San Francisco and the Bay Area have some of the world’s best-known performing arts organizations and cultural offerings. As a listener-supported station, we think it’s important to let listeners know about activities, concerts, soloists and ensembles coming through the area, and with that we offer you this daily feature. The State of the Artson Classical KDFC airs weekdays, just before 8 am, 1 pm, and 6 pm. The features are produced by Jeffrey Freymann, a veteran of National Public Radio’s Arts Desk and Performance Today. Tune in, subscribe to the podcast, visit this page to hear the latest edition of Classical KDFC’s The State of the Arts! Or explore the archives of past episodes.
American Conservatory Theater is celebrating its 50th season this year, and for half of its existence, Carey Perloff has been Artistic Director. She's announced that she'll be leaving that job at the end of next season, to allow her to take on other projects without having the administrative responsibilities she's held as the public face of the theater. Among her many achievements was acquiring and renovating the Strand Theater into A.C.T.'s more intimate second stage.
Perloff says no one is more surprised than she is that she's been in the job for 25 years. "I was such a maverick… when I came to ACT, I was 32 years old, and I’d run a tiny theater, under a million bucks. Nobody knew who I was here, and it was the strangest hire. And for so long I thought ‘What were they thinking?’ And it never in a million years occurred to me that I would stay 25 years, and that I would sort of become so profoundly associated with ACT." But she says it was a perfect fit: "I think it’s because the DNA of this theater was so suitable for me. It was Bill Ball’s big idea, to create a great theater where training and performance are always linked. That’s always about the future, that’s always got young people at the core, that’s a school and a producing company… which sounds obvious, but it’s the only one left in America." Having that kind of interaction between the various parts of the organization was the goal. "I longed to have a whole ecosystem here where we could do plays like A Thousand Splendid Suns. Beautiful, big, important, epic plays at the Geary, and we could do cutting edge new work like Annie Baker’s John at the Strand. Or put our students on display, and our downtown high school students, and we could give the space away through our space sharing program, and really help the community keep theater going in the Bay Area."
Friday, March 24
This Sunday evening, the San Jose Symphonic Choir sings a work they've not performed for decades, Beethoven's gigantic Missa Solemnis. Director Leroy Kromm describes it as an "epic mounting of something that's almost impossible to do, but so gratifying." The singers are joined by a large orchestra and soloists for the work, which tends not to be programmed because of its size and difficulty.
"It was so important to him, near the end of his life, where he’s just processed and processed the text, and what these words of faith meant," Kromm says. "He wrote only one other mass, his C Major Mass. And yet, he wrote this with the idea of it being a religious, church-oriented piece, even though it would be impossible to do within a liturgy. But that was his intention, and he spent longer than any piece writing it." And that meant that the work premiered three years after the event for which it was going to be written, when Beethoven's friend, Archbishop Rudolf became an archbishop. "It’s a very moody piece, I would say. It goes from fortissimo to triple piano in the course of a few bars, and then big again. It is a piece of struggle, and of real conflict with what one believes and what one sees." It also calls for large forces, and Kromm says although conducting the work for the first time has been a challenge, the orchestra that they're playing with is excellent, and as he puts it, raises the bar for the singers.
Thursday, March 23
Two dance traditions that one might guess have little in common come together in Speak: a Kathak and Tap Collaboration. The traditional Northern Indian dance form which Rachna Nivas and Rina Mehta of Leela Dance studied with Chitresh Das is performed with bare feet, and bells above the dancers' ankles. Michelle Dorrance and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards will be wearing their taps, and they're accompanied by musicians from both traditions.
The two styles do have some common features, despite being thousands of miles and hundreds of years apart. "One of the things that ties the two art forms together is improvisation," Rina Mehta explains. "So at the heart of Kathak dance, is the ability to improvise. We improvise within a framework, but just like two tap dancers might compete, the Kathak dancer and the tabla player compete on stage. You know, you need to one-up eachother, you need to incorporate what they’re doing, try something new. That kind of, I think, energy exchange is at the heart of both of the traditions." And they similarly share a history of being somewhat looked down upon. Kathak only survived as one of the forms of traditional Indian dance by 'hiding' in brothels for generations. Michelle Dorrance says of Tap and Kathak, "They have both been relegated as sort of a bastard dance form in our given cultures. Ours a much, much shorter story, but still honestly the longest story for America, as far as the emigrated idea of American culture is concerned, tap dance is the oldest form."
Wednesday, March 22
Arts Advocacy Day 2017 brought a crowd of arts organizations and their supporters to the steps of City Hall yesterday. They were trying to encourage the Supervisors to not only not cut funds to the city's arts-supporting agencies, (Grants for the Arts and the San Francisco Arts Commission) but to increase those budgets in light of the recently released Federal budget, which would cut the money going to arts entirely.
Among those speaking were Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer, and Jane Kim, who said: "As we take on the fight at Congress to defend the NEA, and the National Endowment for the Humanities as well, it’s not just important to say, ‘No more cuts’. And no more cuts here at the city and county of San Francisco as well for the arts community, but we need to increase that pot of funding, and we need it more than ever today." Sarah Pritchard of SOMArts said "In a political climate that is just saturated with so much hateful rhetoric and policy decisions, now more than ever, we must support the power of the arts to bring people together, to challenge assumptions, and to shift people’s perspectives." This sense of urgency was echoed by Jason Bayani of the Kearny Street Workshop who says the history of his Asian-Pacific American community can be understood through the arts. "The story was told not only in essays, articles, and history books, but poems. It exists in silkscreen prints, posters, paintings, photographs. It lives in the theater, literature, dance, music. This art was made because we were a community of artists experiencing it together."
Tuesday, March 21
Johann Sebastian Bach was born on this day in 1685 — to help celebrate the birthday of the king of counterpoint, here's a little quiz. Can you identify these ten of his works?
To see the answers below, click and drag over the white space...
"Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (from Cantata BWV 147)
"Aria" from the Goldberg Variations
"Air on the G String" (Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, mvt. 2)
Toccata in D minor (arranged for Brass Quintet)
"Badinerie" (Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, mvt. 7)
"Erbarme dich, mein Gott" (from St. Matthew Passion)
Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major
Minuet in G Major from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, mvt. 1
"Siciliano" (Flute Sonata No. 2 in E flat, mvt. 2)
Monday, March 20
In honor of Spring and KDFC's 'Great Outdoors Week', a sampling of "Birds in the Orchestra" - composers have long been writing instrumental imitations of birds... The cuckoo is probably the easiest to recognize, and it shows up in a variety of works. Since it was first possible to bring recordings into the concert hall, there have also been times when nothing but the actual sound of specific birds will do.
A cuckoo may have a fairly pedestrian birdcall, with only two notes, but Frederick Delius, Beethoven, and Handel all used it memorably (not to mention Laurel and Hardy's theme music). Ottorino Respighi called for a recording of nightingale songs to be played from the stage in his Pines of Rome, and Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara used field recordings of birds from the region to reflect the vast northern landscape of his Cantus Arcticus.
There are many other examples of composers taking their cues from the feathered set, famously the bird and the duck (flute and oboe, respectively) from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf; the "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks" from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition; Haydn's Symphony #83 (The Hen); The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Mahler's first symphony also has cuckoo calls, and Respighi wrote an entire work called "The Birds". But among the most fervent champions of trying to replicate the sounds of bird songs was French composer Olivier Messaien, with titles like "Oiseaux exotiques" and "Catalogue oiseaux".
Friday, March 17
The influences of a great French master on one of the Bay Area's best known painter is on display at SFMOMA in an exhibition called Matisse/Diebenkorn, which runs through May 29th. Richard Diebenkorn saw his first Matisse when he was in his 20s, and made a point of seeking them out for the rest of his career and life. Exhibition curator Janet Bishop says they sought specific works that showed the strongest kinship between the two artists.
"Our exhibition follows the trajectory of Diebenkorn’s career and intersperses works by Matisse throughout," Bishop explains. "Either paintings that Diebenkorn knew directly, paintings that were important to him, or pieces that really resonated with the Diebenkorn works in the show." The exhibition is a collaboration with the Baltimore Museum of Art, where it ran last fall. Bishop and her Baltimore counterpart, Katy Rothkopf sought the works that made the American fall in love with Matisse. "There were several particular encounters with Matisse’s work that were meaningful to him. So we looked to see what was in Matisse’s 1952 retrospective that Diebenkorn saw in Los Angeles. We looked to see what was in the 1966 retrospective that Diebenkorn saw. We also were keen to borrow, for instance, Matisse’s Studio Quai St. Michel from the Phillips Collection, which was the first very specific work that Diebenkorn said was really important to him." Bishop says that seeing the works together, similarities become clearer. "I think Matisse and Diebenkorn were two of the greatest colorists in the twentieth century, but there’s all sorts of connections. They both had a real interest in structure. So in the way that geometry worked in the rectangle of the canvas... Also an interest in revealing their process in the final work of art. So both artists worked layer upon layer upon layer, and neither one of them felt the need to cover their tracks. So when you’re looking at a Matisse or looking at a Diebenkorn, you often see a lot of evidence of reworking and prior versions of the final work of art."
Thursday, March 16
An 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: