Tuesday, February 2

Daniel HopeViolinist Daniel Hope is guest concertmaster with the New Century Chamber Orchestra this week, with a program honoring the legacy of one of his mentors, Yehudi Menuhin. The program includes works that were associated with Menuhin - who would have been 100 this April - and range from Baroque double concertos to works by late 20th Century composers.



There's more information about the concerts, and an open rehearsal tomorrow in San Francisco, at the New Century Chamber Orchestra website.

Daniel Hope was mentored by Yehudi Menuhin at a pivotal point in his growth as a musician. "For ten years of my life in particular, from the time I was sixteen to about twenty-six… that’s the time where you start to form your opinions of these great works. And just the chance to tour with him and play the Brahms and Beethoven concertos, and the Elgars and the Mendelssohns, and to have his feedback, and to have his inspiration was absolutely incredible. And it remains with me until today." He also had the chance to play with Menuhin both of the double concertos of Bach and Vivaldi that the NCCO will be playing this week. There are also works commissioned by him (by Philip Glass and Toru Takemitsu) as well as one piece that he helped make known from the 19th Century. "The great Mendelssohn D- minor concerto, which he said fell into his lap," Hope explains. "In the 1950s, a collector knocked on his door and presented him with a manuscript of a violin concerto and a violin sonata by Mendelssohn…  He premiered it at Carnegie Hall, and then went on to make it his own. It’s also a piece that I worked an enormous amount on with him."   Hope says it's 'doubly special' to present these concerts in the Bay Area, since it was a 1923 performance with the San Francisco Symphony by a then 7-year-old Yehudi Menuhin that started his career with a huge success.
 

Monday, February 1

Kronos QuartetKronos Quartet presents its Festival 2016: Explorer Series at SFJAZZ Center this Thursday through Sunday. Violinist David Harrington says in addition to featuring guest performers from around the world, the quartet will be playing the first pieces of music commissioned through their 50 for the Future project - an ambitious five year effort that will add 10 new works a year to the repertoire, and then offered to quartets around the world.



There are complete details about the festival at the Kronos Quartet website.

Harrington says the festival will start off with a work from that commissioning project called Dance by Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh. "I just said, 'Frangiz, you’ve known us for 25 years, you’ve written incredibly wonderful music for us… Just send a little bit of your DNA out into the universe, and make this for the future.' And I think that’s what she did, and I’ve said the same thing to everybody.  And it’s going to be such an incredible high to kind of release this music out into the universe for every other group to play." They've also got new works by the composer and balafonist from Mali Fodé Lassana Diabaté and pipa virtuoso Wu Man (who was to play in the festival, but an injury means she'll only be attending as a special guest.)  They'll colloborate with singers from the San Francisco Girls Chorus, as well as string and brass students from the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. "At this point in history and in our culture, it’s such an incredibly wonderful opportunity and time to be able to explore through music."

 

Friday, January 29

From the Canyons to the Stars... at Cal PerformancesAfter years of talking about the possibility of a multimedia performance of Olivier Messiaen's 'From the Canyons to the Stars...' the stars aligned, and Sunday afternoon Cal Performances presents David Robertson conducting the St. Louis Symphony in the 12-movement work that was inspired by National Parks in Utah shortly before the U.S. bicentennial. Added to this performance are photographs by Deborah O'Grady of the parks that were the original inspiration.



There's more information about the concert at the Cal Performances website. In addition to Sunday's Messiaen concert, the touring St. Louis Symphony has a concert with different repertoire tonight at Zellerbach Hall.

David Robertson, who has been conducting this piece for almost thirty years, also has the distinction of having personally worked closely with Messiaen, and as a child hiked in Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Zion National Park. "I always had the feeling that however eloquently I could describe the grandeur and beauty of these natural landscapes, that so much was left missing in my description. And the music does a fabulous job of evoking the area." Robertson and Cal Performances Director Matias Tarnopolsky had been discussing the possibility of staging a performance like this for many years - but, they say, it began to become a reality when they were joined in the project by photographer Deborah O'Grady. She spent two years taking photos and assembling the visual component of the concert. "It’s a long extended montage, a film montage," O'Grady explains. "There are stills that move, there are videos that look like stills until something flies through, or a little bit of wind makes the tree move. And everything in between. I worked with time and vision a lot, because Messiaen worked with time in the music – compressing and stretching time. And so I did the same with the imagery, trying to match that playfulness."

The work was performed in St. Louis first, and both Robertson and O'Grady had the kind of visceral reaction they hope to share with Berkeley audiences.  Deborah O'Grady described it this way: "I’ve been working with recordings and the score for the past two years to put this together. And in the first rehearsal when the orchestra started to play, I nearly fell off my chair.  I was so moved, and so blown away, because the sound when it fills the room is nothing like the sound on any recording. In places it’s like canyons of sound. It’s just absolutely amazing." And Robertson adds: "The experience of performing it, for me, has been just revelatory. Because there are things in this piece that I’ve been performing for 28 years which I feel I really can do for the first time as Messiaen envisioned." 

Thursday, January 28

Stephen HoughOn a concert program called 'The Exotic East,' pianist Stephen Hough joins Edwin Outwater and the San Francisco Symphony for Saint-Saens' Piano Concerto No. 5, known as the 'Egyptian'. It's a work that Hough compares to a meringue... but not in a bad way. There's a Thursday afternoon concert, with 3 more performances through Sunday.



There's more information about the concert at the San Francisco Symphony website.

The composer himself soloed in the premiere performance in 1896. "This clarity, this elegance, this nonchalance," Hough says, "no one is better than him at conjuring up those colors... He obviously wrote for himself to play, so that’s so why there are all these glittery scales and arpeggios, because he just did that stuff so well." It's a challenging work that changes mood, direction and even locations frequently - the nickname "Egyptian" comes from material in the middle movement, which uses the exotic scales Saint-Saens heard while visiting. "In strict terms, it’s a little bit corny, in the way we’d think about such picture postcards now, but of course at the time, few people had travelled to these places, so picture postcards were more valuable then than they are now... However corny it might seem, Saint-Saens was a great craftsman. He was a really fine composer, and he understood about orchestration and instrumentation, he understood absolutely about the piano." And while it might be frivolous, Hough thinks the piece is wonderful: "This piece is not profound on any level. It’s deliberately and designedly… well, superficial... but not in a derogative way. It’s superficial like a great meringue is a miracle of the chef. You know, it’s very difficult to make a wonderful meringue; it won’t sustain you for a life of nutrition, but there’s nothing wrong in meringues!"
 

Wednesday, January 27

Mark Foehringer Dance Project SFMark Foehringer Dance Project | SF celebrates 20 years with a special performance this Sunday evening at ODC Theater, called Body of Work. Four of five of the works will be accompanied live, with guest musicians baritone Eugene Brancoveanu, pianist Hadley McCarroll, and cellist Matthew Linaman. There will also be video clips of earlier works, but most of the pieces are quite recent, including a US premiere, and a world premiere.



There's more information about the performance at the Mark Foehringer Dance Project SF website, and also at the Conservatory for Contemporary Dance Arts site (scroll below video).

When Mark Foehringer created MFDP|SF in 1996, he envisioned more than just forming a company. "We wanted to be a dance organization, and we wanted to be a presenter. We wanted to have a little some kind of an education program associated… And then, you know, the professional dance ensemble."  Over the years, that's come to pass, and that's why they're calling the concert 'Body of Work.' "It’s more than just about the performing," Foehringer says. "It’s really about the collaborations… We also run a dance festival, and we have a mentoring program and we have a conservatory program. So I wanted to figure out a way to include all those things in the performance, but also in the title."

The live accompaniment will include music by Mahler (with Brancoveanu singing one of the Ruckert Lieder), Debussy's "Sunken Cathedral," a Ballade by Chopin, and Ernest Bloch's "Prayer" for cello and piano. Foehringer says thanks largely to conductor Michael Morgan, he's gotten to know and collaborate with a wide variety of talented Bay Area musicians.

Tuesday, January 26

Left Coast Chamber EnsembleThe Left Coast Chamber Ensemble's next concerts this Sunday and Monday shine a spotlight on oboist Tom Nugent, one of their founding members. On a program called 'Oboe Bliss,' he'll play the Quintet for Oboe and Strings by Arthur Bliss, and a premiere (on English horn) called Sacred Forest by Elinor Armer. There's also a new arrangement of De Falla's Suite Populaire Espagnole by Kurt Rohde for oboe, flute and quartet, and a string trio by Anthony Porter.



There's more information about the concert at the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble website.

Elinor Armer"The Arthur Bliss Quintet for Oboe and Strings was something I had wanted to do for a long time with this group," says Nugent. "I had suggested it, I think, a couple of other times before, but this time we actually decided to mount the challenge." That choice led to the double-reed theme, and when Elinor Armer was approached about writing a piece for the concerts, it was originally going to be for oboe, and perhaps flute with a quartet. But she gravitated to the oboe's cousin. "I like the alto instruments of all families of instruments: I like viola, I like English horn. It’s particularly mellow, and for me sometimes even feral. If you think of the woodwinds in Rite of Spring, for example, you’ll know what I mean by feral. They sound kind of wild." She's going to be collaborating with Ursula K. Le Guin on an opera based on the novel Lavinia, and took that as a point of departure. "Since I am waiting for the libretto before I can start on this opera, but I’m hot to trot here, I decided to try to write something for this group which might also give me ideas for similar scenes in the opera... There’s a kind of a prayerful dialogue, it’s almost like a priest and a chorus of monks in the heart of the Sacred Forest, it is at the heart of the piece, and I wanted to create a very still atmosphere."   

The concerts are in Mill Valley at 142 Throckmorton Theatre on Sunday at 7, and Monday at 8 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
 

Monday, January 25

Cameron CarpenterCameron Carpenter comes to SFJAZZ this week, bringing with him the International Touring Organ that he spent a decade turning into a reality. It's the Bay Area premiere of the instrument, which he's spent the past two years getting to know - and that's one of the chief reasons he felt it was needed. Now he's able to go to any venue, not just churches and concert halls, to play and introduce new audiences to his music.



There's more information about this week's concerts Thursday through Sunday at the SFJAZZ website. He'll be performing in February at the Mondavi Center and also Weill Hall at the Green Music Center

Carpenter says that in the two years he's been playing the International Touring Organ, he's played fewer and fewer of the traditional pipe organs in cathedrals and concert halls, and many of the arrangements he's worked up aren't practically playable on the other instruments. "It’s a position of great satisfaction and opportunity, and in a way, vulnerability. Because my entire life has been situated on this instrument. But that’s how I would have it."  The relationship that many concert performers - violinists, cellists - have with their individual instruments is something that organists rarely get a chance to cultivate, unless they're associated with one particular church. Carpenter says he's catching up on lost time: "When you hear me play the organ in public, you’re not just hearing me play that organ that night that tour… I’m drawing on a long relationship with this instrument to play, and that relationship grows longer every time that I play. You’re hearing something that you can’t hear on an instrument that I’ve known for twelve hours, and that’s the real point."

Here's a video of the organ in action:

Friday, January 22

Experiments in Environment at CHSA new exhibit at the California Historical Society called Experiments in Environment: The Halprin Workshops 1966-1971 explores the efforts of Anna and Lawrence Halprin to change the way we interact with each other and the world around us. Curator Erin Garcia explains the unlikely intersection of dance and landscape architecture.



There's more information about the exhibit at the California Historical Society website.

Fifty years ago this summer, participants in the Halprin workshops explored parts of San Francisco, the area around the Kentfield home of Anna and Lawrence Helprin, and Sea Ranch, which Lawrence helped plan - as they took part in exercises designed to help make more useful, interesting spaces. "We’re talking about 1966 – we’re talking about a time that was in a way still very optimistic, and a lot of people in San Francisco in particular, had grand ideas about transforming the world and society, and what it could all be." And so for about three weeks, they did things like take sensory (blindfolded) walks, and built 'driftwood cities.' Erin Garcia explains: "The participants were people drawn from a wide array of fields: architects, dancers, people doing kind of environmental work. These workshop participants were building, essentially, a community out of driftwood. And so it was about collaboration, it was about understanding materials, it was about moving through space, and dealing with unexpected environmental conditions."

Lawrence Halprin died in 2009, but Anna Halprin at 95 continues to teach and introduce new generations to her ideas of postmodern dance, which evolved in these workshops. "You can kind of see in both of their work how they increasingly come to influence each other and the ideas that they each have," Garcia says. "So in Anna’s work, you see her moving outside, moving out into the environment, and taking performance out into the world; and in Lawrence’s work, you see an increasing emphasis on moving through space."

Thursday, January 21

Musica MarinMusica Marin brings chamber music concerts into beautiful private homes around the Bay Area; for their next performances, on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, they'll be in a Sea Cliff house where Ansel Adams grew up, and later in life had a studio. Series founder (and violist) Ruth Ellen Kahn explains the program will consist of works for baritone and string quartet, sung by Marco Vassalli, including two world premieres by composer Clint Borzoni.



There's more information about the concert at the Musica Marin website.

Since the series began in the spring of 2014, the personnel and venues have varied, built around a core group of players.  "Each time it’s a little bit different," Kahn says. "We have different string players, different musicians, we had a pianist from Italy, we had a Juilliard alumni concert, with six players from the Symphony, from the Opera… We’ve had from 21 boys from the San Francisco Boy’s Chorus to a silent film with live music, with original score, and this one is really special I think, the one we have coming up this weekend." German/Italian baritone Marco Vassalli will sing works including Samuel Barber's "Dover Beach" with a string quartet, as well as perform the world premiere two songs set by New York-based composer Clint Borzoni.  The theme of the concert, and the idea to expand the repertoire came after Ruth Ellen Kahn brainstormed with Michael Colbruno, who's on the board of the Merola Opera Program - part of the proceeds of these concerts will benefit Merola's scholarships.

In addition to the music, Kahn says there's a "sensory richness" to these events, with wine and food as well: "This time we have a chef from Mission Rock Resort in San Francisco, and he’s going to be in the kitchen making food while we’re playing, and people will smell the food and see the view, and hear the music. It’ll be a real great experience, something people don’t forget too easily."

Wednesday, January 20

Donato CabreraIn a program called American Roots, the California Symphony presents works that are inspired by the jazz tradition of the U.S., including Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Bernstein's Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, but also pieces by Stravinsky, Milhaud, and Kurt Weill. Music Director Donato Cabrera explains they'll be using the "jazz band" orchestration for some of them.



There's more information about the concert at the California Symphony website.

The American Jazz sound and sensibility had wide appeal, especially across the Atlantic. "It quickly went over to Europe," Cabrera says. "Jazz really influenced all the composers in the 20s and 30s. And one of the very first examples, actually is by Darius Milhaud, who wrote The Creation of the World before Rhapsody in Blue. And it’s really wonderful and intriguing to hear how the French composers digested jazz, as well as how a German composer [Weill] took in those early influences and harmonies of jazz."

Bandleader Paul Whiteman played a pivotal role in the creation of two of the pieces on this program. Not only did he commission and conduct the first performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in 1924, Cabrera says he also helped Stravinsky: "Stravinsky found himself in Hollywood, as so many composers did in the early '40s, and he was short of cash. And he approached Paul Whiteman, ... Whiteman asked Stravinsky to write something, a piece of music that would fit on one side of a record, and that could be whistled.  And hence the "Scherzo a la Russe."  

Tuesday, January 19

Van-Ahn VoThe stories of the Boat People, who left Vietnam in the years that followed the end of the war inspired Vân-Ánh (Vanessa) Võ to create the large multimedia work having its premiere at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this Friday and Saturday. The Odyssey: From Vietnam to America uses audio from interviews, video, a sound design score, and live music by Võ and her quartet.



There's more information at the YBCA website, and Vân-Ánh Võ's website.

She says she began thinking about this as a subject for a work when she moved to the states in 2001, and learned the consequences of that war. "I was born and raised after the war, but in North Vietnam. So I heard all the story before coming here is from my parents, grandparents, but it’s just from the Northerner’s side. When I know and learn what other people had to go through because of the war, I just… I felt so sad." For Odyssey, she plays on three main traditional Vietnamese instruments: a bamboo xylophone; a Dan Trahn, like a zither; and a Dan Bau, which has a single string, and different notes are achieved by either plucking or bowing in locations along the string, while the other hand bends the notes with a flexible rod. Vân-Ánh Võ incorporates interview tape in the sound design, but also boat motors, lapping waves, and singing of lullabies. "When I interview, I ask them and have them share with me what did they hear, in terms of sound. What the textures that they still remember, and what they did in order to hold on for the next moment, the next minute. The more I have a chance to know about their story, the more I admire the strength that they had in order to surpass all the difficulty in life in the trip that they took to come here." 

In this video, you can see the Dan Trahn (the Dan Bau is in the background)

Friday, January 15

Company Wayne McGregor - AtomosChoreographer Wayne McGregor returns with his company to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for a presentation by San Francisco Performances of Atomos, a work that was inspired by several different kinds of technology, as well as McGregor's favorite film. There are two remaining performances, tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30.



There's more information at the San Francisco Performances website.

The title comes from the initial idea that McGregor began with: "I wanted to make a piece which was kind of about uncuttable structures – I wondered how I could make a whole series of little atoms of physicality that could be put together in a really interesting way. And so that’s how I called it Atomos."  As part of the creation of the piece, the dancers (and McGregor too) wore biometric bands, wearable technology that would give them real-time information about how their body was reacting to the movement. "We took that maths, basically, all those numbers," McGregor says, "and created architectural objects with them: foam-like structures that the dancers could improvise with… And then we took those structures away, and the language in some way resulted from that." Another inspiration was the choreographer's favorite film, Blade Runner - which, via computer analysis, translated color, motion, and tone into a kind of vocabulary of movement that the dancers responded to. But for all of the technological prompts for inspiration, the resulting dance has its own, very human language, as you can see in this trailer:

Thursday, January 14

Satchmo at the WaldorfSatchmo at the Waldorf, at A.C.T. is a one-man show about Louis Armstrong, in his final days. Written by Armstrong biographer Terry Teachout, it stars John Douglas Thompson in three roles: Armstrong himself, Joe Glaser, his Chicago mobster agent of 40 years, and Miles Davis.



There's more information about the play at the A.C.T. website.

Thompson says despite Armstrong's success and popularity, and although he's not been forgotten, he's not very well known. Terry Teachout wrote a biography of Armstrong, called "Pops," which was among the sources that Thompson studied to prepare for the role(s). "Prior to reading Terry’s book, I didn’t know that much about Armstrong. I just knew ‘Hello Dolly,’ I knew sometimes I’d seen some images of him, you know, the guy with the big smile and the handkerchief and the sweat." The show is set as the old and ailing Armstrong is giving what would be his final performances in public, at the famous New York hotel. "The doctor gave him permission to play, if he could stay at the Waldorf, not travel home after each concert. So it’s like a two week gig, the play starts off with Armstrong in his dressing room, at the Waldorf, after playing a session." Thompson describes the multiple roles he plays as being like the Japanese film Rashomon. "Armstrong and Glaser were part of the same event, but have a whole different perspective on it... And then when you tie Miles Davis onto that, then to play all those three characters back to back to back is fun. It’s exhausting, it’s emotionally draining, but I enjoy it. I think that’s the conceit of the play, and it allows the audience to see how connected these three individuals are."

 

Wednesday, January 13

Alex ZhouSymphony Parnassus will be joined by 14-year-old Alex Zhou this Sunday afternoon, playing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. He was one of two winners of the first Parnassus-San Francisco Conservatory of Music Competition last year, among the pre-college students. Also on the concert at St. Mark's Lutheran Church will be Bach's first Brandenburg Concerto, and Beethoven's Symphony #2.



There's more information about the concert at the Symphony Parnassus website.

"We thought, oh, this kid has to play with us next season," Music Director Stephen Paulson says, "but we weren’t expecting the level of change, of maturity in his musical outlook from the competition, maybe ten months ago to last week’s rehearsal, where it was just stunningly beautiful, what he was doing."  Zhou learned the Mendelssohn concerto when he was nine years old, in fourth grade, and has returned to it twice, once for the competition, and now for this performance. "Obviously you grow as a person, you grow as a musician, and your interpretation is going to be different from when you played it several years ago. You don’t have to try to make different, it just is... I think it flows a lot more [now], because when you’re younger, you think of phrases separately, instead of joining them together to make a complete piece that flows. And that’s something I’m still working on, and as I grow older and I continue to play this piece, it’ll probably be different as well."
  

Tuesday, January 12

Jack LondonAuthor Jack London was one of the most successful - certainly the most well-paid - author of his day, but he died when he was only forty years old. Today would have been his 140th birthday, and throughout this year there are activities and events, especially at the Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, commemorating his life and work.



There's more about the planned events at the Jack London State Park's website.

Works like The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Sea Wolf, and the short story "To Build a Fire" tell adventurous tales of life in the far north or on treacherous waters - which echo some of the experiences the author was able to fit into his shortened life: "His significance now is just that he has a mind-blower of a story," says Jeff Falconer, a volunteer docent at the Sonoma County park. "You know, his life was probably 6 or 7 conventional lives put together in the space of 40 years, which is remarkable."  By the time he was 21, and heading to the Yukon, to mine for gold, he'd already sailed to Japan, and been a hobo across the United States. "The Klondike Gold Rush, which gave Jack the fodder for his early successes is sort of what most people know him for: the dog tales, the frozen northland tales, and all this adventure and hard-core action. The image that he portrayed, as sort of a two-fisted brawling guy – that did have its roots in fact, but in fact he was a very curious, very observant, very sensitive writer about many, many, many different things."
 

Monday, January 11

A-to-Z Table MusicThe term 'Tafelmusik' - which Georg Philipp Telemann used to call his three collections of quartets, trio and solo sonatas and concertos - had been around for about a hundred years, as a way of describing music that was appropriate to accompany a feast or banquet. On this A-to-Z edition, a look at some other Table Music, both figurative and literal.



Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber wrote a piece called Mensa Sonora, or The Sonorous Table in the 1680s, and it was already understood as a description for chamber works that weren't of a religious nature, which could be either instrumental or vocal.

Fast forward to the more literal recent past, when Belgian composer Thierry de Mey wrote a work for three percussionists to play using an amplified table: 



A work that many attributed to Mozart (including the person who did this manuscript) is written in such a way that two players, across from each other at a table can read from the same score (the piece is also called The Mirror):

Duet on One Sheet of Manuscript Paper

This duo is playing a longer version of the above, but you get the idea... 

Friday, January 8

Thalea String QuartetThe young Thalea String Quartet presents a free concert this Sunday afternoon at the Berkeley Piano Club, with music by Beethoven, Hindemith, and Terry Riley. It's in recognition of their winning the Barbara Fritz Chamber Music Award (formerly Emerging Artist Chamber Music Award.) It's been a busy year for the ensemble, the first to be named Quartet-in-Residence at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.



There's more information about the group at the Thalea String Quartet website.

The players -- violinists Christopher Whitley, Kumiko Sakamoto, violist Luis Bellorin, and cellist Bridget Pasker -- met at the Zephyr International Chamber Music Festival in Courmayeur, Italy in 2014, and gave their first concert in December of that year. Sakamoto and Pasker had played together a few summers before: "We thought it would be fun to get together again and play together, so we got enough people to form a quartet," Kumiko Sakamoto says, "and it was going to be just for fun for the summer, but it ended up working really well, and we’ve been together ever since." They've also been in the ideal position for musical opportunities as quartet in residence, including individual coachings from the entire string faculty (they also took part a few months ago in an evening of Mason Bates music performed at a nightclub). Although it's still early in their development, violist Luis Bellorin says they're taking full advantage of their situation:  "We’re still trying to figure out our voice and everything, but it’s leading us down so many different paths at the moment, which is the most interesting part. We collaborate with the faculty, we play with guest artists that are in town, outreach commitments, playing in alternative spaces… We’re kind of doing it all, so it’s been really fun to explore all these avenues."

Thursday, January 7

Bright ShengSan Francisco Opera's fall season will include the world premiere of an ambitious adaptation of one of the best-known works of Chinese literature: Dream of the Red Chamber is a collaboration of composer Bright Sheng and librettist David Henry Hwang. In a preview press conference, the composer explained some of the challenges they encountered. 



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

The Qing Dynasty novel Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin is described as one of the four greatest in Classical Chinese literature. As David Gockley put it when he was introducing the project, "It has been said that it is to the Chinese what the Iliad and the Odyssey are to the Greeks, what the Aeneid is to the Romans, and what the works of Shakespeare are to the English-speaking world."  The idea of adapting it into a contemporary Western opera came from the Minneapolis-based Chinese Heritage Foundation, whose Executive Director, Pearl Bergad says  "Bright and David [Henry Hwang] rose to the challenge, and have delivered a 21st Century treatment to an 18th Century novel."

Sheng says at 120 chapters, the novel has "twice as many words as War and Peace, and maybe ten times more characters." They've streamlined the story greatly, focusing on two major strands: political intrigue of the day (some of which is said to have been autobiographical) as well as a love-triangle. The opera will have an all-Asian cast, and a production team that includes Taiwanese stage director Stan Lai, and Oscar-winning Tim Yip (for Art Direction in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)  as production designer. 
 

Wednesday, January 6

Inon Barnatan and Alisa WeilersteinThey've been playing together for seven years, but their recent CD is the first time cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan have recorded together. So they wanted to make sure the repertoire was just right - and chose two large works by composers best known for being pianists: Chopin and Rachmaninoff. As Weilerstein puts it, "One couldn't ask for more."



Weilerstein and Barnatan both have very successful solo careers, performing alone and with orchestras all over the world, but she says they carve out a block of time to devote to performing together each season. This year's tour of the repertoire featured on the disc is going to be interrupted though - it was to include a Bay Area stop in February at the Bing Concert Hall - because Weilerstein won't be able to travel in the final months of her pregnancy. 

"The Chopin was one of the very first things that we played together." Weilerstein explains. "And so we knew that when we wanted to put things down on disc, we wanted to include that. We also wanted to record pieces that we have a really visceral, kind of primal connection to, and so that was kind of the first thing, we thought, OK, what do we really love, and what do we really want to record? Pairing the Chopin and the Rachmaninoff made sense for the reason that… these two pianist-composers who wrote primarily for the piano, but also these are really great works compositionally and intellectually… Really really great works of the Romantic era." 
 

Tuesday, January 5

Sandra Wright ShenPianist Sandra Wright Shen plays a recital presented by the Steinway Society - the Bay Area this Sunday afternoon in San Jose, including several 'dream pieces' she's wanted to play for a long time: the Bach/Busoni Chaconne, and Beethoven's final piano sonata. The second half has works by Granados, Debussy, and Zhang Zhou.



There's more information about the concert at the Steinway Society's website

The Taiwan-born Shen says she finds the first two pieces on the program to be especially spiritual, with both Bach and Beethoven facing and triumphing over adversity to write them. Bach's elegaic Chaconne for solo violin followed a tragedy while he was travelling: "He came home, and he was told his wife had died and was buried. So he wasn’t even able to see her for the last time. And then soon after that, he wrote the Chaconne; of course, it was the violin partita number two." And Beethoven's late works were written when he was entirely deaf. "The last piano sonata… after 31 of them, every one of them are all so different, yet he has something there to shock us, to surprise us." In this case, with syncopated rhythms, and the unexpected absence of a third movement. 

The second half of the recital has a different tone, more of the passion of youth - with Preludes by Debussy, 'Los Requiebros' from Goyescas by Grandados, and Pi Huang or "Moments of Peking Opera" by Zhao Zhang.
 

Monday, January 4

Auspicious BeginningsAs the curtain rises on 2016, here's a little collection of some memorable and auspicious beginnings from the world of classical music...  Works that right from the starting gate hint at the masterpieces that are to follow. 
 

 
If you want to see whether you're able to identify what those works are, click and drag over the blank spaces below to reveal the titles.
 
  1. Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
  2. Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 
  3. Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 "Classical"
  4. Stravinsky: Petrushka
  5. Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez
  6. Mozart: Marriage of Figaro Overture
  7. Haydn: Symphony 104
  8. Bizet: Carmen Overture
  9. Strauss: Die Fledermaus Overture
  10. Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
  11. Dvorak: 'New World' Symphony No. 9
  12. Grieg: Piano Concerto
  13. Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
  14. Respighi: The Pines of Rome