29 December 2016

fun stuff I may or may not get to: January 2017

And we're off into 2017!

ACT presents On Beckett starring Bill Irwin at the Strand Theater, from 10 to 22 January.

Aurora Theater presents Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, directed by Timothy Near, from 27 January to 26 February.

Cutting Ball Theater presents Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, translated by Paul Walsh and directed by Yury Urnov, who did their wonderful Ubu Roi a few years ago; Hedda will be doing it beautifully (well, urging others to do it beautifully) from 19 January to 26 February.

Theater Rhinoceros presents Gertrude Stein and a Companion by Win Wells, directed by Kathryn L. Wood and John Fisher, at the Eureka Theater from 28 December 2016 to 8 January 2017.

Shotgun Players is continuing to run the season in repertory through the month.

West Edge Opera is starting a program called Snapshot, featuring excerpts from new operas-in-progress. There will be two concerts, one this month and the other in February; each will feature four excerpts. This month you can sample Famous (music by David Conte, libretto by John Stirling Walker), Why I Live at the PO (music by Stephen Eddins, libretto by Michael O'Brien, based I assume on the story by the great Eudora Welty), Hagar and Ishmael (music by William David Cooper, libretto by Will Dunlap), and Afterword (music and libretto by Alden Jenks). Each program will be performed twice, and you can hear this first one on 21 January at the David Brower Center in Berkeley or on 22 January at the Bayview Opera House in San Francisco. I'm not familiar with the SF venue, but I have been to the Berkeley venue, and am delighted that it is public-transportation friendly, and I wish West Edge would follow its own example and switch its regular season to a venue that does not require a car (though lack of public transportation access is just one of the problems with the abandoned train station in Oakland, their summertime venue). No word yet (at least none that has reached my ear) on singers, but the instrumentalists will be drawn from Earplay, the awesome local new-music ensemble, and led by Earplay Principal Conductor Mary Chun and West Edge Music Director Jonathan Khuner.

There's another new opera this month, and it will receive a piano / vocal workshop production at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music: Mary Pleasant at Land's End, "an historical drama set in Barbary Coast San Francisco," with music by David Garner to a libretto by Mark Hernandez, conducted by Ian Robertson. That's 14 January and it is free.

Nicholas McGegan leads Philharmonia Baroque in a program featuring violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock in the Mozart Violin Concerto 5, the Turkish. The band will also play Haydn's Symphony 91, along with a (possibly) interesting rarity, a Haydn-influenced symphony by his contemporary Adalbert Gyrowetz. You can hear the concert on 25 January at Bing Concert Hall at Stanford, 27 January at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, 28 January at First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, or 29 January at the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church in Lafayette.

Joana Carneiro leads the Berkeley Symphony in the Cello Concerto by Mason Bates with soloist Joshua Roman and the Beethoven 4 in Zellerbach Hall on 26 January. UPDATE: Carneiro is pregnant and under doctor's advice not to travel, so she has withdrawn from this engagement and Christian Reif will conduct in her place. Best wishes to both of them.

The big attraction over at the San Francisco Symphony is the semi-staged performance of Das klagende Lied / The Song of Lamentation (the all-Mahler program also includes Blumine and the Lieder eines fahrendren Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer)), led by Michael Tilson Thomas and directed by the reliably awesome James Darrah. The enticing soloists are soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Michael König, and baritone Brian Mulligan. Performances are 13 - 15 January (the 15th is a matinee).

James Gaffigan returns to the San Francisco Symphony to conduct Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, Prokofiev's Violin Concerto 2 (with soloist Simone Lamsma), the Mozart 36 (the Linz), and the Dance of the Seven Veils from Strauss's Salome. That's 19 - 22 January (the 22nd is a matinee).

The week after (26 - 28 January), Lionel Bringuier conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Kodály's Dances of Galánta, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major (with soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet), and the Beethoven 4.

On 29 January, the San Francisco Symphony presents the Prague Philharmonia, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, in a program featuring Vltava (The Moldau) from Má Vlast (My Homeland) by Smetana, the Dvořák Cello Concerto (with soloist Gautier Capuçon), and the Dvořák 8.

San Francisco Performances presents The Bad Plus at Herbst Theater on 21 January.

Not sure quite where to put this, but jazz seems as capacious a category as any: Cal Performances presents Kodo, percussionists in the ancient tradition of Japanese taiko drumming. That's on 28 - 29 January in Zellerbach Hall.

Chamber Music
San Francisco Performances presents the Telegraph Quartet playing Webern, Berg, and Schubert at Herbst Theater on 31 January. This is SFP's annual concert featuring the previous year's Naumburg Competition winner.

Old First Concerts presents the Farallon Quintet on 13 January, when they will perform two world premieres, Alice Etudes by Gregory Vajda and The Integrity of Clouds by Joseph Sowa, along with Jean Francaix's Quintet.

On 15 January, Old First Concerts presents the Berkeley Choro Ensemble, which specializes in a traditional Brazilian style that combines European classical with native and Afro-Brazilian musical styles.

Old First Concerts presents the Ives Collective in an all-Beethoven program on 29 January.

Piano / Violin
Cal Performances presents Emanuel Ax playing Schubert and Chopin in Zellerbach Hall on 22 January.

The San Francisco Symphony presents famed violinist Itzhak Perlman with pianist Rohan De Silva at Davies Hall on 16 January in a program of Vivaldi, Beethoven, Schumann, and Stravinsky.

Early / Baroque Music
Cal Performances presents Jordi Savall and Hespêrion XXI in a program "exploring Venetian influences in musical Europe between 1500 and 1700"; that's on 27 January. Usually this group performs in First Congregational, which it always sells out; due to the recent fire in the church, the concert has been relocated. The good news is that therefore tickets are available; the bad news is that the performance is in Zellerbach Hall, not a venue conducive to intimacy and early strings.

The San Francisco Early Music Society presents House of Time in Imaginary Theater: Stage Music by Handel and Rameau. as arranged for the ensemble by the group's oboist Gonzalo X. Ruiz. You can hear the results on 20 January at St Mark's Episcopal in Palo Alto, 21 January at St John's Presbyterian in Berkeley, or 22 January at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.

Old First Concerts presents MUSA in a lovely looking program of French baroque pieces on 22 January.

Modern / Contemporary Music
Cal Performances presents Ensemble Signal with conductor Brad Lubman in an all-Steve Reich program, including the US premiere of Runner, a Cal Performances co-commission; that's in Hertz Hall on 29 January.

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present a modernist classic, Ligeti's Chamber Concerto, along with Kate Soper's Door, Michael Pisaro's ricefall, and the premiere of Richard Festinger's Careless Love, which SFCMP commissioned. The website gives full details on the performers, but does not mention who wrote the words for Careless Love and Door (presumably there are words, as the Festinger features baritone Daniel Cilli and the Soper soprano Amy Foote). All will presumably be revealed at the concert on 20 January at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

In addition to accompanying West Edge Opera's Snapshot programs, Earplay will present its first concert of its season: entitled Air, it will feature works by Peter Josheff, Tonia Ko, Elena Ruhr, Laurie San Martin, and Toru Takemitsu (the latter is this season's focus composer). Mary Chun leads the ensemble on 30 January at Herbst Theater.

The San Francisco Ballet presents its first two programs this season: Program 1 runs 24 January to 4 February and includes Haffner Symphony (choreography by Helgi Tomasson to Mozart's symphony), Fragile Vessels (Jiří Bubeníček to music by Rachmaninov), and In the Countenance of Kings (Justin Peck to music by Sufjan Stevens, orchestrated by Michael P Atkinson); Program 2 runs 26 January to 5 February and includes Seven Sonatas (choreography by Alexei Ratmansky to Domenico Scarlatti), Optimistic Tragedy (Yuri Possokhov to music by Ilya Demutsky), and Pas / Parts 2016 (William Forsythe to music by Thom Willems).

Visual Arts
You have until 29 January to catch the Le Nain Brothers show at the Legion of Honor. The Asian Art Museum's exhibit exploring the Rama Epic runs until 15 January. Both shows are worth visiting, or re-visiting.

17 December 2016

Supove plays Mattingly: Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field at the Center for New Music

