New Century Chamber Orchestra is celebrating its 25th season this year, and at the end of the season, Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg will be stepping down as music director. In order to help keep creative continuity and allow the search committee enough time to find a replacement, the ensemble has announced that Daniel Hope will be 'artistic partner' for the next three seasons, playing with them for several of their concert series.
"It was very clear to us that this was going to be a multi-year search," explained Executive Director Philip Wilder. "That it was going to take a lot of time, that we wanted to date heavily before we got married… But we are in a different place now as an organization, and we didn’t really want to lose the artistic momentum that Nadja has provided for us over the last... better part of a decade." So they're following a model that a few other ensembles have found to work well. "The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and also the Australian Chamber Orchestra were particularly helpful in this. And they have been having artistic partners with major artists who have come and gone over the last decade or so for both of them, which seemed like a really exciting model for us, is to try to find the right sort of fit with an artist who could come now and work with us while we go through this search process." Daniel Hope, for his part, says the experience working with New Century earlier this year made the invitation easy to accept. "When I arrived here in January, the first rehearsal, the first minutes that I shared with my colleagues, I noticed an incredible energy that came right back at me. And it was a beautiful week of making music together. It was like chamber music, but on a grand scale. From that moment, that feeling of collegiality in music hasn’t left me."
Monday, October 17
San Francisco Opera gave the US premiere of Leos Janacek's The Makropulos Case fifty years ago this fall, and they're staging it again now through the 29th. In the lead as beautiful and eternally youthful singer Emilia Marty, is German soprano Nadja Michael. She sees the role as one of several strong-willed female characters that Janacek wrote.
Nadja Michael says Janacek took a more feminist view of Emilia Marty than Karel Capek, the author of the play upon which the opera is based. "He turned the plot slightly around, actually, as has done Verdi with Macbeth, for instance, who put the lady much more in the center, and who gave her much more space. The same actually did Janacek with Emilia Marti. Because he gave her a human being heart, a human being fate, and put her needs, let’s say, in the center." The heroine, who has lived for more than 300 years (her alchemist father tested a potion for eternal life on her) is sometimes summed up too simplistically: "The cliché is it’s a fatal woman," she says. "It’s a woman who lives forever, she’s a vamp, everybody falls for her. Every man. But actually it is not right. Because she doesn’t do anything. She doesn’t want them to fall. She wants something for herself, which she needs. She needs to renew her eternal power. But she doesn’t want men to fall for her. No, she’s very annoyed about it."
Monday, October 10
Imagine the sensation of realizing that you're unprepared for a test - that you've been studying the wrong subject. It was sort of like that when pianist Maria Joao Pires heard the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra begin to play Mozart's D minor piano concerto. She had thought she'd be playing a different concerto by Mozart on that mid-day concert. The resulting confusion was caught on tape, as part of a documentary.
Here's the segment, from Frank Scheffer's 'Attrazione d'Amore", which is the documentary about the orchestra, and conductor Riccardo Chailly. (The scene begins :42 into the clip)
Friday, October 7
San Francisco Performances begins its second year of the concert series called "PIVOT: New Adventures in the Performing Arts" with Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, in the program 'Time Present and Time Past.' It brings together works from the 16th to the 20th Centuries, from William Byrd to Kaija Saariaho and Steve Reich.
Esfahani is less concerned with 'period practice' and 'early music' (a term he likens to root canal) and more with making his chosen instrument one that's taken more seriously by all music lovers. "When I first heard the harpsichord on a recording, when I was a kid, I heard the harpsichord and I thought, I want to spend my life with this instrument. It doesn’t mean that I knew that I was going to be a professional harpsichordist, I mean, that was a very distant thing. I thought the best thing that I could do was maybe hear a harpsichord in concerts, maybe I could have the sort of job that would allow me to buy a harpsichord. I had that sort of obsession with the harpsichord." With programming that includes Lou Harrison and Toru Takemitsu beside Bach, Scarlatti, and Byrd, he's ruffled some feathers, but remains determined: "There’s something about the harpsichord where the jury is still out on what makes this instrument expressive. We have room, I think we have room, or I have room, at least to continue being innovative. My goal is to leave the harpsichord different from how I found it."
Thursday, October 6
Bruno Ferrandis begins his final full season at the helm of the Santa Rosa Symphony with a special guest soloist: his brother Jean Ferrandis, who will play Mozart's Flute Concerto in G Major, and a work written by Leonard Bernstein, dedicated to the memory of an Israeli flute player. There's also Benjamin Britten and Beethoven on the program called 'The Magic of the Flute' this Saturday through Monday.
The program begins with the 20th Century repertoire - Benjamin Britten's 'Four Sea Interludes' from his opera Peter Grimes, followed by Bernstein's Halil, which is the Israeli word for flute."It’s dedicated to a young Israeli flutist who died during the Yom Kippur war between the Egyptians and the Israelis on the Canal of Suez," Ferrandis explains. "It is very moving, of course, and Lenny in his dedication says very clearly he didn’t know Yadin Tenenbaum, but to his memory he dedicates the piece. So it’s very touching... Lots of percussion, lots of very interesting rhythm, and shadow of the flute, because in the background, you have an alto flute, and a piccolo flute who double from afar, they are like an echo, a ghost of the flutist, of the dead soldier, Yadin." The second half goes back to the Classical era, with Mozart's concerto, ending with the eighth symphony of Beethoven.
Wednesday, October 5
Two special concerts from the White House allowed audiences (and the sitting presidents) to witness a show-stopping arrangement of themes from Bizet's Carmen that were a signature piece of a piano master...
It was Kiev-born piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz, who triumphantly returned to perform at the White House at the request of then President Jimmy Carter, who called the proud naturalized citizen a "National Treasure". The East Room concert was aired as a PBS special, and it marked the 50th anniversary of Horowitz's debut in America. When he had played at the White House for the first time, for President Herbert Hoover, the pianist ended his recital with his own pyrotechnic arrangement of themes from the opera Carmen, which he did again for President Carter.
The Horowitz version of the Carmen Variations remains popular to this day - Here's Yuja Wang in a practice room, giving it a go...
Tuesday, October 4
A look today at the key of E-flat Major, which has more than its share of memorable masterpieces. Perhaps thats because as one musicologist described it, the key "boasts the greatest variety of expression... At once serious and solemn, it is the exponent of courage and determination and gives the piece a brilliant, firm and dignified character."
The pieces heard in the montage are listed below. To reveal them, click and drag over the white space.
Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 4
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5, 'Emperor'
Bernstein: Candide Overture
Mozart: Magic Flute Overture
Haydn: Trumpet Concerto
Mussorgsky: "The Great Gate of Kiev" from Pictures at an Exhibition
Elgar: "Nimrod" from the Enigma Variations
Schumann: Symphony No. 3, 'Rhenish'
Bruch: Scottish Fantasy
Sibelius: Symphony No. 5
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3, 'Eroica'
Monday, October 3
Oakland Symphony begins its season with a program of Romantic music, with a dash of the political... Music Director Michael Morgan welcomes baritone Hadleigh Adams for some Mahler songs, there's an infrequently performed triple concerto, "Southern" music by Elgar, and an election-themed premiere by a Berkeley composer. The concert is Friday, October 14th at the Paramount Theatre.
"We’re starting with a piece by Berkeley composer Clark Suprynowicz, who wrote this piece, Red States Blue States some time ago," Morgan explains. "It was read by the Berkeley Symphony, but it hasn’t been performed publicly yet. And so, it ties in with the election year, so, I thought it was the thing for us to start with." They'll follow that with the guest ensemble Delphi Trio, who'll play Russian-born Swiss composer Paul Juon's Episodes Concertantes. Morgan describes it this way: "Sort of edgy, end-of-Romanticism, headed into the 20th Century but not quite there yet sort of a piece. It’s very big. What the trio is asked to do, particularly the piano, the piano part is ridiculous." Former Adler Fellow Hadleigh Adams will sing Mahler's Rückert Lieder with the orchestra, before they take on Elgar's Italian vacation postcard, In the South. Morgan describes those works as "three very different views of Romanticism."
Friday, September 30
Add Nora to the list of musical superstars with just one name... At least, she's an internet musical superstar. She's the featured soloist in a performance of a work by a Lithuanian composer called 'CATcerto...' for obvious reasons.
Mindaugas Piečaitis was inspired to orchestrate the random (but gentle) pawings of 'Nora, the Piano Cat' from an uploaded YouTube video, giving them harmonic context and structure. The piece has received several live performances, accompanied (on video) by a patient Nora.
She became an internet celebrity, with her own webpage and was named "Cat of the Year" in 2009 by the ASPCA.
Here are the composer and soloist: Mindaugas Piecaitis and Nora the Piano Cat (with an unidentified feline fan).
Thursday, September 29
The traditional Middle Eastern story of Layla and Majnun gets a world premiere adaptation this weekend at Cal Performances, as the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Silk Road Ensemble collaborate in a staging with traditional Mugham singers from Azerbaijan, Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova. It's the tenth Cal Performances commission of a Mark Morris work, helping to launch their new season.
