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.
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale present the first modern performance of an opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Voltaire: Le Temple de la Gloire (The Temple of Glory). It's a co-production with Cal Performances and Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, and as Music Director Nicholas McGegan explains, in this version, the allegory was a message the king might not have wanted to hear.
There's more about the performances, from April 28th-30th at the PBO website.
This wasn't the first collaboration of Voltaire and Rameau, and they didn't get along very well, but it was ordered after a military victory by King Louis XV. Nicholas McGegan says the government wanted a celebration. "And since France regarded itself quite rightly as the cultural capital of the world, it meant that you had to put on an opera, as the union of all the arts, the biggest thing that you could put on. They were the two most high-profile artists in their field. Voltaire, obviously, as a playwright, as well as a sort of universal bad boy. Always doing things that annoyed the government or the church, or both. And Rameau was the pre-eminent composer." Voltaire's willingness to be a thorn in the king's side comes out in the story of the opera: "You have the Temple of Glory, it’s very sort of Magic Flute in a way. Who’s going to be let in? Is it going to be Envy? Certainly not. Is it going to be Bélus, who’s the subject of the first act, who is belligerent? Quite literally, he’s a thug. Is it going to be Bacchus, who is the god of wine and all that, but is much too much of a degenerate to be allowed in?" If the King was expecting applause for his victory, it wasn't as much as he would have liked. "The king, I think, got the message, that maybe he should go easy on the girlfriends and the parties, and try governing the country for once."
Thursday, April 20
The Peninsula Women's Chorus began fifty years ago, with 17 singers; it now has more than fifty. They'll be joined by another 40 or so alumnae when they celebrate their anniversary at their Spring concert, called 'True North' on April 30th. Music Director Martín Benvenuto says the former members of the ensemble will join the chorus for a few selections, and the theme of the repertoire (which will include a world premiere commission) is 'Home.'
"The Peninsula Women’s Chorus has been a musical home, and certainly a community, and a home in that sense for our singers over those 50 years," Benvenuto says. "We toyed around with the idea of departing from home, and coming back home. Some of those ideas actually generated some commissions actually, and choice of poetry. And some were already kind of pieces that we knew that we had to do at our 50th that were kind of inviting us to go in that direction." Among the works that the Chorus has a long attachment to are pieces that provided solace to women in captivity. "There was a prisoner camp in Sumatra in World War II where women, during their imprisonment, created a choir. And from sheer will and memory, they wrote on scraps, pieces of paper, vocal parts for 31 pieces." The group first sang them in the 1980s, including a special concert attended by the surviving members of the singers from Sumatra. "It brought a lot of excitement to the chorus, and it was such a moving story about the power of music to change not only our audience’s lives but our own lives, that it’s become sort of a staple of the chorus’s repertoire. So every few years, and especially on an anniversary year, it has to come up."
Wednesday, April 19
The San Francisco Symphony and guest conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada play a program of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev tonight, joined by piano soloist Denis Kozhukhin for a work that he obsessed over as a young music student. He says he was drawn to the Prokofiev Second Piano Concerto from the first time he heard it, and it remains an old friend to today.
Kozhukhin, who was born in Nizhny Novgorod, the same Russian town as the writer Maxim Gorky, now lives in Berlin. His parents were both musicians, but he says he first encountered the Prokofiev 2nd Concerto in a music history class. "I asked my teacher to make a… (back then, we didn’t have internet or YouTube) and I asked to make a copy of the cassette, and I took it home, and I remember like for one month, before going to sleep, I would hear it through again and again and again, it was really inside my brain." He discovered there was a copy of the score in his house, and he would secretly look at it, and dream of playing it. "Once my parents would leave for work, instead of practicing what I had to practice, I would open the score, of course being a bit shocked, seeing three lines to play at the same time. Back then, I didn’t know that existed, or how to do it. But the idea was long there, and of course it was one of the dreams to do it. And now I’ve done it over the years, and again and again and it’s like an old friend already."
Tuesday, April 18
For almost a century, the Community Music Center has been offering the chance for young and old lovers of music to learn to play an instrument, see concerts, and participate in ensembles. They're now in two locations, in the Mission and Richmond districts, and Executive Director Christopher Borg says their unchanged mission has been "providing a high quality musical education to anybody."
