26 November 2016

fun stuff I may or may not get to: December 2016

This year has been a mixed bag, as usual, for most of us, I guess, but I'm also  pretty sure most of us will not be sorry to see it slide off into the past. In the meantime, we have one more month, and let's try to make the best of it. There are some holiday things on the list, but I omit the usual suspects on the grounds that you already know which annual holiday performances are part of your personal joy. (I do make an exception for Messiah, which I love, and which has its own category below, though I have to admit I haven't heard it live in several years – maybe this is the year to re-establish the personal tradition of hearing one or more live performances each season). Some organizations are having "Black Friday" sales; "Black Friday" is the holiday on which we celebrate the birth of Capitalism, and these days it seems to encompass weeks, so you might get a lower-price ticket if you shop early – or, conversely, you might discover as I did that the expensive ticket you bought just last week for a concert next March would have been available to you for almost half-price in a few days, if you had but known, because 2016.

Shotgun Players is finishing off its 25th anniversary season by running all five of this year's shows in repertory. I'm still hoping to write entries on all five shows, because delusional hope is what keeps me going, but here's my quick summary: Hamlet, done with six actors who don't know until ten minutes before the show which part(s) they will be playing that night: I went in thinking this was a gimmick, and kind of an annoying one at that, but I walked out a convert. I've seen it three times and would see it more if I could – don't miss it. The Village Bike: a powerful, unsettling play that has stuck with me since I saw it; unlike a lot of plays, which get weaker in memory, this one has gotten more powerful. It's theater that gets under your skin. Caught: a clever examination of the stories we tell ourselves and the narratives we get caught up in – just when you think you know where you are, you find out you're somewhere else. Grand Concourse: a strong and appealing cast, but the play itself is fairly weak and frequently exasperating. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: I felt this was a very good production, but the play itself I find overlong and almost completely unconvincing. I'm sure it was more striking and original when it premiered in 1962, but perhaps it is one of those works that has created the conditions for its own future banality?

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents Benjamin Britten's operatic treatment of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw on 9 and 11 December; the performances are free but you must make a reservation.

Christian Gerhaher returns to San Francisco Performances after his notable recital debut a couple of years ago; this time his is accompanied by pianist Gerold Huber in an all-Mahler program. That's 13 December at Herbst Theater.

Cal Performances presents mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato with Maxim Emelyanychev conducting Il Pomo d'Oro in a program of baroque music exploring states of war and peace. That's 4 December in Zellerbach Hall.

San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellows perform their annual concert of operatic excerpts and arias, including selections from Der Fliegende Holländer, I Pagliacci, Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Carlos, Luisa Miller, Billy Budd, La Fille du Régiment, and others, on 2 December in Herbst Theater.

Sarah Cahill plays an all-chaconne program at San Francisco Performance's Salon at the Rex series on 14 December.

Also note the Dylan Mattingly piece (Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field, performed by Kathy Supove on 9 December) at the Center for New Music, listed under Modern / Contemporary Music.

Modern / Contemporary Music
Cal Performances and the Kronos Quartet present some of the new works commissioned in their Fifty for the Future project; check here for the full list. That's 3 December in Zellerbach Hall.

If you're a modernist looking for a holiday event / old-style happening, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players are reviving Phil Kline's Unsilent Night on 10 December. This year's event will be at Mission Dolores Park; meet on Dolores Street at the tennis courts by the corner of 18th Street at at 5:00 PM with your boombox / phone / whatever plays CDs, tapes, or MP3s. Download the music and walk around, shifting sound and perspective.

The Friction Quartet joins a quartet of excellent singers (soprano Amy Foote, mezzo-soprano Molly Mahoney, tenor Michael Desnoyers, and bass Sidney Chen) in a program of new works by Nick Benavides, Danny Clay, Noah Luna, and Mark Winges, each of which is inspired by an artist who died young (musicians Hank Williams, Jacqueline du Pré, and Charlie Parker, and poet Joe Bolton). That's 4 December at The Women's Building on 18th Street in San Francisco.

As always there is a cornucopia over at the Center for New Music, so check out their schedule. Some things that jump out at me for December: an evening of improvisation with guitarist Amy Brandon and trumpeter / vibraphonist Ben Zucker on 2 December; Blurred Music, another evening of mostly improvisation, this time with violinist Biliana Voutchkova and clarinetist Michael Thieke, on 4 December; pianist Kathy Supove playing the west coast premiere of Dylan Mattingly's epic piano piece Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field on 9 December; and a CD release concert for composer-pianist Eric Tran (the ticket price includes a copy of the CD) on 13 December.

Early / Baroque Music
Philharmonia Baroque presents Handel's oratorio Joshua, conducted by Nicholas McGegan, with soloists Thomas Cooley (tenor), Daniel Taylor (countertenor), William Berger (baritone), Yulia van Doren (soprano), and Gabrielle Haigh (soprano), and the Philharmonia Chorale (Bruce Lamott, director). That's 1 December at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, 2 December at First United Methodist in Palo Alto, 3 December at First Presbyterian in Berkeley, and 4 December at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church in Lafayette. Note the (sensible and welcome) early start times; baroque oratorios tend to run long.

If you are looking for some festive baroque music that does not involve the Hallelujah Chorus, the San Francisco Early Music Society presents the Archetti Baroque Strings along with baroque trumpeter Kathryn Adduci and soprano Clara Rottsolk in Christmas music by Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti, Telemann, Bach, Torelli, and Manfredini (I will confess I know nothing about those last two); you can hear them 9 December at First Presbyterian in Palo Alto, 10 December at St John's Presbyterian in Berkeley, or 11 December at First Unitarian in San Francisco.

Also note that Joyce diDonato and Il Pomo d'Oro are at Cal Performances in a baroque program on 4 December, listed above under Vocalists.

American Bach Soloists continues its popular tradition of performing Messiah in Grace Cathedral; this year you can hear Jeffrey Thomas lead soloists Hélène Brunet (soprano), Emily Marvosh (contralto), Derek Chester (tenor), and Mischa Bouvier (baritone), along with ABS's chorus and period orchestra, from 14 to 16 December (there are additional performances on 10 December at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis and 18 December at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park). ABS also offers DVDs and Blu-Rays of their Grace Cathedral performances (I have not seen the film).

Cal Performances presents the choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra in Messiah on 10 December in Zellerbach Hall.

The San Francisco Symphony, led by Patrick Dupré Quigley, and the excellent Symphony Chorus, led by Ragnar Bohlin, performs Messiah on 15 - 17 December, with soloists Lauren Snouffer (soprano), Anthony Roth Constanzo (countertenor), Zachary Wilder (tenor), and Christian Van Horn (bass-baritone).

You can give in to the urge to join in those mighty choruses by signing up for the Golden Gate Symphony's Sing It Yourself Messiah on 12 December at Mission Dolores Basilica. Urs Leonhardt Steiner leads the group, with soloists Gina Silvermann (soprano), Theresa Cardinale (alto), William Wiggins (tenor), Alex Ip (bass) and Franklin Beau Davis (trumpet).

Paul Flight leads the California Bach Society in a Scandinavian Christmas program, which you can hear on 2 December at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, 3 December at All Saints' Episcopal in Palo Alto, or 4 December at St Mark's Episcopal in Berkeley.

The International Orange Chorale presents The Full Heart: Choral Music of Love and Passion, featuring new works by Ivo Antognini, David Conte, Paul Crabtree, Aaron Jay Kernis, Huang Ruo, Sven-David Sandström, Stephen Smith, Peter Warlock, Eric Whitacre, and Healey Willan. along with the world premiere of Into the Golden Vessel of Great Song by the Chorale's inaugural Composer-in-Residence, Nicholas Weininger; these free concerts are at All Soul's Episcopal in Berkeley (3 December) and St Mark's Lutheran (10 December) in San Francisco. The group's second CD, The Unknown Region, is also now available.

Old First Concerts presents the Lacuna Arts Chorale, led by Sven Edward Olbash, in Hugo Distler's Die Weihnachtsgeschichte (The Christmas Story) and Arvo Pärt's Which Was the Son of . . . ; you can hear the concert on 9 December.

The Berkeley Symphony, led by guest conductor Elim Chan, performs the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 with soloist Shai Wosner and the US premiere of James MacMillan's Symphony No. 4; that's on 8 December.

The relatively new conductorless chamber ensemble One Found Sound presents an interesting program on 9 December at Heron Arts in San Francisco: George Enescu's Decet for Winds, Op 14, Aaron Copland's Quiet City (featuring Jessse Barrett on English horn and Brad Hogarth on trumpet), and Zoltán Kodálay's Dances of Galánta.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival presents A Day of Silents on 3 December at the gorgeous Castro Theater, with a typically enticing line-up including some Chaplin Essanay shorts; Lubitsch's So This Is Paris; Eisenstein's first feature, Strike; Conrad Veidt in Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others), one of the first features about homosexual life; The Last Command, for which Emil Jannings won the first Oscar for Best Actor; and Gloria Swanson as prostitute Sadie Thompson, in the first film version of Somerset Maugham's Rain. Lots of great stuff there!

The Silent Film Festival always has excellent live music, and the Day of Silents is no exception: the redoubtable Alloy Orchestra will be accompanying Strike and The Last Command, and while they're in the area they will also assist at showings of Dziga Vertov's avant-garde Russian classic Man With a Movie Camera at the Fox Theater in Visalia on 6 December and also Lon Chaney's HE Who Gets Slapped at Santa Rosa Community College in Petaluma on 9 December. HE Who Gets Slapped is one of my all-time favorite films, and HE's circus act has to be seen to be believed (I tracked down a copy of the original play by Leonid Andreyev, and there's no description of such an act, so hats off to whomever came up with it for the movie).

Among other things, 2016 is the 500th anniversary of the death of the beloved painter Hieronymous Bosch; in a new documentary, Hieronymous Bosch: Touched by the Devil, you can watch "a team of art historians as they travel the world to examine all of the known Bosch paintings with x-ray and infrared cameras"; that's showing at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from 1 to 4 December. Sounds promising, though I've been burned by art documentaries before (like Tim's Vermeer, which I thought was both overheated and underthought; I gave up after half an hour).

24 November 2016

finding the word & a found poem

Is there a word for  the condition of finding the word that describes your condition? Because there should be. I recently came across the Japanese word tsundoku, defined as "the state of buying books and letting them pile up unread," which is as good a description of my life as any. I cannot resist bookstores, and find comfort in the piles of books, all close to hand. I assure myself that some day I will get to each and every one of them, even the ones that have been waiting on my shelves for decades. (We all have our ways of denying our mortality.) Recently while re-arranging the teetering piles, I came across this juxtaposition:

No points to the designers for originality, but it does seem like the quintessential image for a certain sort of nineteenth-century attitude.

Recently Oxford University Press was having another sale so I bought a pile of books from the Oxford World's Classics series, even though I've barely made a dent in the previous piles I bought at their previous sales (hence: tsundoku). I noticed that the backs of most of the books had big pull-quotes in red, and looking through them I felt they were a found poem:

Being persuaded that no woman was chaste, he resolved, in order to prevent the disloyalty of such as he should afterwards marry, to wed one every night, and have her strangled the next morning.

At least their lives would remain a protest against those brute forces of society which fill with wreck the abysses of the nether world.

These hours of solitude and meditation are the only time of the day when I am completely myself.

I am not a man, I am dynamite.

Arms and the man I sing of Troy. . . 

His rise testifies to the decline of a whole society.

The nearest the general run get to art is Action: sex is their form of art: the battle for existence is their picture.

Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful one who taught by the pen, who taught man what he did not know.

For a wondrous power ordains that I shall walk hand-in-hand with my strange heroes for a long time yet, viewing the broad sweep and rapid flow of life, viewing it through the laughter that the world sees and the tears that it neither sees nor suspects.

19 November 2016

Ray Chen plays with New Century Chamber Orchestra

The Saturday after the presidential election I trekked out to Herbst Theater in San Francisco to hear violinist Ray Chen as guest soloist and conductor for New Century Chamber Orchestra. I believe he also chose the program. It was an evening that brought balm, despite the woman behind me coughing all through the Mozart Violin concerto #3 (followed by an impressive improvised cadenza of constant throat-clearing).

The performance opened with a different Mozart piece, the Divertimento in F major, K. 138. As you might guess from the composer's name, the music was a portal into a world very different from the one most of us have been living in recently. The performers all stood in a semi-circle. Chen is a very physical performer, leaning forward, leaning backwards, sometimes goggling his eyes at others as they saw away (this made one of the people in front of me giggle; I didn't think it was that funny, actually). I had heard him once before, at a subscriber gift concert sponsored by San Francisco Performances, but it was interesting to watch him interact with a whole group and not just one pianist. He conducted too, waving his bow as his baton. He has a full sound, capable of sweetness and pathos. The first half ended with Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, in a haunting performance that brought out things I was not expecting from this music, with which I am mildly and vaguely familiar – here it was sadder, deeper, more mystical and mysterious than I had expected.

I'm not a big fan of chat from the stage, though I realize that is yet another losing battle of mine. I have to say that Chen does it better than most; he's very good-humored and extremely charming. He does ramble a bit, but so do they all, and his ramblings at least led us to amusing and unexpected places. At one point he noted that his original Australian accent had returned, as it sometimes does when he speaks publicly (his background is Taiwanese and Australian; he moved to this country at age 16, roughly a decade ago, to attend the Curtis Institute). In discussing his programming, he quoted his father as saying, "Mozart is to music as oil is to the wok," a koanic comparison that led to a moment of apparently stunned contemplation on the part of the audience. He also introduced us to his violin, joking that it was his girlfriend. It turns out he plays the Joachim Stradivarius – the very instrument played by Joseph Joachim, the great nineteenth-century violinist. Chen joked that this means that when he plays pieces like the Brahms Violin Concerto (dedicated to and first performed by Joachim) "the notes are already there, I just have to pull them out." I would have been interested in hearing how he came to play that instrument, but he did not tell us, and it was time to return to music anyway.

The charming Chen can go into different places when he plays (music coming from inside perhaps being a truer form of communication than words directed outwardly), and the second half opened with a stylish yet searching performance of Mozart's Violin Concerto #3 (accompanied by coughing directly behind me, as previously mentioned), followed by the stately rolling clouds of Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for Strings.

I can't emphasize enough how good it was to hear this music performed so richly at the end of a week that left most of us shocked, angry, and disgusted. I don't buy a lot of the bromides about art: I think music can divide us as easily as bring us together, I'm not sure anything can heal what has been happening in this country, but it was profoundly moving to see this varied group come together and, working in harmony, create and recreate the fleeting beauty left us by those who have gone ahead of us. What was happening outside had still (and was still) happening, but during the concert I kept thinking about Larkin's lines about the jazz trumpeter Sidney Bechet:

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes. . . .

11 November 2016

9 November 2016

My Götterdämmerung t-shirt from my first Ring Cycle (Seattle, 1995).

I am slowly emerging from a state of shock (and the shock is partly that I was shocked . . . ).

Take care of yourselves, and then help take care of the world. The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, environmental and social justice groups, arts organizations – all are continuing their work of inching the world forward. Donate, volunteer, move forward: every ending is a beginning.

31 October 2016

gods & monsters & a sorceress

Some local artists are raising funds for projects that sound worth supporting:

Locally sourced tenor Nicholas Phan is running an IndiGoGo campaign for his latest solo CD, Gods & Monsters, in which he and pianist Myra Huang perform German lieder (by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Wolf, and Mahler) that center on myths, legends, and fairy tales, involving gods, monsters, witches, and "other fantastical creatures." Phan's other solo albums have been sterling and this looks like a wonderful program. You can find out more, check out the offered premiums, and contribute if you are so minded, here. The campaign ends in a few days.

Curious about what else was being performed at the opera houses in the days of Monteverdi? Ars Minerva, which is led by soprano Céline Ricci, is the place to find out. The youngest company performing the oldest operas, Ars Minerva has announced their third revival of a long-forgotten work from the giddy days of seventeenth-century Venetian opera: La Circe, attributed to Pietro Andrea Ziani with a libretto by Cristoforo Ivanovich, about the enchantress celebrated by Homer and Ovid. I attended the company's first two productions (La Cleopatra by Castrovillari and The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles by Pallavicino), and both were completely entertaining and delightful and extremely well done on a limited budget. If you'd like to help out their work – and reviving seventeenth-century Venetian operas is God's own work, make no mistake – you may find out more and donate here.

25 October 2016

fun stuff I may or may not get to: November 2016

UPDATE: A couple of items I forgot:

Christian Reif leads the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra in Henze's Maenad's Dance from The Bassarids, the Sibelius Violin Concerto (with soloist Jason Moon, winner of the 2016 Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition), and the Shostakovich 6; that's on 13 November (matinee).

The Golden Gate Symphony performs Ask the Sky & the Earth, An Oratorio-Cantata for the Sent-Down Youth, with music by Tony Fok and lyrics by Wei Su, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of China's cultural revolution and the relocation of an urban generation to collective farms. The program also includes the Beethoven 6, the world premiere of Remembering for Atonement with music by Michael Kimbell and words by Viktoriya Neverov-Krstic, and the Legend of Matouqin, featuring Master Bo Li. Performances are 5 November at Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco and 6 November (matinee) at the UC Theater in Berkeley.

Cal Performances presents Robert Wilson's Letter to a Man, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov, based on the diaries of Nijinsky; that's 10 - 13 November at Zellerbach.

Aurora Theatre presents Safe House by Keith Josef Adkins, directed by L. Peter Callender, a story of conflict between two brothers in a free family of color in antebellum Kentucky. That's 4 November to 4 December.

San Francisco Playhouse presents She Loves Me, a musical version of the charming 1940 Lubitsch film The Shop Around the Corner, with a book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; the show is directed by Susi Damilano with musical direction by David Aaron Brown. It runs from 23 November to 14 January 2017, so if you're looking for a fun holiday show that doesn't feature three ghosts visiting a miser, this might be it.

If you're a Sherlock Holmes fanatic (there doesn't seem to be any middle ground there), you may want to check out Baker Street at 42nd Street Moon, a revival of the 1965 musical with music and lyrics by Marian Grudeff and Raymond Jessel and a book by Jerome Coopersmith (loosely based on A Scandal in Bohemia). The director / choreographer for this production is Cindy Goldfield and the music director is Dave Dobrusky; the show runs from 2 to 20 November at the Eureka Theater.

Chamber Music
San Francisco Performances presents cellist Sol Gabetta and pianist Alessio Bax in a program of Schumann, Brahms, and Prokofiev, on 15 November.

Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han return to Cal Performances on 20 November in a program featuring works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff.

Old First Concerts is presenting several string quartets this month: on 4 November the Amaranth Quartet plays Erwin Schulhoff's Five Pieces for String Quartet, Gabriela Lena Frank's Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, and Béla Bartók's String Quartet No. 4, pieces chosen to illustrate the uses of cultural identity in musical form; on 11 November the Farallon Quintet plays Prokofiev's Overture on Hebrew Themes, Copland's Sextet for Clarinet, Piano, and String Quartet, the world premiere of Durwynne Hsieh's Sextet, and Carl Maria von Weber's Clarinet Quintet in B-flat major, Op 34; and on 18 November the Telegraph Quartet plays pieces chosen to reflect light and dark: Haydn's Bird quartet, Brett Dean's Eclipse for String Quartet, and Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet.

Modern / New Music
Cal Performances presents pianist Myra Melford and her Snowy Egret Ensemble in The Language of Dreams, a program inspired by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano; that's 19 November in Zellerbach.

Other Minds has composer Alvin Curran in conversation with Charles Amirkhanian, along with recordings and films of some of his works in performance, on 20 November at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, in conjunction with the exhibit Art / Act: The Canary Project at the Center.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents a special pre-election concert on 4 November: Alan Pierson conducts the Conservatory's New Music Ensemble in Ted Hearne's Katrina Ballads and Frederic Rzewski's Coming Together, with narrator Angela Davis. The concert is free but reservations are required.

Early / Baroque Music
Dynamic violinist Rachel Podger returns to Philharmonia Baroque to lead a program centering on Vivaldi and his admirer J S Bach (with some Tartini tossed in as well). Some of the dates are apparently sold out already but tickets are available for 2 November at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto, 3 November at the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center, and 4 November at Herbst Theater in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Early Music Society sponsors Musica Pacifica and countertenor Ryland Angel in a program featuring sacred motets by Alessandro Scarlatti and Alessandro Stradella; that's 11 November at First Presbyterian in Palo Alto, 12 November at St John's Presbyterian in Berkeley, and 13 November at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.

Chora Nova is singing Haydn's Mass in Time of War on 20 November at First Presbyterian in Berkeley.

Robert Geary leads the San Francisco Choral Society in Duruflé's Requiem and his Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, along with Herbert Howells's Te Deum & Jubilate and Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine; that's on 12 and 13 November at Calvary Presbyterian in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Opera Chorus sings operatic and non-operatic choruses on 19 November in the Taube Atrium Theater (on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building adjacent to the War Memorial Opera House).

Guest concertmaster Ray Chen leads the New Century Chamber Orchestra in works by Mozart (the Divertimento in F major, K 138 and the Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major), Britten (Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge for String Orchestra, op 10), and Elgar (Introduction and Allegro for Strings, op 47); their usual open rehearsal is on 9 November at Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall C in San Francisco, followed by performances on 10 November at the Berkeley City Club, 11 November at First United Methodist in Palo Alto, 12 November at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and 13 November at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael.

The Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra and Chorus performs It's in the Stars: Songs of Fate on 12 November at the Castro Valley Center for the Arts. Youth Orchestra Principal Conductor Omid Zoufonoun and Chorus Director Lynne Morrow lead the program, which includes Barber's Sure on this Shining Night, Rafael Inciarte's Rumbamban, Gershwin's Our Love Is Here to Stay (arranged by Darmon Meader), Dukas's fanfare from La Péri, Brahms's Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Gershwin's Cuban Overture, and Bizet's Carmen Suites 1 and 2.

The Oakland Symphony performs Lost Romantic Symphonies at the Paramount on 18 November; Omid Zoufonoun leads the Youth Orchestra in Gershwin's Cuban Overture and then Michael Morgan leads the regular orchestra in Joachim Raff's Symphony 3, along with the US premiere of the Violin Concerto: Dream of a Summer Night by Siegfried Matthus, with soloist Kelly Hall-Tompkins, who also performs in the Theme from Schindler's List by John Williams and selections from Fiddler on the Roof (Hall-Tompkins is the fiddler in the recent Broadway revival of that show),

The Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, led by guest conductor Alasdair Neale, performs Jonathan Dove's Figures in the Garden: Dancing in the Dark, Mozart's Overture to the Marriage of Figaro (arranged for Wind Octet), Copland's Clarinet Concerto (with soloist Stephen Zielinski), Barber's Medea's Dance of Vengeance, and Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes on 5 November at Everett Middle School in San Francisco (behind Mission Dolores).

The San Francisco Symphony is mostly gone on tour this month, but from 2 to 4 November you can hear Michael Tilson Thomas conducting his own Agnegram along with the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 (with soloist Yuja Wang) and the Bruckner 7. Several other orchestras will be visiting Davies Hall in the SF Symphony's absence: Gustavo Dudamel leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Andrew Norman's Play and the Tchaikovsky 4 (31 October) and the Mahler 9 (1 November); Jacek Kaspszyk leads the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra in Mieczyslaw Weinberg's Polish Melodies No. 2, Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 (with soloist Seong-Jin Cho), and the Brahms 1 (6 November); and Simon Rattle leads the Berlin Philharmonic in Boulez's Éclat and the Mahler 7 (22 November) and Webern's Six Pieces for Orchestra, Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra (witty programming!) and the Brahms 2 (23 November). Those are enticing programs, and it is the mighty Berlin Philharmonic, but brace yourself before you check the ticket prices.

Visual Arts
The Asian Art Museum presents The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe, exploring the art around the four main characters of the Indian epic Ramayana. The exhibit runs from 21 October to 15 January 2017.

07 October 2016

update: continuing problems

I have a spiffy new computer, but now my home Internet service is bombing out regularly and I go days without being able to get any kind of connection. I have contacted AT&T and I can already tell this is going to be an ordeal. I hope to resume regular posting soon. In the meantime, deepest thanks to those who keep checking back.

16 October update: So I now have a spiffy new modem from AT&T, and I know I set it up correctly because I am getting occasional connectivity, but . . . I'm still bombing out a lot. Back to the drawing board for me (or for AT&T), and I hope to be back soon.

24 September 2016

fun stuff I may or may not get to: October 2016

Cal Performances hosts the Mark Morris Dance Group, making its annual visit with a world premiere: Layla and Manjun, based on the ancient Persian romance. The Silk Road Ensemble provides the music. That's 29 September - 2 October (the Sunday performance is a matinee).

Cal Performances also presents Sweden's Cullberg Ballet in Deborah Hay's Figure a Sea, with a score by Laurie Anderson. The first half of the show will be the choreographer "guiding the audience through her choreographic journey" followed by the complete piece in the second half. That's 22 - 23 October in Zellerbach Hall.

Earlier this year when the San Francisco Opera announced its upcoming season, I was stunned to realize that what looked like the big must-see was, of all things, . . . Don Pasquale. Its comparative rarity alone (last done here in 1984, according to the SF Opera Archives) in a season mostly made up of exhausted warhorses helped push it to the top of the list, but what really cemented its lead was the SF Opera debut of tenor Lawrence Brownlee, alongside the always delightful Heidi Stober. You can check it out on 28 September and 2 (matinee), 4, 7, 12, and 15 October. The other offering this month, The Makropulos Case, would normally be the must-see of the season, a position that almost automatically goes to anything by Janáček, as far as I'm concerned. The problem here is the presence of Nadja Michael in the lead – when she appeared here a few years ago in the title role of Salome, I was left pondering whether an operatic performer could be considered truly successful if she managed to be theatrically striking without actually being able to sing the role. There was definitely a presence there, but whatever authority her performance had was not vocal. I've read other reports of her that made me think that night was not an aberration. And she is following in the incandescent footsteps of Karita Mattila, who just a few years ago set the house ablaze in this same part. You can check this one out on 14, 18, 23 (matinee), 26, and 29 October.

Cal Performances presents Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the Philharmonia Orchestra of London in three different programs: a Beethoven (the Eroica) and Sibelius (the 5th) program on 7 October, followed by two all-Stravinsky programs: the Fanfare for Three Trumpets, Symphonies of Wind Instruments, Agon, and The Rite of Spring on 8 October and the Symphony of Psalms and Oedipus Rex on 9 October (matinee).

The Berkeley Symphony opens its season at Zellerbach Hall on 13 October, with Joana Carneiro leading a typically unusual and intriguing program: the world premiere of Paul Dresher's Crazy Eights & Fractured Symmetries, Eric Korngold's Violin Concerto with soloist Philippe Quint, and Stravinsky's Petrushka. Due to the opening night dinner, the concert will start at 7:00 rather than their usual hour of 8:00, and I would like to encourage them to move in this direction for the whole season, as (for whatever reason) their concerts often start late and though I generally do not leave before a show ends I have had to leave Berkeley Symphony at intermission several times, because – and I couldn't be the only audience member in this position – I have to get up early the next morning to go to work, and sadly cannot stay out all night.

The Oakland Symphony opens its season at the Paramount on 14 October with a wide-ranging program featuring Michael Morgan conducting Red States, Blue States by Clark Suprynowicz, Episodes Concertantes, Op. 45 (with the Delphi Trio) by Paul Juon, In the South by Elgar, and Mahler's Rückert Lieder, featuring baritone Hadleigh Adams.

Meanwhile over at the San Francisco Symphony you can hear Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 1 (with soloist Yuja Wang), the world premiere of Bright Sheng's Dream of the Red Chamber Overture (based on his recent world premiere opera from across the street, Dream of the Red Chamber), and two bird-related Stravinsky pieces, Le Chant du rossignol and the 1919 version of  the Firebird Suite; that's 28 September to 1 October.

Pablo Heras-Casado conducts the Mozart 29, the Dvořák 7, and the Schumann Cello Concerto (with soloist Alisa Weilerstein); that's 19 - 22 October (the Thursday performance is a matinee).

Tilson Thomas returns to conduct the Brahms 2, the Allegri Miserere (with the Pacific Boychoir), and the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 (with soloist Rudolf Buchbinder) on 27 - 30 October (the Sunday performance is a matinee).

See also Philharmonia Baroque's all-Beethoven concert under Early / Baroque Music.

The annual SF Olympians Festival will take place at the Exit Theater from 5 to 22 October; this year's theme is Harvest of Mysteries, and the plays are based on myths involving sleep, dreams, and the Underworld (and this year, the net for myths and legends has been cast beyond Olympus, as far as the banks of the ancient Nile). You can get all the details here.

At ACT, King Charles III by Mike Bartlett, directed by David Muse, runs from 14 September to 9 October, and a new play by Tom Stoppard, The Hard Problem, runs from 19 October to 13 November.

Berkeley Rep presents an adaptation by Tony Taccone and Bennett S. Cohen of Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here, directed by Lisa Peterson. It's about the rise of a fascist leader in America. Can't imagine why they've scheduled that this year. It runs 23 September to 6 November, so you can see it before this election finally ends (I hope) on 8 November.

Cutting Ball Theatre presents the return of Avantgardarama!, an evening of seven short experimental plays. It runs 5 to 23 October.

Shotgun Players present Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by the late Edward Albee, directed by Mark Jackson, from 12 October to 13 November. I have seen the famous movie version, but I have never seen the play on stage. I'm curious. I'm also not a very big Albee fan. I figure if this one doesn't convince me, he's maybe just not my playwright.

Custom Made Theatre presents the musical Chess, lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA, directed by Brian Katz, running from 15 September to 15 October.

Theatre Rhinoceros, now located at the Eureka Theater on Jackson Street, presents The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Darryl V Jones, from 24 September to 15 October.

Poet Billy Collins appears at the Nourse Theater for City Arts and Lectures on 7 October.

Chamber Music
Cal Performances presents the Takács Quartet in the first two concerts in a series of six, in which they will play the complete Beethoven string quartets. You can hear Nos 2, 11, and 13 on 15 October and 1, 10, and 14 on 16 October (matinee). The other four concerts will be in March and April 2017.

San Francisco Performances presents harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani playing pieces by William Byrd, Kaija Saariaho, Toru Takemitsu, JS Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Lou Harrison, WF Bach, and Steve Reich; this is part of their new "Pivot" series, so it's not at one of SFP's usual times or places; the concert, which will last about an hour, is open seating at the Strand Theater and starts at 8:30 on 8 October.

San Francisco Performances presents the first two in a four-concert series designed by pianist Jonathan Biss to explore the idea of a "late style" among composers. For these concerts Biss will be joined by violist Hsin-Yun Huang and the Brentano String Quartet; the 15 October concert is all Beethoven and the one on 19 October is Bach, Elgar, Gesualdo, and Mozart.

San Francisco Performances presents the young Dover Quartet in a program of Mozart, Rossini, Dvořák, and Edgar Meyer (Quintet for strings; the composer will join the quartet to make up five). That's on 30 October.

San Francisco Performances presents a special Concert of Gratitude, sponsored by Ruth Felt as a  thank-you to SFP's audience as she retires from the organization she founded 37 years ago (in honor of that anniversary, all tickets are $37, and it is reserved seating, so that's another reason to be grateful to her). The program continues the tradition of high quality established by Felt as a hallmark of SFP: the Alexander String Quartet will play Beethoven's Quartet No 11 in F minor, Serioso; pianist Marc-André Hamelin will play the Brahms Intermezzi, Op 117; violinist Midori will play the Bach Sonata No 1 in G minor for Solo Violin; and Hamelin and the Alexanders will play Schumann's Quintet in E-flat Major, Op 44. That's 23 October at Herbst Theater, starting at 7:00.

Old First Concerts presents the New Piano Collective (Johnandrew Slominski and Jeffrey LaDeur) in a concert exploring music "of reinvention and transformation", featuring works by Ravel, Chopin, Rameau, Debussy, Liszt, and Kodály. that's 16 October.

On 23 October, Old First Concerts presents the Ives Collective in some unusual repertory: works by Joaquin Turni, Ernst von Dohnányi, and Gabriel Fauré.

Old First Concerts presents the Grace Note Chamber Players on 30 October in works by Bartók, Bach, and Beethoven.

Choral Music
Ragnar Bohlin leads Cappella SF in a program they're calling Immortal Fire, featuring works by JS Bach, Mark Volkert (a new work written especially for this chorus), Benjamin Britten, Maurice Duruflé, Arvo Pärt, and Jonathan Dove; that's on 30 September at St Andrew's in Saratoga and 2 October at the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco.

Volti is joined by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble for its season opener, A Close Correspondence, a program based on letters and letter-writing, featuring Janáček's Intimate Letters quartet; David Lang's A Father's Love from battle hymns, based on a letter by Civil War soldier Sullivan Ballou; and two premieres, by Onur Türkmen (based on a letter by Goethe) and Mark Winges (based on letters from Abelard and Héloïse, Janáček, and Virginia Woolf). That's 15 October at First Congregational in Berkeley and 24 October at the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco.

Ensemble Basiani returns to Cal Performances on 21 October, singing in the traditions of Georgia (the one in eastern Europe).

Early / Baroque Music
The California Bach Society performs the mighty St Matthew Passion on 7 October at the First Unitarian Universalist in San Francisco, on 8 October at First Methodist in Palo Alto, and 9 October at First Congregational in Berkeley. The evening concerts start at 7:30 and the Sunday matinee is at 3:30.

