Thursday, October 9

Alice Giles in AntarcticaAustralian harpist Alice Giles presents a program this Sunday night called Alice in Antarctica, courtesy of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. It combines music performance and multimedia from her experiences presenting a harp recital at Mawson Station in 2011, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the first Australasian Expedition to the continent, for which her grandfather served as meteorologist.

There's more about the performance at the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players' website, and about the project as a whole at Alice Giles' site.

Giles learned that there were arts grants available to travel to Antarctica, and it was only when she received one, to give a concert there, that her plans began to take shape. "I wasn't really thinking at that time about taking my instrument, or anything, and it turned into a kind of an adventure of taking harps - I took a large harp and a small harp on the ship as part of the re-supply voyages that leave from Australia." The concert (inside) on her 'electro-acoustic' blue harp included music that her grandfather, Cecil Thomas Madigan would have known - plus new works. "I found my grandfather's diaries," she says, "which I hadn't read before then. They'd been in the family, but hadn't been shared around, so I got to read them. He talks about music, and how that touched him while he was down there, so I used some of that music, and I also commissioned some new pieces by Australian composer, and I interspersed this with readings from the diaries." Her performance at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco Sunday night will also include some of the footage that she took while down there:


Wednesday, October 8

Steven IsserlisCellist Steven Isserlis joins Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra for two concertos this week, playing Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Luigi Boccherini, both composers he adores. Nicholas McGegan leads the concerts, at the SFJAZZ Center tonight, Bing Concert Hall tomorrow, and a pair of Berkeley concerts this weekend... plus a special "Sessions" event at ODC Theater on Friday, co-presented by KDFC and Philharmonia, hosted by Hoyt.

There's more information about the performances at Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's website

Isserlis has been a frequent soloist with Philharmonia Baroque, and this time helps the ensemble continue to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of C.P. E. Bach - the son of Johann Sebastian who was an inspiration to some of the great composers of his generation. "He ws a huge influence," Isserlis says. "I think Haydn said that without C.P.E. Bach, he would never have been a composer, or something likt that. Mozart also. He was probably more of an influence on those two than J.S. Bach was. He was a very original figure, but I think he's too off the wall for some people. He could be very strange. This is one of his more normal pieces, I think." It's a concerto in A Major that's now best known in its guise as a work for cello, but originally it was for harpsichord -- and the efficient C.P.E. also worked it for flute as well. Isserlis says that it's not overly cello-ish, given its origins, "but it's such a beautiful piece that one tries to surmount its difficulties. It's worth playing, it's so beautiful, so original too, and fresh." The concerts will also include Boccherini's Cello Concerto No. 7 in G Major, as well as Haydn Symphonies 57 and 67.

The "Sessions" event, called "The Nights of Madrid" at ODC Theater in the Mission on Friday night is a more informal concert setting, with a multimedia component, and discussion by Music Director Nicholas McGegan and Steven Isserlis. The first of the events, earlier this year, featured soloists Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang, playing examples of the music before the full pieces were performed, and invited both questions from, and social media participation by the audience.

Tuesday, October 7

A to Z - meterIt's an A-to-Z edition of State of the Arts looking at Meter and Measures - the composer's tools for organizing time and beats in their works. Most of Western classical music uses the same building blocks of groups of twos or threes to make up meter, with the bar line going in front of the emphasized first beat. In 4/4 or common time, there are four beats per measure; 'cut time' or 'alla breve' has two; there are dances like waltzes and minuets that are in triple time with three. Once you have a predictable and steady pulse, it's possible to add syncopation and other rhythmic patterns that play off of that pulse.

Here's the "Ode to Joy" section from the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the famous melody of which is in 4/4:

The "Waltz of the Flowers" from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker - The 3/4 meter begins at 1:12 -

And here's the 6/8 meter alternating between different accents in Leonard Bernstein's "America" from West Side Story

Monday, October 6

David GockleySan Francisco Opera's General Director David Gockley announced on Friday that he would be retiring at the end of the 2015-16 season, and the search for his replacement is underway, with the hope that he or she will be in place in a year's time so there can be a season of overlap before Gockley's departure. He did assure members of the press that he wouldn't be a lame duck.

There's more information about the announcement at the San Francisco Opera website

At the announcement, Gockley said he'd told key board members early on that it was his intention to stay as General Director for only ten years, plus or minus. At the time of his projected retirement it will have been ten years and seven months. "I think that in a mature organization, a C.E.O. should stay ten years. It gets a little predictable, and new energy and new vision, and new ideas, I think is very healthy for an organization, healthy for a community. (That probably is my thinking, even more than self-protection!)"  The remainder of his time at the helm will be spent shepherding those operas already in the works, and planning the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, which will include in the summer of 2018, a staging of Wagner's Ring Cycle. 