There are about 140 teachers who offer lessons at the Center, on more than 30 different instruments (Borg says an informal study found that a quarter of the faculty attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music) and the students range from the very young to those picking up an instrument for the first time in their nineties. "We also try to build programs that really reflect the interests and cultural backgrounds of the people who we serve," he says. "And so we have programs that are not just Classical music or Western music, but also Jazz, and Asian music, Latin music…We’ve now moved forward with a very strong older adults program, where we have set up at twelve different low-income senior centers, older adult choirs." Their Marketing Director, Sonia Caltvedt says that making their services to as many in the community as possible is a top priority. "We make sure that everyone feels welcome to study here and explore music, and that no one’s turned away for the lack of ability to pay. So we offer all of our classes on a sliding scale, and we have a number of completely tuition-free programs, both for youth, and older adults. In our concert hall, we have hundreds of performances every year, and one series that we’re especially proud and excited about is called the ‘Concert with Conversation’ series. And that’s through a partnership with SF Performances. That’s a decades-old partnership, and it offers world-renowned performances, completely free to the community."
Monday, April 17
The casual listener may not know what key a piece of music has been written in, but the composer made that choice for a reason - whether practical (musical phrases can fit instruments better when played in one key over another) or just because that's the way the harmonies were imagined in the first place. Each key has a bit of a personality, and the composer will match the material to the key that suits it. Here are several in the Key of C minor... can you identify them?
To check your answers, just click and drag over the blank area below:
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"
Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique
Brahms: Symphony No. 1
Saint-Saens: Symphony No. 3 "Organ"
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
Chopin: Prelude Op. 28, no. 20
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2
Mozart: Mass in C Minor, Kyrie
Bach: Prelude No. 2 from Well Tempered Clavier, Book I
Bach: Suite for Unaccompanied Cello no. 5, Allemande
Schubert: Symphony No. 4, "Tragic"
(Beethoven: Symphony No. 5)
Friday, April 14
Get out your handkerchiefs... Today's "A to Z" edition of The State of the Arts sheds a tear or two for the letter L... which stands this time for Lute, Lachrimae, and Lament. John Dowland turned a melancholy lute solo into a bit of a franchise, as Lachrimae became "Flow My Tears" and then a set of Pavans, all based on the same melody and weeping gesture. Plus "Dido's Lament", the hauntingly beautiful, sorrowful aria sung in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.
John Dowland's Lachrimae theme took many forms - along with the song "Flow My Tears", it became so popular that musicians would improvise on the theme as jazz players might on a 12-bar blues, or pop standard. Here's the way the song first sounded, as a lute solo:
And a heart-rending version of "Dido's Lament", as sung by Jessye Norman:
Thursday, April 13
San Francisco Opera presents the U.S. premiere of a work called Up in the Mountains next week. It's written for a very specific audience... and their parents. Director of Education Ruth Nott explains it's by a team from Norway that has been very successful writing operas for children, from infants to age three. The performances, which take place under a tent, will have a single singer in a brightly colored costume seated among them and their mother or father.
Ruth Nott says that they first discovered the works of Hanne Dieserud, Christina Lindgren and Maja Ratkje about three years ago, when now General Director Matthew Shilvock came across them on the internet. They already had another work, Korall Koral, called 'a baby opera' that is similar in concept. Up in the Mountains had its Norwegian premiere in 2011. "It’s basically a sung piece, in a non-language," Nott explains. "I sometimes say it’s like a mommy language or a 'I’m speaking to my mommy or a daddy language'. It’s not text that any one of us would understand, however, it’s a story that everyone will understand." Knowing the interests and limitations of both babies and parents, they've kept the work brief. "It’s about a 20 minute performance, and we are doing some activities that are tied to the performance that are very tied to this particular age group. So things that they can do right before the show and also right after."
Wednesday, April 12
Opera San José opens a production of La Bohème this Saturday that has been updated to just after the first World War, and it's being stage directed by Michael Shell, who recently directed their Silent Night, which took place in the trenches and fighting of that same war. Shell describes the tale of love among young artists and poets living in poverty as "the quintessential Italian opera."
Michael Shell is generally based on the East Coast, but he's spent a lot of time in San José recently, with back-to-back productions. He stepped into the role of stage director for Bohème after some decisions about the opera had been made, including the move forward in time. "They wanted to update the time period to post-WWI. Sort of, I don’t want to say a sequel, but sort of a connector to the production of Silent Night that I did here." Although costumes were modified for the later era, the sets didn't need to be. He says that with such a familiar opera, it's important to not to try to second guess audiences, but make sure to go back to basics. "The artists were making choices based on what they thought was going to be expected. And I said, ‘but that’s not important… What’s important is what did he write musically, Puccini, what did he write, what is the text saying, and what is going on in this moment between these two people?’ One of the great things about doing a piece like Silent Night, for example, when we did that. There were no expectations of the audience coming in. They didn’t know what to expect. And that was so liberating as an artist."
