Thursday, September 4

Piano MashupWith all the excitement surrounding the Symphony Gala and Opera opening nights, let's not forget about the many great pianists who will be performing in the Bay Area this season, each playing works from the vast keyboard repertoire. See how many of these twenty mashed-up piano pieces you can identify:   (Click and drag over list to reveal selections)

(click and drag over the space below to see the listings.)
  1. Satie: Gymnopedie #1
  2. Bach: Goldberg Variations (Aria)
  3. Stravinsky: Petrushka, Scene 1
  4. Schubert: "Wanderer" Fantasy
  5. Bach: Prelude #1 in C (from Well-Tempered Clavier, book 1)
  6. Mozart: Sonata #16
  7. Beethoven: Sonata #8 in c minor, "Pathetique"
  8. Brahms: Intermezzo
  9. Debussy: Golliwog's Cakewalk (from Children's Corner)
  10. Schubert: Impromptu #2 in E-flat
  11. Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 9, no. 2
  12. Joplin: Maple Leaf Rag
  13. Chopin: "Heroic" Polonaise, Op. 53
  14. Brahms: Waltz in A-flat, Op. 39, no. 15
  15. Liszt: Liebestraum ("Dream of Love")
  16. Debussy: Clair de Lune
  17. Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody #2
  18. Beethoven: "Moonlight" Sonata
  19. Rachmaninoff: Prelude in c-sharp minor
  20. Gershwin: Prelude #2

Wednesday, September 3

Season Openings part 2The second part of the overview of upcoming season-opening concerts, picking up on the 20th of September, with a Cal Performances Mariachi concert - to a recent work for orchestra and jazz quintet that the Oakland East Bay Symphony will play in early November. 

You can find out more about each season by clicking the links below.

Cal Performances actually got a jump on the season by hosting Yo-Yo Ma's performance of solo Bach at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley last month. But their next upcoming event, on September 20th, is the popular Mexican ensemble Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who will perform at Zellerbach Hall. That's followed by a return of the Mark Morris Dance Group on the 25th through 28th for new works, and along with the unconventional jazz trio The Bad Plus, a reprise of the Rite of Spring-inspired piece Spring Spring Spring.

Symphony Silicon Valley's first concert has an Italian theme, with Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 2, Berlioz's Harold in Italy, and a ballet from Don Carlo by Giuseppe Verdi. Karen Kamensek will conduct, and Patricia Whaley is the viola soloist in the Berlioz.

Just in the past few weeks, the newest concert venue in the area, Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center, was inaugurated with ten concerts open to the public over the course of two days. The "Sundays at Schroeder" series begins on the 14th, with Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen at the keyboard for a recital of Grieg, Brahms and Chopin. The Weill Hall summer concerts that include audiences on the lawn are continuing through mid September before the formal opening of their fall season with two frequent collaborators and musical omnivores: mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, and double bassist and composer Edgar Meyer. There's also going to be a Frank Sinatra-inspired gala with pianist and crooner Michael Feinstein on the 28th of September.

Berkeley Symphony has guest soloist Jennifer Koh in their program called "Enigma" on October 2nd to play Sibelius's Violin concerto, on a program with Elgar's famed set of variations and a world premiere commission called Sea Shaped by Oscar Bettison.  There's also a Berkeley Symphony and Friends Chamber series concert on September 21st, with guests violinist Stuart Canin, cellist Bonnie Hampton, and pianist Sarah Cahill.  They'll perform works by Couperin, Adès, Beethoven and Schubert.

Cellist Steven Isserlis makes another appearance with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra this October 8th-12th, for concertos by Luigi Boccherini, and C.P.E. Bach (the ensemble continues celebrating his 300th birthday this season). There's also symphonic Haydn on the program. 

Bruno Ferrandis and the Santa Rosa Symphony begin their concert season with a program called "Heroes and Legends" with pianist Yevgeny Sudbin playing Beethoven's 'Emperor' Concerto, along with orchestral works by Strauss, Wagner, and Bela Bartok.

And Michael Morgan celebrates his 25th anniversary with the Oakland East Bay Symphony (last season the orchestra turned 25) with a lineup that begins with the West Coast premiere of Chris Brubeck and Guillaume Saint-James' work Brothers in Arts - a piece commemorating D-Day, and written for orchestra and jazz quintet. ALso on that program is Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.

Tuesday, September 2

Season OpeningsThis year's concert seasons are beginning - two of the biggies, the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera have their galas this week (tune in to KDFC tomorrow night to hear the live broadcast) and the other arts organizations are going to be following closely behind. Here's part one of two overviews of how and when the seasons will start around the Bay Area.

You can find out more about each season at the links below.

The San Francisco Symphony is celebrating Michael Tilson Thomas's 20th season as Music Director this year, and they're starting it off with a gala Wednesday night that brings together musicians from very different worlds: Yuja Wang will play Rhapsody in Blue, and the the orchestra has works by Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky, and Bonnie Raitt will sing from the Great American Songbook. They continue immediately at the end of the week, with the Russian repertoire, plus soloist Benjamin Grosvenor playing Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major.

San Francisco Opera opens its season with the Opera Ball, and a performance of Bellini's Norma on Friday, and then the following night, the company premiere of Carlisle Floyd's Susanna, with Patricia Racette in the title role. A Masked Ball and Partenope by Handel will follow in October, then Tosca, Cinderella, and La Bohème. This Sunday at 1:30, the tradition of 
Opera in the Park continues, with a free performance at Golden Gate Park of audience favorites by some of the singers who will be performing this season, and our own Dianne Nicolini will host.

San Francisco Conservatory of Music is getting its busy season off to a start with a joint Faculty Recital tomorrow night: Elizabeth Blumenstock, Elisabeth Reed, and Corey Jamason play early music by Purcell, Vivaldi, Corelli, and more. The Conservatory's Orchestra has its first concert on the 27th and 28th of September, with a program of Brahms, Berlioz, and Saint-Saens. There are guest artists planned for the year, including mezzo soprano Susan Graham, violinist Jennifer Koh, and the Pacifica Quartet, and in November, the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism will bring some of the top Classical reviewers from the U.S. for a symposium on the state of criticism today.

New Century Chamber Orchestra and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg will present "Carmen Returns" from September 11-14; with concerts in Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Francisco and San Rafael featuring the featured composer this season, who's also a clarinetist, Derek Bermel. Several of his works will be on the program, including the intriguingly titled A Short History of the Universe (as related by Nima Arkani-Hamed) which is inspired by String Theory (of the Physics kind...) There's also Arvo Pärt's Fratres, and the work referred to in the concert's name: the Carmen Suite for strings and percussion by Shchedrin, inspired by George Bizet's Carmen.

"Hooray for Hollywood" is the theme of the Waterfront Pops concert by the Marin Symphony on the 13th. They'll continue the recent traditions of playing outside at the lagoon, with a program of  film music, including Gone With the Wind, Braveheart, Titanic, Apollo 13, and many more - with fireworks to follow. Their first regular season concerts are on the 28th and 30th, with "French Reverie" - Alasdair Neale leading them in Bernstein's Candide Overture, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, and guest soloist Zuill Bailey playing Saint-Saens Cello Concerto No. 1.

Chanticleer, just back from singing in Europe, presents "The Gypsy in My Soul" - six concerts around the Bay Area beginning September 19th, that traces themes associated with the metaphorical gypsy: "longing for community, wanderlust, curiosity, and a reverence for the natural world around us, and the gypsy spirit that is somewhere within us all." They'll include works from the entire span of their repertoire, from early music, to some contemporary pieces that appear on their most recent album, "Someone New".

Donato Cabrera launches his second season with the California Symphony on Sunday, September 21st in a program called "Orchestra Spectacular" including Rossini's William Tell Overture, Ravel's Bolero, Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 by Grieg, and more. They've got a new Young American Composer in Residence this year, Dan Visconti, who will spend the next three years working with the ensemble, and has his first work premiered by the Symphony at a concert in May. 


Friday, August 29

A-to-Z Ostinato and Carl OrffAn A-to-Z edition of State of the Arts, stopping at the letter "O"... For Ostinato, Orff, and "O Fortuna"...  An Ostinato is a musical idea that's repeated with an insistent focus - it could be a repeated note, or rhythm, or motivic idea, maybe a repeated bass line that is played against an evolving melody. The word comes from the Italian for 'obstinate', since an ostinato refuses to give up, and can generate dramatic momentum with repetition. One of the many examples is the ever-growing "O Fortuna" in Carl Orff's Carmina Burana - as a choir chants over a determined and repeated accompaniment.

Classical Music is filled with repetition - what makes something an ostinato? It's really a question of intensity, and the way the gesture is being used. 

Gustav Holst used the low strings and percussion to create a rhythmic ostinato for "Mars, the Bringer of War" in his The Planets:

And here's the famous "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana, at :44 seconds in: 


Thursday, August 28

Rigoletto at Opera San JoseOpera San Jose opens their season with Verdi's ever-popular Rigoletto - the tale of a hunch-backed jester who tries to protect his daughter from the world, only to be done in by the curse of another father. Music Director Joseph Marcheso points out some of the reasons the opera continues to be among the best loved and most frequently performed. Performances at the California Theatre run from Saturday, September 6 - Sunday, September 21.

There's more information at the Opera San Jose website.

Marcheso, who's been with the company for years, but is just beginning his first as their Musical Director and Principal Conductor says there are many reasons for Rigoletto's enduring popularity. Even though it was composed in the middle of the 19th Century, it has a feature that's at the center of many of pop culture's current favorites. "Rigoletto is an anti-hero. The Duke is an anti-hero. It's a gritty story with black comedy centered around an unsavory, yet sympathetic character - like House of Cards would be, or Mad Men would be, or Breaking Bad. So it has that kind of sensibility that has proven to be extremely popular these days." It also has all of the mistaken identity, a prophetic curse, and plenty of familiar melodies, including "La donne e mobile" and "Caro nome." 

The mis-shapen jester has a secret, away from his work for the Duke, where he acts with impunity as "an emcee of licentiousness"... No one knows of his daughter Gilda, who, as Marcheso says "...he has kept cloistered in his home, because he is a man who thinks he's ugly, and sees ugliness in the world. And though he participates in it, he wants to save his daughter from that whole experience."  There's yet another reason the opera has lasted so well for so long, he says. "In Rigoletto, so long as we live at a time in which fathers are overprotective of their daughters and people work for SOBs (and become SOBs in the process) this story will appeal and be relevant."

Wednesday, August 27

Back-to-school timeThe approach of Labor Day can mean only one thing... it's back-to-school time. And since the piece of classical music most associated with school - Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" - is usually played at the end of the year, here are a few other works that also signal the world of academia.

There's a metaphorical School For Scandal, in the overture for the play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, which Samuel Barber composed when he was still a student himself... There's the Haydn symphony that got the nickname "The Schoolmaster" for a wagging figure motif in the second movement.

One that keeps showing up is the tune that Johannes Brahms used to give the big finish to his Academic Festival Overture - A tune called "De Brevitate Vitae" (On the Shortness of Life) that's been used as an anthem of sorts at all sorts of colleges around the world. It's better known by its opening lyrics: Gaudeamus igitur / Iuvenes dum sumus. (Let us rejoice, therefore / While we are young)  The 'gather ye rosebuds while ye may' or 'carpe diem' message is often accompanied by the raising of a toast of beer. 

And here's the complete overture, with that theme beginning with a cymbal crash at 9:11:

Friday, August 22

Schoenfeld String CompetitionThousands of miles from California, instrumentalists from around the world are in the northeastern part of China, in the city of Harbin, for the second annual Alice and Eleonore Schoenfeld International String Competition. The contest gets its name from the distinguished and longtime faculty members at the USC Thornton School of Music, who played both together and as soloists before their academic careers began.  

There's more information at the Schoenfeld Competition website.

The competition site in Harbin, ChinaKUSC's Gail Eichenthal is in China, covering the competition, and spoke with yet another California music professor: Jindong Cai, who is the Music Director and Conductor of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, and who, like 93-year-old Alice Schoenfeld, is judging the young players in China this week. The competition takes place in Harbin, which has the longest history of Western Classical music in China. Cai says that the way Chinese students are taught is very different than in the US. "In China, the system is following the Russian system, almost like the sports in China. Conservatories have attached schools, so when they find the talented kids in the elementary level, then they can admit them to the elementary school attached to the conservatory. Probably some of the students study with the same teacher for fifteen years, from elementary school until they graduate!"  