Filling Gockley's shoes won't be easy... As Music Director Nicola Luisotti said at the announcement, he's like an artistic parent. "As an Italian guy," Luisotti said, "we have in mind all the time the parents - and Mom and Dad never retire. They are Mom and Dad for all their life, and they are never getting old. And there is another person in my life that will never get old. This is David. He is a legend, and what he has done for the opera world is impossible to describe." Among many other achievements, he will have commissioned nine operas for San Francisco Opera, including the co-commission of Jake Heggie's Moby Dick, and counting his time with Houston Grand Opera, has been responsible for the creation of more than 44 new works. San Francisco Opera Association President Keith Geeslin said that the search for a new General Director would begin immediately, and that he was optimistic, because it was truly one of the "best gigs in the opera world," and likely to attract the strongest candidates. "Being offered the opportunity to succeed David at one of the big three opera companies in the United States, which is artistically vibrant and fiscally in very good shape, with tremendous community support is just not an opportunity that comes along every day."

Friday, October 3

San Francisco Girls ChorusThe San Francisco Girls Chorus opens its season in a pair of concerts this weekend called 'The Romantic Imagination' - with a program of Lieder arranged specifically for them by Alexander Blachly, and with guest soloist (and for a few selections, accompanist) Jon Nakamatsu. Music Director and conductor Valerie Sainte-Agathe says the Romantic spirit that was behind the composers of Lieder survives to this day.

There's more information about the concerts at the San Francisco Girls Chorus website.

"The program is about Romantic music, and specifically around Lieder," says Sainte-Agathe, with works by Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms and others in new arrangements specifically for the Girls Chorus by Alexander Blachy. "We're going to start first with three Leider of Amy Beach - we have an American woman composer who wrote those Lieder, inspired by poems from Browning, the really Romantic poet: 'God is in Heaven, and all's right with the world!'" They'll be joined by Jon Nakamatsu, who will play solo Liszt transcriptions of songs by Franz Schubert, and then accompany the girls for other Schubert Lieder, in addition to playing a new work for solo piano and "drone" by Artistic Director of the ensemble, Lisa Bielawa. "For me it's a way to say that Romantic music, it's contemporary too," Sainte-Agathe says. "We can all be Romantic now, you know? Express... give... be generous. And go around the world and express things."

Thursday, October 2

Joana CarneiroBerkeley Symphony presents its first Zellerbach Hall Series performance tonight with 'Enigma' at 7 o'clock. Music Director Joana Carneiro leads the orchestra in the program that includes a commissioned world premiere by Oscar Bettison, the Sibelius violin concerto with guest soloist Jennifer Koh, and the set of variations by Edward Elgar that gives the program its name.

There's more information about tonight's concert at Berkeley Symphony's website.

The world premiere is called Sea Shaped, by Oscar Bettison, the British composer Berkeley Symphony commissioned; it's a work that was inspired by the way the ocean changes the shape of the land - and as Bettison himself said, "I was born on a little island... Everywhere I've lived has been close to the sea, so somehow, I feel that I'm kind of sea-shaped." Bettison frequently uses electronics and percussion in unexpected ways. He asked Joana Carneiro if his work could be on a program with music by Sibelius, which led to the programming of the violin concerto. Jennifer Koh had been a soloist several years ago with the orchestra (and also made an appearance as Einstein in Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach when it returned to Zellerbach).

Elgar's Enigma Variations is a set of works based on a theme, each section describing another of the composer's friends. But the Enigma in the title isn't the challenge of identifying the subjects... that was made easy by the use of initials and wordplay. For example, the beautiful movement known as 'Nimrod' was dedicated to the music publisher August Jaeger, which is the word in German for 'hunter,' and Nimrod was a famed hunter from the Bible. Elgar hinted at an overarching puzzle, a hidden theme that is suggested by the one that is played. Many have made guesses, but so far there's no consensus that anyone has been correct.

Wednesday, October 1

Cappella SFRagnar Bohlin's new choral ensemble, Cappella SF, which launched in February of this year presents their second program in two concerts this weekend, called "Autumn Light". The concerts will be in Palo Alto and San Francisco, with a program that ranges from Bach to Arvo Pärt and Ingvar Lidholm, and reflects the change of the seasons.

There's more information about the concerts at the Cappella SF website.

The program begins with two works for double-choir, Singet dem Herrn by J.S. Bach, and a high Romantic mass in E-flat major by Joseph Rheinberger. "We're going from light to darkness, representing the change of seasons. and the change of mindset that that may instill in us." The first of those darker pieces is De Profundis, by Ingvar Lidholm, "De Profundis is from the 1980s, and it's one of two a cappella pieces from an opera, A Dream Play, with text by August Strindberg, the Swedish playwright." The texts (and title) come from the Biblical passage "From the Depths we cry to thee, O Lord".

Arvo Pärt's Seven Magnificat Antiphons follow, as Bohlin describes: "Also quite austere texts, some of them are quite dark: 'Please free us from the fetters of darkness' to more light, comforting texts." And finally, the last two of Alfred Schnittke's Psalms of Repentence, which were written after the composer suffered a hemorrhage that left him clinically dead. Bohlin says the works by Schnittke after his medical trauma were dark and introspective. 

The Palo Alto concert is at All Saints Episcopal Church on Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday's concert will be at 6pm at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco.