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?

05 September 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/36

Well, this "no computer" thing is certainly dragging on . . . but I'm hoping to have good (or goodish) news soon.

More Sappho, translated by Mary Barnard:

In memory

Of Pelagon, a fisherman,
his father Meniscus placed

here a fishbasket and oar;
tokens of an unlucky life