It's not baroque, but it is Philharmonia Baroque and period practices: Nicholas McGegan leads the group in Beethoven's Concerto for Fortepiano No 3 with soloist Robert Levin, followed by the Pastoral Symphony. That's 16 October at First Congregational in Berkeley, 19 October at Bing Concert Hall at Stanford, 21 October at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and 22 October back at First Congregational. If you want to hear this excellent ensemble in some baroque music, let me recommend their handsomely packaged recent world premiere recording of Alessandro Scarlatti's La Gloria di Primavera, which preserves the pleasures of their live performance (and you can always close the program book and ignore the more than usually sycophantic text).

Modern / Contemporary Music
The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players open their season on 8 October in the Taube Atrium Theater with works by Joe Pereira, Toru Takemitsu, Ken Ueno, and Anna Thorvaldsdottir

And as always, check out the varied calendar of the Center for New Music.

Visual Arts
The lengthy trek out to the Legion of Honor might be worth it to see The Brothers Le Nain: Painters of 17th-Century France, which opens 8 October and runs through 29 January 2017.

18 September 2016

New Century Chamber Orchestra launches its silver season

New Century Chamber Orchestra is turning 25 this year, and to mark this milestone they have christened this their Silver Season. The other major milestone they are marking is the ninth and final year of Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's time as their Music Director, a term that has been marked by a higher profile for this fine ensemble as well as the very welcome Featured Composer Residency program, culminating each season in a new work written for the ensemble (on 16 May 2017 you can hear these works in the first of three final and farewell concerts).

Last Saturday I headed out to Herbst Theater in San Francisco to hear the first concert of their season. It opened with Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement), written by a youthful Webern for his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg (in a version for chamber orchestra prepared by Gerard Schwarz). It is a brief (roughly ten minute) but full and even lush piece, written when both composers were immersed in that late romantic style that is so replete in every way (size, sound, luxurious longing, impending sadness and exhaustion) that the only place to turn from it was to the bracing asperities that I at least love in the works of the Second Viennese School these composers are now mostly associated with. I hope it's not damning to call this piece tasteful, but there's always a sense of elegant restraint behind even its most voluptuous swellings. This was followed by Mozart's Piano Concerto No 13 in C Major, with soloist Inon Barnatan. He is sort of an elfin fellow, and the silver of the season also seemed appropriate for his silvery, mercurial touch; C major is seen as such a triumphant key, but that didn't seem quite what was going on in this delicate yet striking performance. The piano was situated so that Barnatan on his stool was just a few feet away from Salerno-Sonnenberg in her Concertmaster's seat. He frequently glanced over at her, and the two exchanged cues wordlessly. But when he was not looking at her, he did not look at us; instead, a smile of blissful distance on his face, he seemed to be floating off on effulgent clouds he himself was calling forth.

After the intermission, we had Philip Glass's Symphony No. 3. I am a long-time Glass fan, but I was a little mixed on this symphony, though the playing was, as is to be expected with this group, full and fine and thoughtful. The symphony is in the usual four movements, and though I found them all enjoyable enough it was only the third and longest movement that I really connected with. It is also the most "Philip-Glass-like" of the movements, which left me feeling dubious about myself, since I've always rejected "that performance didn't sound like [insert name of composer here: Beethoven, Prokofiev, Glass. . . ]" as a standard – why should people always "sound like" themselves? It's like those painters who have one technique and use it over and over, until it can seem more like a commercial gimmick than anything else. Nonetheless, here I was, most absorbed in the most Glass-like part of the work, feeling in it that undertow of melancholy I hear in his work, with the deep strings lamenting forward, overlaid with the plangent thrusts of Salerno-Sonnenberg's violin. The other movements seemed a bit more haphazard to me, a little less specific in what they summoned up, if you will.

The concert closed with Peter Heidrich's Variations on Happy Birthday, in which the familiar tune is treated in the styles of various composers and traditions, from Bach and Haydn to "film music" and jazz. It's a fun item, so I can see why they thought it would be, you know, fun to include it in the first concert of their 25th birthday season, but it seemed like a bit of a goof after the sort of pearly sadness that underlay the other pieces, though of course the playing was still on a high level. Salerno-Sonnenberg announced that they weren't playing all the variations and we could enjoy ourselves guessing which piece was supposed to be which composer, but I genuinely hate guessing games, which kind of blunted the edge of that for me. And I wonder how many of us would be able to detect a Max Reger parody (Variation IX) unless it was clearly labeled as such, though in general it's easy enough to hear roughly who or what is being parodied. Despite this there was much whispering around me from the previously attentive audience as they tried to pin each butterfly to the board. The young woman next to me asked several times to borrow my program. (Why not just listen? But I do realize it took me a long time to learn that,) Violinist Evan Price, whose birthday it was, did an elaborate solo. Someone behind me decided to chant his name. Some people tried clapping along during the "Hungarian" variation. None of these audience interventions really took off, though. It was not my favorite ending to an otherwise dreamy concert.

11 September 2016


The good news is that Computer Crisis 2016 is nearing an end. So I'm just going to lie low until I'm fully functional again, which should be in . . . a few days? a week? soon?