Tuesday, April 11
Two concerts that San Francisco Symphony decided to cancel in protest of North Carolina's discriminatory HB2 bill made room in their schedule for last week's Symphony Pride concert. We'll be broadcasting that special concert, with special guest Audra McDonald tonight at 8 pm, with Rik hosting. The program raised funds to several local non-profits that benefit the LGBTQ community
The concert, "celebrating the Bay Area's spirit of inclusion and diversity," was a direct response to the North Carolina law that would prohibit transgender people from using public restrooms in state buildings based on their gender identity. The backlash against the "bathroom bill" has been ongoing, and the new governor of North Carolina has only recently succeeded in repealing that portion of the law, but other elements remain in place. When the Symphony decided in December that they would not perform the two scheduled concerts in Chapel Hill, Michael Tilson Thomas, his husband Joshua Robison, and their friend (and co-chair with Robison of the event) Mark Leno decided to counter-program a performance at Davies Symphony Hall that would benefit Larkin Street Youth Services, Transgender Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, the San Francisco LGBT Center, and The Trevor Project. Audra McDonald wore two hats for the performance, singing broadway standards (and also a song by Laura Nyro, accompanied by MTT), and in the second half, narrating Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait.
Monday, April 10
Pianist Hershey Felder returns to Berkeley Rep to take on the role of yet another iconic figure from musical history: songwriter Irving Berlin. With classics like "God Bless America" and "White Christmas," Berlin left his stamp on American popular songs. The one-man show runs has been extended to May 7.
One challenge for Felder is that his subject was neither a gifted singer or piano player - and so he approached the music he'd play in more of an idealized way, as Berlin might have heard it in his head: "I had to figure out a way to make these things feel very virtuosic without yet showing anybody that they are. The fingers are going, but at the same time it’s not too showy... Part of the fun of this show is how do you create a character – especially if you’re a musician and you want to play music – that doesn’t really sing and doesn’t really play, but really sings and really plays." Berlin could only play songs in one key on the piano, and so he got an instrument that could transpose by shifting the physical keys right or left to play different strings. The framing device of the show centers around an event from late in Berlin's life: "Carolers gathered in front of his house, and they would sing to him every Christmas Eve. And most of the time he would shut the blinds, but one year he invited them in and he talked to them." The set, complete with Christmas tree, is dressed to be like Berlin's Beekman Place apartment. Even before he had written White Christmas, which would be the best-selling single record of all time sung by Bing Crosby, he was already internationally known for his Alexander's Ragtime Band.
Friday, April 7
On an A-to-Z edition of The State of the Arts, it's Edward Elgar's Enigma... The set of variations he composed, each depicting one of his friends. But it's no mystery who is represented in each section. It's the elusive theme that Elgar said was not stated, but implied throughout all of the variations.
There are many theories about what the "hidden" theme is: Mozart's "Prague" Symphony, God Save the Queen, Auld Lang Syne, even the mathematical constant pi (3.1415 rounded up to 3.142, which corresponds to the opening four notes of the theme). This would-be sleuth thinks the answer is "Ein feste Burg" (A Mighty Fortress is Our God).
Another theory ties in with the "Nimrod" variation... Elgar said that when he wrote it, he was remembering a conversation that he had had with his friend and publisher Augustus Jaeger. Elgar had been depressed with the circumstances of his life, and Jaeger sang the theme to the slow movement of Beethoven's "Pathetique" sonata, which the opening of "Nimrod" hints at.
The other mystery that remains unsolved is the "Dorabella Cipher" - this note that Elgar wrote to his friend, Dora Penny in 1897. Although some claim to have broken the code, the arguments are a little dubious, and impossible to prove: Elgar didn't tell, and although he assumed Dorabella would be able to make sense of it, she never could.
Thursday, April 6
The iconic painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso was a response to a horrific bombing of a town by that name in the Basque section of Spain during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Eighty years later, members of Ensemble for These Times will be commemorating both the tragedy and the art it inspired, with a concert called The Guernica Project at Noe Valley Ministry this Saturday night.
E4TT is soprano Nanette McGuinness, pianist Dale Tsang, and composer David Garner - with guest artists cellist Anne Lerner-Wright (for the season) and violinist Dawn Harms (for this performance). They put out a call to composers for works, and were inundated. "In our call for scores, we did our first one Dec-Jan 2015-16. We got 275 scores, we were totally amazed, and we picked 56 to do over the next two seasons," McGuinness says. "One of the composers whose works we really liked was Jeffrey Hoover, whose Burning Giraffe was one of those pieces." They thought he would be a good match for the Guernica piece. "we were looking for a composer who could respond to imagery, or who did that kind of ‘call and response’ because we wanted a call and response program, and that was the call. Based on the fact that his Burning Giraffe is a response to the Salvador Dali Burning Giraffe painting, and that he himself is a painter as well as a composer and writes that way. Not all his works, but he sometimes even does paintings in response to the music he’s writing in response to something else."
Wednesday, April 5
The German Requiem of Brahms will fill Lincoln Theater this Saturday in Yountville, with Symphony Napa Valley and three combined choirs totalling more than 200 performers. It's their La Notte gala fundraising concert, and Artistic Administrator Charles Letourneau calls it 'the best of Napa Valley' represented onstage.
Letourneau says he was contacted last July by a representative of the St. Helena Choral Society, Ruthanne Svendsen. "And she asked me this just out of the blue question, would Symphony Napa Valley be interested in taking part in a big extravaganza concert with the three Napa Valley Choruses, putting together about 150 singers to do the Brahms Requiem?" So the Chamber Choir from the St. Helena Choral Society, Sing Napa Valley, and the Napa Valley College Choir will join them, led by Ragnar Bohlin. Violinist Michael Guttman, Music Director for the orchestra, will begin the concert with Arvo Part's work, Fratres, for violin and string orchestra. "The perfect opener, because it’s almost mystical, it’s almost religious. And then we’re going to go straight into the Brahms Requiem." Letourneau described the project as "an opportunity to do something extraordinary."
Tuesday, April 4
Composer Howard Shore has scored all of the films in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series, but on his new CD, it's two concerti inspired by Chopin taking center stage. His piano concerto called Ruin and Memory was premiered by Lang Lang in China, and Sophie Shao plays his cello concerto, Mythic Gardens. (You can hear the latter on Rik's show Wednesday night).
The world of J.R.R. Tolkien was brought to life in Peter Jackson's films with memorable scores by Howard Shore. But even without serving a specific story, he says, the two concertos do have a narrative thread. "The piano concerto was written first, and It was created for the 200th anniversary of Chopin," Shore explains. "So it’s a Chopin-inspired piece, and then the cello concerto followed, and I wrote it as a companion piece to the piano concerto. So in a way I was creating a concert work, but I was still basing it on a narrative, a story of Chopin’s life." He's used to writing music for specific players, and he did so for these two commissioned works as well. Lang Lang gave the premiere of Ruin and Memory, and Mythic Gardens was written for Sophie Shao. "It was very natural for me to write a piece for Lang Lang. Really what I do is I observe him. I look at his breathing, his movement, the energy that he puts out, and how he works in slower movements. So it’s a very physical process in a way, for me. And the same with Sophie Shao, the great cellist who played the cello concerto. A lot of it had to do with her physicality, her movement. And then I’m writing a piece to reflect that."
Monday, April 3
Marin Symphony and Music Director Alasdair Neale take on the fifth symphony of Gustav Mahler, in a program called The Majesty of Mahler next Sunday afternoon and the following Tuesday evening. It's a piece that offers 'a full workout of the human condition.'
The best-known movement of the fifth is the famous Adagietto, as Alasdair Neale explains: "There’s no question that that is one of the highlights... it was easy to understand that that was the piece that was excerpted from the symphony, and played consistently as a kind of a solo piece, as it were, at a time when Mahler’s music wasn’t so widely known as it is now." But audiences these days have come to know the full work, which stretches in moods and colors across a wide range. "Mahler said, I think during the course of a conversation with Sibelius – they were debating the symphony as an art form, and I think Sibelius basically said something like 'The symphony has to be very compact, and in and of itself,' and Mahler said: 'No, no, no, the Symphony is the world, it must embrace everything in it.'” So from the opening repeated motif of a trumpet beginning a funeral march, through a scherzo, the Adagietto, to a 'rollicking finale' Mahler packs a lot in. "It really does cover everything," Neale says. "And maybe that’s Mahler’s appeal, I think, to our post-Modern generation. It just gives you everything you need in merely 70 minutes."
Friday, March 31
The end of March and beginning of April mark the birthdays of two major composers: Haydn's is today — his 285th — and tomorrow would have been Sergei Rachmaninoff's 144th. To honor both of them, and share the spotlight, here's a little mashup of some of their works...
And here are the pieces that went into it (click and drag over list to see them):
Haydn: “London” Symphony #104, mvt. 1
Rachmaninoff: Symphony #2, mvt. 3
Haydn: “London” Symphony #104, mvt. 4
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto #3, mvt. 1
Haydn: “La Reine” Symphony #85, mvt. 3
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto #2, mvt. 1
Haydn: “The Joke” String Quartet Op.33 no. 2 mvt. 4 (just one phrase)
Haydn: Trumpet Concerto, mvt. 3
Rachmaninoff: Prelude in C# minor
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Haydn: “Surprise” Symphony #94
Thursday, March 30
Music in Schools Today got its start after it looked like school music and arts programs were going to be cut in the San Francisco budget in 1980. Executive Director Meg Madden says since then they've been helping schools with their music programs, and working with other groups across the country to find the best practices for teaching the arts.
San Francisco schools had important allies in fighting the cuts, including a virtuoso violinist. "They were going to do away with the music programs here in San Francisco," Madden says, "and so Yehudi Menuhin and members of the Symphony, and the senior art critic at the Chronicle… in those days it was the Examiner, went and lobbied the Board of Education. And Sir Menuhin made an incredibly inspiring speech, and at the end of it they voted to reinstate the program." To try to prevent that sort of threat from resurfacing, a non-profit was formed with the aim of helping the programs already in place. They were contacted by many schools, and the early efforts of MUST were more responsive than proactive, but it turned out they were on the right track. "When we first started, we were just responding to what schools wanted. And after we’d been doing it for a few years, we brought in a consultant to look at what we were doing, and just by accident, although we had grown like Topsy, we really were covering the major issues in arts education." They continue to provide assistance to schools, with teaching artists able to help, enrichment programs, and a year-round 'adopt an instrument' program with three sites for donations.
Wednesday, March 29
Symphony Silicon Valley is making another trip to Hogwarts this weekend, as they accompany a complete screening of the movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in four performances at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts. General Director Andrew Bales says aside from just being a crowd-pleaser, it suits their long-term mission of audience building, and having people who might otherwise not go to the concert hall hear symphonic music.
"Films for us has been an interesting bag," Bales explains. "We did a couple of traditional ones like Fantasia, and we did Bugs Bunny, which is wonderful, we love doing them, audiences enjoyed them, they were fine. It didn’t fundamentally change who we were selling to, though. And when we went to Lord of the Rings, we saw a completely different audience mix." The demographic reason to return to this as a format, he says, is convincing. "From an audience point of view, it appeals to an audience that we otherwise don’t see. It’s a younger audience, it’s families, it’s just a different kind of audience." Since it's not part of the regular subscription series, it also gives the Symphony an opportunity to hire its musicians more. "Every added service adds to the ensemble feel, it makes these players play better together," Bales says, and adds that they always have a great deal of fun doing it.
Tuesday, March 28
San Francisco Ballet presents Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson's version of Swan Lake beginning this Friday. Principal Dancer Maria Kochetkova says of her double role of Odette and Odile that they're challenging, but help her to get into peak form. "If I can do Swan Lake, I feel like I can do anything. I'm in shape to do any other ballet, any other work."
Part of the challenge of playing two roles that are so distinct is physical, and part is mental, but it's a challenge Kochetkova enjoys: "I personally find it’s very interesting to be able to do both parts, to be able to bring two different characters in one night. They are very different, and I don’t even know which I enjoy the most, maybe Odette, to dance. I just find Odile very hard. Swan Lake for me is the hardest ballet. If I think of all the full-lengths I’ve done, Swan Lake is the hardest." At five feet, her size contributes to that too. "Especially because I’m a petite dancer, I need to work extra hard in order to elongate every single line, and to stretch the positions and bend… You know that curve of the back needs to be like a curved swan neck. Putting your chest forward, elongating your arms and neck, it’s very difficult for me, it takes a lot of energy… I think maybe for some other dancers, it’s more natural, but at this point because I’ve been doing it for so many years, I rather enjoy it."
Monday, March 27
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: