Beginning this Sunday, the chorus called Slavyanka will host a week-long International Russian Choral Music Festival, which is the first of its kind on the West Coast. Irina Shachneva is the Artistic Director for Slavyanka, and was involved in the two Boston festivals that this one is modeled after. The aim is to celebrate the music, bring singers together, and will include concerts as well as workshops and presentations.
The choral tradition of Russia differs from that of Europe - which is one of the reasons people don't know as much about it. "In Europe, since the Renaissance," Irina Shachneva says, "the music spread out of the Church of the middle ages, an it was developed into a lot of instrumental music, different kinds of cantatas and Masses, and secular and sacred music. It was not the same in Russia. In Russia, the music has been folk music or liturgical music." And although it influenced the composers we know for their orchestral writing: Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, that influence isn't overt and widely known in the West other than in Rachmaninoff's Vespers.
Slavyanka began in 1979, named after the Russian name for what we now call the Russian River near Fort Ross. Founding Director Paul Andrews had sung with the Yale Russian Chorus (Alumni singers from that group will be among the ensembles participating in this week's Festival). He says: "There's so much depth in Russian music that we don't find in so much Western music. It's very different and wonderful that way." He also applauds the leadership of Shachneva. "Irina is taking us to a whole new level of what we've been doing before. And a whole different level for Russian music in the Bay Area, frankly. For choral music, this is going to be a wonderful kind of gathering of all that energy, we hope."
Thursday, July 31
Guitarist Miloš Karadaglić plays at the Bing Concert Hall for the first time next week, wrapping up the Stanford Live summer concert series with a solo recital. He's also got a recent CD called Aranjuez, with music by two of the great master composers for his instrument: Joaquin Rodrigo and Manuel de Falla.
The importance of Rodrigo to the classical guitar repertoire can't be denied - "He wrote the most recognizable piece of guitar music in the world," Miloš says. "And he wrote a lot of other pieces like the Invocation and Dance (which is on the record), and a lot of other solo pieces and a few other oncertos... But he, with the Concerto put the guitar on the map, and made it stronger, and made it more proud next to other instruments on the international concert platform." The Concierto de Aranjuez, with the rhythmic flourishes of its opening movement, and melancholy adagio are instantly recognizable, and sound like they fit the instrument perfectly. But in fact, Rodrigo was a pianist, and as Karadaglić explains, "that's why he famously writes things which are almost impossible on the guitar. But at the same time, he keeps the sound of the guitar so perfectly, and so naturally that it feels like he was a fluid guitarist himself."
Wednesday, July 30
The three-weekend Lake Tahoe Summerfest begins its third season this Friday night, with a program of Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Britten, with guest soloist, tenor Matthew Polenzani. Leading them is Artistic Director Joel Revzen, who conducts at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (where 17 of the 40 orchestra members play). The festival will also feature pianist Simone Dinnerstein during its second week.
Joel Revzen says the orchestra's players have been so impressed with the experience of the festival that practically all of them have returned each of the three years - and that he's frequently asked by members of the Met orchestra whether there might not be openings for more players. Currently there are about 40 in the ensemble, and they play their concerts in a 500-seat acoustically designed tent and shell. "To hear music played in a really compelling way in a small space, an intimate experience," Revzen says, "I think creates an emotional response that you don't get when you're in a twenty-eight hundred seat hall, and sitting that far away from the music."
The players, which also include principals from Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle, Dallas, Vancouver, Toronto, and one from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, gather for a concentrated burst of music-making. "We do six orchestra programs in the first three weekends in August, and we do three programs that we call 'Meet the Music, Meet the Musicians,' which is a chamber music format, but we try to create an event around each of these Sunday concerts," Revzen says. Each of them has a unifying theme, and this year, it's a city that has inspired the music on the programs: Vienna, Paris, and London. "We also do children's concerts on Sunday morning (both the second and third Sundays). We've invited the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, so kids performing for kids. And the third Sunday, we're doing the Britten Oboe Quartet, and Poulenc's L'Histoire du Babar, The Story of Babar, the little elephant."
Friday, July 25
ODC/Dance will be presenting three performances next week of their 'Summer Sampler' - the first of which will be a benefit for their musical collaborator, cellist Zöe Keating, whose husband was diagnosed with metastatic cancer earlier this spring. They'll dance to a recording of Keating's original music, which she played live for the premiere of choreographer Brenda Way's Breathing Underwater two years ago. Also on the program is Way's Lifesaving Maneuvers, along with musical guests, the Magik*Magik Orchestra and Pacific Boychoir Academy. Scramble, another work choreographed by KT Nelson will appear on the other two programs, and danced to a recording of another cello work - Bach's unaccompanied suite no. 6.