The 7th Century Persian tale of the ill-fated lovers was made into an opera by Uzeyir Hajibeyli in the early 20th Century, using traditional instrumentation, and has been adapted by Silk Road Ensemble members Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, with singer Alim Qasimov. "Layla and Majnun, throughout the middle East, North Africa, South Asia, everybody knows this story, it’s part of the culture," Mark Morris says. "The character is actually named Qays, Layla and Qays. But because he’s so… he’s driven mad by his love for Layla from childhood… He’s labelled crazy." Because of his odd behavior, Layla's parents refuse his request to marry their daughter. Morris wanted to set the piece in this multi-discipline form (sets and costumes are by the Bristish artist Howard Hodgkin) to help the rest of the world learn of this story. "It’s such beautiful, profound moving music, and wouldn’t suffer from staging and choreography, it would actually enhance it – and make it more comprehensible for a non-Azerbaijani audience to get the message of it, which is a message of course of profound, abundant, eternal love."
Wednesday, September 28
A work that Igor Stravinsky wrote in the 1920s has inspired the programming for Elevate Ensemble's next concert, this Sunday night at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His Octet is scored for flute, clarinet, two bassoons, two trumpets, trombone, and bass trombone; Artistic Director Chad Goodman and Executive Director Aaron Gervais chose works for different combinations of those instruments, and include two new works that use the same orchestration.
The Octet is the centerpiece of the concert, says Aaron Gervais: "The way we decided to structure this program is we wanted to feature each of the instrumental combinations within the octet separately, and then bring them all back together into larger pieces, including the Octet." Gervais wrote two pieces that will have their premieres Sunday, Puppies!!!, a duet for the trombones, and an expansion of that duet for all eight instruments in the second half, called Don't Look At. "It’s a quote that’s mis-attributed to Richard Strauss: ‘Don’t look at the trombones, you’ll only encourage them.’ He actually said something more like ‘When you cue brass instruments, make sure it’s brief and direct,’ but everyone remembers it the wrong way." The other new piece using all the instruments (plus one more) is Nick Vasallo's Atum: Everything and Nothing, It's a piano concerto, with the ZOFO piano duo playing four-hands one piano accompanied by the octet.
Tuesday, September 27
Cappella SF premieres a work by composer Mark Volkert this weekend, called Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, in concerts in Saratoga and San Francisco. The composer is also an assistant concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony, where Ragnar Bohlin first heard one of his pieces. The ensemble will be joined by organist Jerome Lenk for a few works, in a program called Immortal Fire: A Musical Tribute with Voices and Organ.
The work that Artistic Director Ragnar Bohlin heard the Symphony play was called Pandora. "And that just blew me away," he explains. "I loved it – so I stepped up to Mark after that and asked him if he ever wrote for choir, and he said no, he hadn’t done that, but he would be willing to try." The piece is a setting of a poem by Thomas Campion, called Sic Transit. Volkert says, "I’ve written some choral music, but this is kind of a new venture for me, so I appreciate any suggestions that he makes, and he does such a beautiful job shaping the chorus and making the most out of the music. And so I couldn’t be happier with what they’re doing." For the work, they'll be performing in 'surround sound' encircling the audience at St. Andrews in Saratoga on Friday, and at the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco Sunday afternoon. The other works on the program are J.S. Bach's Jesu, Meine Freude, Britten's Hymn to St. Cecilia, and a solo prelude and fugue by Maurice Durufle played by Jerome Lenk, who will accompany the singers for Arvo Part's Salve Regina, and Jonathan Dove's Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars.
Monday, September 26
Philip Glass wrote twenty Piano Etudes over the course of about twenty years - first just a few, as a birthday gift for conductor Dennis Russell Davies, then as a way of improving his own playing. The composer and four other pianists will be playing the complete collection this Thursday as Stanford Live launches their season at the Bing Concert Hall.
The other pianists who'll be joining Glass are Anton Batagov, Sarah Cahill, Aaron Diehl, and Jenny Lin, each playing two from the first 'book' of ten, and two from the second. Glass says that after the first few of the etudes were written, he decided to write 20, and use them for their original pedagogical purpose: "I picked things that were difficult to do, and I made pieces out of them." Writing operas, symphonies, and film scores kept him from finishing the set until just a few years ago. Now, he describes the experience of hearing all of them played together as being like a musical biography, unintentional, but unavoidable. As his 80th birthday approaches at the end of January, he's continuing a busy schedule, taking time last week to be awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama.