan Volkov
  • Aleksandr Markovic
  • Lothar Koenigs
  • Henrik Nanasi
  • Philippe Jordan, eventually
  • Franz Welser-Möst, eventually
And closed:

  • Update and correction: San Francisco Chamber Orchestra was unable to hire Cosette Justo Valdés. Instead, Jory Fankuchen, a violinist in the orchestra, has been named Principal Conductor and will lead this season's programs.
  • Indianapolis Symphony hires Jun Markel, effective September 1, 2024.
  • Andris Nelsons renewed his contract with the Boston Symphony. He's now on an evergreen rolling contract, which will continue as long as he and the orchestra are happy with each other. MTT had one of these at SFS.
  • Shanghai Symphony, with the appointment of Long Yu.
  • Virginia Symphony, with the appointment of Eric Jacobsen.
  • Warsaw Philharmonic, with the appointment of Krzysztof Urbański.
  • Bern Symphony, with the appointment of Krzysztof Urbański.
  • Berlin State Opera, with the appointment of Christian Thielemann.
  • Dresden Philharmonic, with the appointment of Donald Runnicles.
  • New York Philharmonic, with the appointment of Gustavo Dudamel. Note that Jaap van Zweden leaves in 2024 and there will be a two-season gap before Dudamel arrives.
  • Helsinki Philharmonic: Jukka-Pekka Saraste to succeed Susanna Mälkki.
  • 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.


Friday, February 16, 2024

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Ozawa Update

After the question arose elsewhere, I asked San Francisco Symphony about Seiji Ozawa's appearances with SFS after he stepped down as music director. Here's the answer:

After the 1976-77 season, Ozawa conducted:

  • January 11-14, 1978 – Tchaikovsky Swan Lake
  • January 18-21, 1978 – Brahms Symphony No. 3 & Roger Sessions When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd
  • November 9, 1986 – Pension Fund Concert – Ravel’s La Valse, Schumann’s Symphony No. 2, and Kei Anjo’s Who-ei for Erh-hu and Orchestra
  • February 23, 1993 – Pension Fund Concert – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Bernstein’s The Age of Anxiety
  • October 29, 2001 – Pension Fund Concert – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 and Berlioz Symphonie fantastique  

Ozawa also came to Davies Symphony Hall with the BSO twice (March 12, 1981 and February 13, 1996) and Saito Kinen Orchestra once (January 7, 2001).

Monday, February 12, 2024

Friday, February 09, 2024

Seiji Ozawa

Seiji Ozawa
Photo courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra

Seiji Ozawa, former music director of the Toronto Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, and Boston Symphony Orchestra, has died of heart failure at 88. He had been in poor health for about 14 years.

He led the BSO for 29 years. I lived in the Boston area for five of those years and saw him conduct only once or twice. (It was a major schlep to get from Waltham to Symphony Hall; I spent a lot of time in evening rehearsals, and there were many, many free concerts at Brandeis. In retrospect, if I'd had any sense, I would have coordinated my flute lessons, in Brookline, with the Friday matinees.)

As I understand it, the length of his tenure in Boston eventually became a problem; conflicts with the orchestra, etc. I wasn't there and wasn't paying a lot of attention, but I do remember the relief when he finally resigned and James Levine became the music director. That....ultimately didn't work out either, between Levine's health and divided attention.

Ozawa was the music director of SFS in the 1970s, and my sense is that locally, people regard him as having used the position as a springboard to a bigger and better appointment, which the BSO certainly was, at the time. Today, well, the Big Five are the Big Seven and numerous other U.S. orchestras (Seattle, Minnesota, Buffalo, and more) play on an extremely high level.

I've now read two different obituaries, at WBUR, Boston, and the NY Times, and gosh, there are outright errors in the obits and the same two omissions.

  • Typo in a Times photo caption, "Ozawar". (Could happen anywhere; now fixed.)
  • "Big Five" interpreted to mean "five greatest orchestras in the world", in the WBUR obit. (Still not fixed.)
  • Neither mentions survivors! It's pro-forma in an obit to say "Information on survivors was not immediately available" or "The Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland, which announced the death, did not release any information about survivors." (Times obit now includes survivors.)
  • Neither - and this is amazing from James R. Oestreich at the Times, in what must have been an advance obit - mentions that Ozawa conducted the world premiere of Olivier Messiaen's sole opera, St. Francois d'Assise
  • Was it a sprained or broken finger that made him turn to conducting?
FWIW, I also feel like the Times could have had more to say about the issues with Ozawa in Boston.

Friday Photo

Early morning
Oakland Laurel District
January, 2024


Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Changes in the San Francisco Symphony Bassoon Section

Davies Symphony Hall
January, 2024
Lit in blue the weekend of MTT's Mahler 5 concerts

About ten days ago, I noticed that SFS had an audition notice posted for principal bassoon, and I reached the obvious conclusion that this meant Stephen Paulson would be retiring.

Not so fast: I check it again, and now there is a note saying the following:
After a distinguished 48-year career as the Symphony’s Principal Bassoon, Stephen Paulson will be stepping into the Associate Principal role beginning with the 2024-25 Season.

So...I guess that means that Steven Dibner, currently the associate principal, is retiring, Paulson is stepping into that spot, and hence there's a need for a new principal.

With a tenure going back 48 years, I think that Paulson is the longest-serving member of the orchestra. A look around the musician page turned up a few players who joined between 1980 and 1984; as I've mentioned, the orchestra is very much in the midst of a generational change. 


Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Raehann Bryce-Davis in Recital

Raehann Bryce-Davis | Credit: Isamar Chabot

Mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis gave a spectacular recital about ten days ago at Herbst. My review is on the formal side and missed out in one area: I'd actually wanted to mention what she and pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers were wearing after the intermission, because Bryce-Davis's fiancé Allen Virgo designed both outfits and they were spectacular. But, I also didn't manage to grab a curtain call photo. The only disappointing thing about the recital was the turnout; the audience was tiny. This might have been because of Michael Tilson Thomas's valedictory Mahler 5 down the block, but I know there are plenty of opera folks who didn't turn out for this wonderful recital.

Monday, February 05, 2024

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Upcoming Volti Concert

Volti, which is among the Bay Area's best small choruses, specializes in new and recent music and commissions new work on a regular basis. The last time I saw them, in fact, they performed commissioned works by Pamela Z and Carolyn Shaw. They have a long history of performing music composed by women and people of color, unlike various other musical institutions.

They've got an intriguing program later this month, including a world premiere by Jens Ibsen, whose Drowned in Light was premiered by the SF Symphony in November under their Emerging Black Composers program. 


Volti Presents From the Depths to the Ecstatic
Friday, February 23, 8:00 PM at Crowden Music Center, 1475 Rose Street, Berkeley
Saturday, February 24, 8:00 PM at Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco

Titled From the Depths to the Ecstatic, the program explores historical concepts of spirituality, largely from the writings of female medieval mystics, as expressed by contemporary composers. 

Robert Geary, Volti’s Founding Artistic Director, conducts.

In his new work De Profundis, Jens Ibsen sets Psalm 130, “Out of the depths I have cried unto thee, O Lord.” Volti will also sing an earlier Ibsen work, How god comes to the soul, with text by the medieval mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg. 

Also on the program:

Ecstatic Meditations – Aaron Jay Kernis’s spectacular settings of four texts, also from Mechthildof Magdeburg, in Jane Hirshfield’s translation.

All Shall Be Well – Joanna Marsh sets text from “Revelations of Divine Love” by another medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich – believed to be the earliest surviving English-language writings by a woman.

Into Being – Ingrid Stölzel’s setting of the Sanskrit Mantra “So ham ham sa.”

Sohbet of the Rare Small Bird – Forrest Pierce sets Sufi reflections on spiritual teaching and learning, from ancient Persian texts.

Natural History – Emma O’Halloran meditates on the thousands of species discovered by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace and described in his book “The Malay Peninsula.”

Tickets range in price from $15 to $50 and can be purchased online through www/ or at the door. 

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Jukka-Pekka Saraste at San Francisco Symphony


Davies Symphony Hall

When Herbert Blomstedt, age 96, took a fall fairly recently, his doctors advised him to limit his upcoming travel, which meant that orchestras on two continents needed to find substitutes for concerts he had planned to conduct. One of Blomstedt's engagements was with San Francisco Symphony, where he was music director for a decade and where he holds the title of Conductor Laureate. (MTT is the Music Director Laureate, if you're wondering.) He is loved in San Francisco, for his excellent conducting, humanity, and astounding longevity, so of course there was disappointment that he wouldn't be conducting this season.

SFS hired the Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste to take over Blomstedt's program. Both of the planned works were retained; you would expect any major-league conductor to have Schubert 6 and Beethoven 7 in their repertory. Saraste is that, having held a number of important posts, and having recently succeeded Susanna Mälkki at the Helsinki Philharmonic.

I was not happy with what I heard. I found Saraste's interpretations on the dull side. The orchestral sound was blocky and undifferentiated, lacking sonic clarity without a compensating sense of warmth. Sometimes the winds and brass would be too prominent when all they were doing was providing background rhythmic punctuation. Transitions stumbled and didn't help the listener with the works' structure. 

The dullness and lack of sonic differentiation were big problems in the Beethoven, where there's so much thematic repetition - everything sounded the same. Interpretively, there wasn't much wit or grace. Saraste's tempos were on the quick side, but that wasn't a problem in and of itself; we've heard some mighty fast Beethoven from Esa-Pekka Salonen, and, well, he can make that work, and has, in the 2nd, 3rd, and oh, right, 7th symphonies.

Everything I'm saying here applies about equally to the Schubert and the Beethoven. See Joshua Kosman's reviews of last night and a program in 1997, which I link to below. I'm curious what the SFCV reviewer thought.

  • Me, writing about Salonen's LvB 7th
  • Joshua Kosman on Saraste's 1997 performances at SFS. This is an excellent description of what I heard last night: "The slow introduction to the first movement moved in herky-jerky chunks; the orchestral balances, in the two outer movements especially, seemed calculated for maximum weight and minimum detail...Beethoven's fluid melodies, meanwhile -- again most regrettably in the outer movements -- were casually dispatched, as though they were merely decorative gold braid atop a Sherman tank. Only Saraste's zesty reading of the scherzo proved convincing."
Tattling: Toward the end of the Beethoven scherzo - say, maybe a minute or 90 seconds before the end - a phone went off in the row behind me. And went off and went off and went off. It was playing...piano music? I turned around and looked at the person whose phone it obviously was. The patron next to me did the same. The woman sitting next to the guilty party gestured to him and I think maybe tapped him a couple of times. She must have been an intimate because eventually she started rifling through his pockets. Eventually, she found the phone and silenced it, but only after the scherzo had ended and the last movement had begun. This episode was unnerving and unpleasant, because of the interruption and because of its length. There's a reason that SFS has polite announcements before every concert asking audience members to silence all electronic devices. (For the last two weeks, flutist and principal piccolo Cathy Payne has been the orchestra member whose recorded announcement is used.)

I do not care how you dress. I support applause between movements. I hope that you won't wear perfume. And I deeply wish that you would silence your phone/pager/other potentially noisy electronic device before the concert starts and at the end of intermission, if you've turned it back on.=-=