Opera Parallèle couldn't have known two years ago when they scheduled it just how timely their production of Flight would be, but the Jonathan Dove opera is centered around a refugee unable to leave an airport. Artistic Director Nicole Paiement says it was inspired by the real-life story of the Iranian refugee who found himself stuck at Charles DeGaulle Airport, but has a cast of other travellers also stuck, waiting out a storm.
There's more information about the performances, this weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at the Opera Parallèle website.
"The opera is really about the human condition," Paiement explains. "We have this refugee that is stuck... but it’s a lot about the people that… all these various people that come from various places in their lives that arrive at the airport. Everyone is stuck at the airport because of the storm." There's a young couple looking to rekindle their romance, a diplomat and his pregnant wife on their way to a new posting, a woman who believes a much younger man who suggested marriage will come to meet her at the terminal. As they interact and get to know eachother (along with a steward, stewardess, 'controller' and immigration officer) they change and grow. "At the beginning," she says, "the refugee asks for their help, because the immigration officer comes by, and no one is interested in helping him. And at the end of the opera, the immigration officer comes back again, and by that time, when he asks for help, everyone is wanting to help him. And so, it’s a great study of how people relate, and when you are put into a situation the community gets together and helps each other out."
Wednesday, February 8
Alessio Bax is back in the Bay Area for a series of concerts with the Santa Rosa Symphony this Saturday through Monday. He'll play the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 on a Valentine's themed program (that has Prokofiev and Berlioz retelling Romeo and Juliet). He'll return next month to play a pair of duo works with Orion Weiss and the Symphony Silicon Valley.
Bax just this past weekend played a solo recital as part of the Steinway Society in San Jose. The Brahms he'll play in Santa Rosa is as he puts it, a 'cause for celebration' whenever he has a chance to perform it. It was written twenty or more years after the first piano concerto. "By the time he wrote the second concerto, he had mastered everything there was to master about orchestration," he says. "So, I love the first concerto, but it feels a little bit more raw and you have this constant feeling of a piano fighting with the orchestra, (and maybe that’s why it’s so exciting, and so wonderful too). Whereas in the second piano concerto, no matter how difficult it is in the piano, the orchestration is kept in a way that you don’t really have to fight, you’re working together toward the same goal. And once you learn the piece, and you’re comfortable playing it, it really becomes so rewarding." In a little over a month, he'll return for the duo-piano performance with Orion Weiss and Symphony Silicon Valley. "When it comes to 2-pianos and piano 4-hands, you really have to know each other’s playing intimately well – and otherwise it’s a very hard process to get things close to what should be ideal... But last season I had a collaboration with Orion for a Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center, we played a concert at Tully Hall, and we both approached it with a lot of trepidation. Orion’s wife is also a wonderful pianist and they play together and we both were dreading the first rehearsal, and then it went really really well!"
Here's Bax playing a part of Brahms' earlier piano concerto:
Tuesday, February 7
Opera San Jose gives the West Coast premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night by Kevin Puts, beginning this Saturday. It retells the story of the 1914 Christmas Truce that (briefly) interrupted the carnage of World War I. Music Director Joseph Marcheso says it's based on the French film from 2005, Joyeux Noel, and keeps a cinematic approach to the story.
The original production from Minnesota Opera had a larger orchestra than could be accomodated in the pit at the California Theatre, but General Director Larry Hancock really wanted to bring it to San Jose, and so contacted Kevin Puts. "And he wrote a reduction that removed very little," Joseph Marcheso explains. "He really wants to accommodate, because this isn’t something unique to OSJ; regional theaters would love to do this, but there are certain limitations that even if they raised all the money in the world they couldn’t overcome." In addition to the slightly smaller forces, they also had the challenge of recreating the front lines of the war. "There’s a desire to be as cinematic as possible, to flash cut to this group, and flash cut to this group. And the original production solved that by having a rotating set. And we have approached it by having trenches that we would move in different permutations, so that you would know from the trench which group we’re talking about." He says this is the most ambitious project that OSJ has undertaken, and they're excited to be part of the work's history. "It’s not often that we get to be advocates for pieces. Usually people come in and they already know that they like the piece. But an opera at this stage in its trajectory, every performance matters because in every performance you convert new people to it."
Monday, February 6
One of America's best-known photographer's lesser-known works are on display as SFMOMA presents Diane Arbus: In the Beginning through the end of April. The works represent the first half of her already brief career of 15 years, taken in and around New York with a 35 millimeter camera, instead of the twin lens reflex camera that is held in front of the body instead of the eye. Jeff Rosenheim, the curator of the exhibit from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art says her style and talent were on display from the very beginning.
Rosenheim says the choice of camera makes a convenient midway point for describing her career, but these early works are in no way immature. "Arbus had spent 10 years loosely in the fashion genre, working with her husband, from around the end of WWII until 1956. But in 1956, she numbered a roll of film ‘number one,’ and that’s where we begin this exhibition... The salient characteristics, intimacy, centeredness, eye-to-eye relationship, begins at the beginning and is carried through." The exhibit includes some of the subjects from society's fringes that Arbus came to be associated with, but also just people caught being themselves on the streets of New York, and at Coney Island. But Rosenheim says she wasn't satisfied just being an observer. "I used to think that she chose her subjects. And now I believe, as often as she chose them, they chose her. She waited until people returned her gaze. Arbus wanted a direct, one-on-one centered relationship with her subject. So that is both psychological strategy and picture style coming together in one."
Friday, February 3
Musica Marin presents a house concert tomorrow in Belvedere, with several works by composer-in-residence Clint Borzoni, along with music of Schubert, Brahms, and Rossini. Singing the new works (which include two song cycles, two longer songs, and an arrangement of an aria from Borzoni's opera When Adonis Calls) will be two alums of the Merola Opera Program, Mark Diamond and Laura Krumm. Ruth Ellen Kahn, violist and Artistic Director, gives a preview.
Clint Borzoni's first collaboration with Musica Marin and the Merola Opera Program took place last year, when he wrote a work for baritone and string quartet that could be paired on a program with Samuel Barber's Dover Beach. This time around, he's written works for baritone and mezzo-soprano, each accompanied by the member of the string family that corresponds to their range, cello and viola. "I was figuring out what can I write for this concert, and I have a few poets, friends of mine, who have poetry that I’ve been dying to set for a long time," Borzoni says. "John Grimmett and Judith Wolf, they have little tiny poems, like one-liners that I fell in love with, and I fell in love with a lot of them. And I tried to create a song cycle based on these one-liners or two-liners. And the other two poets, Geoffrey Dillard and Sally Gall have really epic longer poems. So those became just one song each, while the other two poets have maybe five or six songs." The other performers on Saturday's concert are Kahn, cellist Jennifer Culp, and pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg.
Thursday, February 2
Kronos Quartet hosts its third festival at SFJAZZ beginning tonight; called 'Here and Now,' the three days will include ten works by artist-in-residence, Iranian-American composer Sahba Aminikia, including three premieres in the opening performance tonight. One of them is a an arrangement of songs by singer Mahsa Vahdat, who will join the quartet for The Sun Rises. Musicians from the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts and the San Francisco Girls Chorus will also be guests tonight.
Aminikia was born in Iran, and studied there and in Russia before becoming a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. "Do we actually belong entirely to one culture, 100 percent?" he asks. "I wasn’t born and raised like that, you know… I grew up in a society, I listened to Jazz, I listened to Classical Music, and Persian music, obviously. And I adore it at the same time, but I adore other music as well, so I would love to actually bring my own personality into the perspective here." The arrangements of Mahsa Vahdat's songs, with texts by Iranian poets, had him calling on much of that wide background, and leaving the rest to chemistry. "The experience was so overwhelming in a way, and challenging. Because putting two forces like Mahsa and Kronos together, it was the hugest challenge for me. And I left everything kind of unfinished to some extent, because I wanted them to get together and perform the music together, get a sense of eachother. You know, that’s how music should be played in any tradition, I think." Kronos founder, violinist David Harrington sums up the collaboration this way: "I’m a collector of great musical experiences, and I feel like Mahsa creates those, and so this is very special for us."