Judges Lynn Harrell and the eponymous Alice Schoenfeld Which can have both good and bad consequences. "You have this consistency of technical facility... Chinese conservatories produce this kind of a machine-like technician. The bad thing is they... only have one way to interpret this music." Whenever he gives a master class, Cai points to the importance of having more than one teacher. "In the end you want to have your own interpretation... You have to study with different teachers because that opens your mind!" 

The competition runs through August 25th, with more than 200,000 dollars in prizes awarded.

Thursday, August 21

Sergei RachmaninoffOn an "A-to-Z" edition, a Reflective look at Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody... The not-quite piano concerto that Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote, inspired by the 24th of Niccolo Paganini's Caprices - the theme and set of virtuosic variations originally written for solo violin (allowing the composer to show his prodigious talent). One of the reasons for the continued popularity of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is the beautiful 18th variation, with a melody quite unlike the theme at first glance.

It wasn't the first time - nor the last time - the tune would be used by another composer. Liszt adapted the Caprices, and Brahms wrote two books of variations for the piano - just on the 24th alone. It had a lot going for it as a theme, as Paganini demonstrated in his variations, with a strong enough harmony suggested by only the violin, and a form that echoes each four bar phrase, a composer could change a lot, and still remain recognizable, and not make the audience lose its place in the tune.

For the 18th variation, Rachmaninoff took the opening theme and inverted it - going down when the theme went up, and vice versa - to discover the memorable lush melody that's so memorable:

Theme and 18th variation melodies

(The eighteenth variation begins at 14:42 in this performance)

Wednesday, August 20

Schroeder Hall at the Green Music CenterThe more intimate Schroeder Hall, the performance space immediately next to the Green Music Center's Weill Hall has its inaugural concerts this weekend, with two full days of special events. There are ten concerts planned, which are free to the public with advanced tickets (they held some back for the weekend, because as expected, almost all were claimed when they were offered online). The venue, which will also be a working lecture hall for Sonoma State University, features a Brombaugh Opus 9 pipe organ and adjustable acoustics.

There's more about the weekend's events at the Green Music Center's website.

The Sonoma Bach Choir will fittingly begin the weekend's special concerts on Saturday at 11 am - it was the need for a good performance space for choral music that inspired the creation of the Green Music Center in the first place, but Weill Hall is better suited for larger orchestral forces, or other genres of music than a chamber music or choral performance. They'll be followed by a Faculty Jazz Ensemble from Sonoma State at 2, Jeffrey Kahane with solo works by Beethoven and Chopin at 4, organist James David Christie at 5:30, before David Benoit's 8 pm show, "Tribute to Charlie Brown." That will be a repeat of the private concert he'll be giving for Jean Schulz the previous evening, officially launching Schroeder Hall with a suitably Peanuts-themed program.

Faculty Members from Sonoma State will perform the first concert on Sunday, at 11 am; at 1 o'clock Trio Ariadne, which is in residence at Weill Hall will come next door to play works by students, and Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason. At 3, more singing, with a student and alumni vocal recital; Trio Navarro, in residence at the University will play at 5, and to finish the festivities at 8 on Sunday, there's a Brass, Organ and Vocal recital.

Schroeder Hall

The rounded back wall of the hall serves several functions - outdoors, it helps diffuse the sound from Weill Hall, when the back wall is fully opened for the audience on the lawn - otherwise there might have been annoying echoes as the sounds bounced off of a flatter surface. And inside, it helps create what the architects describe as a "nave-like space: masonry, hard walls, tall, long, and narrow."  With the organ at the front and the reverberation at its fullest (there are drapes which can emerge and make a drier acoustic) it has the audio characteristic of a small to medium sized church, with a 3 to 5 second echo, ideal for choral works, or organ recitals. The drapes would be adjusted to several presets to accomodate different chamber ensemble configurations, as well as university lectures.