Zöe Keating, who has been called an "Avant Cellist", creates her music with a combination of acoustic cello and computer technology. For the premiere of the piece Breathing Underwater, she accompanied the dancers live, playing one part on the cello, and building up an evolving set of musical layers with her computer. "Here I have a phrase," she explained in 2012, "and now I'm going to play another phrase, and another. And those prases are both melodies and parts of a whole. And it's very organic and incremental in that the phrases have to go together, work vertically and horizontally, and I just really like that process of fitting them together. It's kind of like a game of Tetris." Keating also provided accompaniment for a dance ODC performed this year, called Boulders and Bones, choreographed by Brenda Way and KT Nelson. She said the way she composes is like dance itself, growing out of improvisation. "I've seen dancers work where they have their little phrases that they're working on, and they become enamored with a particular phrase, and then they might build an entire piece around that phrase - and that's how I do it. Since I have to perform all the parts sequentially as I record them, they all have to fit together. I can't have any wasted effort: I can't just go off and do some solo that isn't going to have anything that will fit with anything else later. So it's kind of like this experiment in efficient movement. Also something like dance."
Here's a video showing her process of layering ideas:
Thursday, July 24
Music@Menlo's theme for their festival this summer is Around Dvorak... But as in past years that had a composer as the focus, the programming isn't limited to his works. In fact, one of this season's special guests (who will be leading an 'Encounters' series presentation tonight) isn't a musician at all - but is historically connected to the works that will be performed on Friday and Saturday nights: William Lobkowicz, whose ancestor, the seventh Prince Lobkowicz was a benefactor and dedicatee of Beethoven, Haydn, and others.
William Lobkowicz came to be invited to take part in this year's festival after forming a friendship several years ago with co-Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han. The musicians were travelling in the Czech Republic, and went into the palace that bears his family name. They asked if they might be introduced to someone from the family (as Finckel says, to express their gratitude for the music the patronage allowed to be written) and hit it off. William Lobkowicz had grown up in the U.S. (his father had come to the States as a refugee from the Nazis, and then the Communists in Czechoslovakia) and only was able to return to reclaim his family's property and belongings after the Velvet Revolution. Miraculously, the collection of 4,500 musical scores, 65,000 books, three to four million documents (including letters from kings and queens, and Beethoven), three castles and a palace weren't destroyed either by the Nazis or Communists. "What we're doing really is trying to take the mantle of this family history, but it's really a world history, and present it for the world... Because none of these things were ever open to the public before," he says. They don't have the benefit of the riches that the Seventh Prince had, despite all the treasure in the collection. Their hope is to create a center for European Cultural Heritage, since the reach of the family goes back far before current geopolitical boundaries existed - through the Austro-Hungarian and Holy Roman Empire, back to when what is now the Czech Republic was just a part of Bohemia.
The music on the program Friday and Saturday nights is Haydn's Quartet in G, Op. 77, no. 1; Beethoven's first Quartet (Op. 18, no.1) as well as the tenth, (Op. 74) known as "Harp", which will be played by the Danish String Quartet. Baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Gilbert Kalish will also play An die ferne Geliebte. Those were just a handful of works that were dedicated to Lobkowicz (as well as the Eroica, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Triple Concerto). William Lobkowicz says his ancestor might not have been fully rational when he decided to spend his fortune that way, but, "What is a patron? A passionate, really crazy person who just said, 'You know, the money is just the money. We have to do this. I have to do this. I have to do these things."
Wednesday, July 23
The trio Time for Three is made up of a pair of violinists and a double bassist (Zachary DePue, Nicolas Kendall, and Ranaan Meyer) who met when they were studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. What began as a bit of spontaneous 'jamming' in various styles has led to a successful career for the group as artists-in-residence with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and a brand new self-titled CD through Universal. They'll be playing at Yoshi's on the 30th, and then at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in early August.
Renaan Meyer says that their collaboration was, at first, just a way to play together and let off steam while at music school: "We got a gig to play down in D.C., and we were told we needed to put 25 minutes of music together. We were already jamming, just having a good time after orchestra rehearsals, and we were getting paid a little money, and getting a limo ride down to the gig.. Really we were doing it for all the perks as college kids, because we just wanted to have some fun." But he says the reaction they got made them take things a bit more seriously. "We played, and the audience loved it, and they wanted us to do an encore. We didn't have an encore, and we're shrugging our shoulders thinking, 'Man, this is really going well, maybe we should do this again.' And we did - and we had a similar reaction. So then we thought: 'this started organic, and that's all great, but now let's maybe put some thought and time into this and see what happens.'"
Their career as a trio got a boost when they were named Artists in Residence at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, where Zachary DePue has ben Concertmaster since 2007. They've been in that position for five seasons, curating a "Happy Hour" concert series there that appeals to younger audiences, as well as stretching the boundaries of expectations of Classical Music. Some of the collaborations that they've had over the years are revisited on their new CD - with Alisa Weilerstein, Branford Marsalis, Jake Shimabukuro, and singer songwriter Joshua Radin appearing, with others. "We thought that the most authentic way to put our foot forward," says violinist Nick Kendell, "was to introduce the world to our natural affinity towards collaboration with artists that are as varied and diverse as our own musical tastes as a group."
Friday, July 18
On an "A to Z" edition of The State of the Arts, a look at musical Notation... which, like any writing, allows one person to transmit an idea to another without having to meet in person. A composer today can, it's true, make a recording, or even Skype into a rehearsal and let the players or conductor know how the performance should go... But the system of notation that's developed since the middle ages means that composer should be able to send a score off knowing it will be performed more or less as intended.
The standard of music notation that we use today is efficient - on a conductor's score, each individual line corresponds to an instrument or section of the orchestra; reading from left to right, you're moving forward in time... and at any point along the way, reading the page vertically will give a snapshot of the harmony being played.
The standards of notation have been slowly refined over the years, although some of the principle ideas are very similar to the time of Gregorian Chants - when musical scores began to have an early "staff", and the direction of melodies were determined by the placement of the noteheads. The shapes and groupings of the noteheads indicated their duration, and how the pitch would be approached - connected or detached from the note that came before, or with an ornamental melisma. But the text determined the rhythm and phrasing, and since they were sung in unison, dividing the melodies into measures wasn't necessary.
Here's an example of J.S. Bach's handwritten manuscript, using notation that's much more familiar to anyone who's studied music. The staves are joined into a treble and bass grand staff, which is used for keyboard music, although this looks like one of the many Chorales that Bach wrote or reharmonized - which could be either played or sung. There are barlines separating the measures, and each of the four independent voices has a different rhythmic feeling. The melody in the soprano is slow and even, the bassline "walks" at a steady clip, and the tenor voice has 'dotted' rhythms of long notes followed by short ones, in almost a heartbeat dah - - dit, dah - - dit pattern.
This single measure from Chopin's Nocturne, Opus 2 No.1 trips off the fingers of a well-trained pianist, with a pattern of 22 notes meant to take the same amount of time as the 12 notes in the left hand. By not making the notes line up exactly, he creates a slightly relaxed and rhythmically free feeling (rather than one that tries to exactly work the math out precisely.)
In Charles Ives' Concord Sonata, he does away with the barlines altogether at times; the piece is fiendishly difficult (but fortunately, it's only for one performer, and not an ensemble that has to stay together!)
Thursday, July 17
This marks the fortieth consecutive season of the Midsummer Mozart Festival, which opens with a concert at the Bing Concert Hall this Saturday night - which fittingly includes the 40th Symphony of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (Or, as Music Director George Cleve points out, K. 550). There are concerts at Stanford and Berkeley this weekend and next, and San Francisco on Friday the 25th.
George Cleve says the idea for the festival was inspired by a local opera production he was involved with: "Some forty years ago, I was conducting a production of Seraglio with San Francisco Spring Opera, and after the rehearsal, some of the players and I would get together... and the gist of what we were talking about was 'This really is the best music, you know -- wouldn't it be fun to actually have a Mozart festival?'". Since that first year, he's been programming works that are both familiar and new. "I've always tried to combine the well-known, I wouldn't say the top ten, but maybe the top 150 with some of the works that have never been performed in the area, and in a couple of cases never been performed!" So for example, this year's first program, along with Mozart's 40th symphony and the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, there are two arias: "Chi sa, chi sa" and "Vado, ma dove" which were written to be inserted into another composer's opera.
The second program, which will also have a San Francisco performance on the 25th at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, will include the San Francisco Boys Chorus for Missa Brevis in C Major (Spatzan Mass) and selections from the Magic Flute, along with Laudate Dominum, a piano concerto with Seymour Lipkin as soloist, and pointing back to the festival's origins, the overture to Abduction from the Seraglio. Cleve describes his love of Mozart this way: "I feel a certain at-homeness with Mozart. I believe it was Artur Schnabel, the great pianist, who once said that 'Mozart is too easy for children, and too difficult for adults.' In answer to people who say 'How come it comes so naturally to you?' I say, 'Well, probably because I've remained a teenager all my life.'" There will be a wind serenade from last season's Midsummer Mozart Festival on this Sunday night's edition of Bay Area Mix.