Last Friday the Center for New Music hosted the west coast premiere of Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field, an epic (2+ hour) piece for solo piano by Dylan Mattingly, played by Kathleen Supové. I thought this sounded interesting, so off I went. I had heard a few pieces by Mattingly before, one at the Berkeley Symphony a few years ago and then a piece in honor of Terry Riley commissioned by Sarah Cahill for Riley's 80th birthday last year. I liked both pieces very much and had the feeling that Mattingly was an artist suited to long forms, so a solo ramble through the piano for several hours sounded right. The evocative title also intrigued me, suggesting an examination of being a certain type of romantic young man – drawn to youthful male archetypes like the warrior and the athlete, yet in a romantic, even nostalgic way removed enough from general culture to be individual and aestheticized. Achilles suggests an affinity for the foundational Greek classics, and Ebbets Field (home of the long-departed Brooklyn Dodgers) is a touchstone for the dreamier baseball fans (dreaming itself, as suggested by the title, also seems like an important theme, as if the future is dreamt of by the past, or the warrior dreams up his paler avatar, the athlete; in any case, the suggestion is of a fluid world with its own interior logic, but one that is on-going and continuous over distant times and places). The piece may have more particular meanings for the composer, but I think these things are enough as entry-ways for the listener.

The work is in 24 sections, as is the Iliad, but the correspondence is not necessarily direct; though section 22 is Death of Hektor, and the 22nd book of the Iliad indeed describes the death of Hektor, section 23 is Ebbets Field – though that is perhaps a reflection of the funeral games for Patroclus in Book 23 of the Iliad? Some titles directly reflect the Iliad (Catalogue of Heroes, Divine Rage: Ocean), some directly reflect the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers (For Jackie Robinson); others are more generally poetic (First Spring; Last Spring; Love, Death, and Paleoclimates; and one teasingly titled simply Music). I have to say I decided not to follow along with the titles, but just to listen to the onrush of music, a decision I wish had been made by some of the others in the very full house, who somehow managed to make astonishing noise with their programs; since the program was a single sheet of paper printed on both sides, I really have to salute their ingenuity.

Kathleen Supové is a physically small woman; her hair was in a purply-red Louise Brooks bob, and she was wearing short black boots, black tights, and kind of a short slip with a large leopard-skin print with a thick row of black lace at the bottom. The effect was striking, unusual for a performer, and even authoritative – no one wears leopard-skin with the intention of being overlooked or blending in. But any suggestion of studied eccentricity or the theatrically "artistic" was belied by her straightforward relationship to the piano; she did not play to the audience, but connected to the sheet music in front of her with intense concentration, occasionally nodding to or glancing at the page-turner (whom she graciously introduced during the intermission; his first name was Austin but I did not catch his second name) but then returning directly to the music. I enjoyed her glittering, aggressive playing. I did feel that the Center's Yamaha piano was occasionally over-bright, but maybe that was because I was very close (front row, far right).

From the chiming gamelan-like opening Invocation to the final Last Spring, the time actually flew by, which speaks well for both composer and performer. Obviously two hours and maybe 20 minutes of new music is a lot to take in. A recording would be wonderful, for repeated listening and for movement-by-movement analysis of what strikes the live listener, with almost palpable force, as a Scamander-River-like onrush of music, even with several Messiaen-like moments of radiant stasis, like a pulsating pillar of light. It all felt like a single coherent piece, despite the many small sections and the variety of styles that make it up. In keeping with the title, much of the music is bounding, athletic, youthful, with moments of quieter reflection and suggested loss.

Here is the composer's summary of his method, as printed in the program: "For hundreds of years, bards would travel the Aegean and sing from memory the 15,693 lines of the Iliad. Each time the story might change a little bit depending on the bard's surroundings and memory. With thousands of years between us and then, uncountable waves on the shore, a speckling across the universe of momentary loves and victories and breakfasts and hands running through hair, I wonder what the Iliad in which I find myself  might look like – evolved in some cases like fish on land and in others torn asunder like the endless reconfiguration of the continents, or perhaps transformed like the green Sahara only 10,000 years ago. These are the days I've grown up in – from the divine intervention in a walk-off home run to the rivergods in the Hudson to the soft breathing of someone sleeping beneath the window." That describes the effect of the piece very well: epic in sweep but intimate in detail, filled with personal moments that might or might not resonate with your moments, but in either case slip away or return reconfigured (so perhaps live performance, with its elusive attempts by the listener to hold each moment, and its inevitable disappearance into selective and hazy memory, really is the best medium for this piece).

The composer was there and took a bow afterwards, after we had applauded the dazzling and intrepid Supové. He wore black pants and a reddish shirt, with his frizzy auburn hair tied back. He looked very pleased, as indeed he had every right to be. There was a question-and-answer session after the concert, for which I did not stay. Later I kind of regretted this, but since it was late on a Friday night after a work week I was very tired. I don't always enjoy Q and A sessions anyway; I generally prefer letting myself marinate in memories of the performance as long as I can before forced re-entry into the usual world.