The State of the Arts

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 Arts on 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.

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Wednesday, October 7

Christina and Michelle NaughtonThe Santa Rosa Symphony returns to action this weekend, with a pair of soloists playing a pair of concertos: Christina and Michelle Naughton join the orchestra for works by Mozart and Poulenc. Music Director Bruno Ferrandis describes the world premiere of Pax Universalis by Mohammed Fairouz, and they'll finish with Saint-Saen's 'Organ' Symphony.

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

Bruno Ferrandis says the 88th season of the Santa Rosa Symphony will begin with a message of peace - which was actually supposed to be yet another pair of works: "The program was conceived to be an encounter between a Palestinian composer and an Israeli composer – but for some reason, the Israeli composer never came, so we invited Mohammed [Fairouz] to write this ‘peace’ piece to set off a very positive message... It’s a very apropos piece to start the start the season. I hope it will deliver the message." Although Fairouz was born in the United States, his parents are Palestinian. He's dedicated the work "to the children who have fallen victim to global conflict."

The duo-piano team of (identical twins) Christina and Michelle Naughton will play a work that Mozart wrote to play with his sister - his Concerto no. 10 for two pianos - and then follow that with the gamelan-, jazz- and impressionistic-inspired concerto by Francis Poulenc, who Ferrandis says is "sort of re-visiting Mozart." And the French air continues with the concert ending and roof-raising third symphony of Camille Saint-Saens, his 'Organ' Symphony.
 Previous Programs

Tuesday, October 6

Bach's Chromatic Fantasia and FugueIn an A-to-Z edition of State of the Arts: Fantasia and Fugue. Both allow the performer (and composer) to show off their skills, but in a different way. A fantasia tends to be virtuosic, but at the same time should sound like it's being improvised. A fugue, in order for it to work, has to also meet certain formal expectations. Especially important: the opening subject needs to be one that the listener will be able to recognize each time it enters, in ever thickening textures of other voices. Counter-subjects need to flow out of what precedes them, and be able to follow the rules of harmony and counterpoint when played at the same time as the subject. It all needs to make sense both structurally, and just as importantly, to the ear.

How one writes a fugue really depends on the starting material; there are going to be some techniques that will only be possible if the subject allows it. Bach was especially talented at knowing what permutations would be possible based on any given theme: with a fugue for three voices, he might have two counter-subjects, each showing up in a different part in turn. And then for the final statement, they might each come in earlier, ending up overlapping to build tension.

Here's a quartet of singers (plus a string quartet) performing Glenn Gould's "So You Want to Write a Fugue":

The various entrances and individual lines of the four singers are fairly easy to follow - at least at the beginning - in an animated video you can see here.

Monday, October 5

Nicholas McGeganThis week, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is giving the U.S. premiere of a work by Alessandro Scarlatti called The Glory of Spring... which has spent much of its history on the shelf, primarily because the child whose birth it was celebrating only lived for a month, ultimately paving the way for the War of Austrian Succession. Music director Nicholas McGegan will lead the ensemble and soloists in three more performances, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

There's more information about the concert and the work at the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra website

The work, which is a 'serenata' is a light-hearted occasional piece, celebrating the arrival of an heir to the Hapsburg Empire. Jove (who is there as King of the Gods in order to bless the child) joins the other soloists, as McGegan explains: "You have the four seasons, who are a bit like a family, they stick together, but each one thinks that they are more important than the others, so there’s a little bit of sibling rivalry in there, which actually makes it rather comic, in a nice way. It’s not all terribly serious... It was an extravagant and fun piece, with a great high quality music, even though the actual, initial reason for its performances was no longer valid." As a piece written for the Hapsburgs, it boasts a "lavish" orchestra, with trumpets and four oboes, and was written for the greatest singers of the day, who would be attracted by the Hapsburg name. 

Philharmonia Baroque will bring The Glory of Spring to the Bing Concert Hall at Stanford on Wednesday, Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Friday, and to the First Congregational Church in Berkeley for their final performance on Saturday.

Friday, October 2

Busy Weekend...It's a busy and varied weekend around the Bay Area, beginning with a hybrid nightclub party, through a modern take on a classic ballet, Beatles covers with full orchestra, symphonic Beethoven and Schumann, and ending with a soulful excursion through the last piano sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert...

There's more information about these events at the websites of Mercury Soul, Cal Performances, Marin Symphony, Symphony Silicon Valley, and San Francisco Performances.

Mason Bates has had a successful dual-career in music, composing full scale orchestral works played by ensembles like the San Francisco Symphony and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but also creating electronica works as a live DJ. He'll combine the two in a Mercury Soul "thumping immersive party" at the nightclub Ruby Skye tonight - with guest chamber ensembles re-imagining works by composers - to a beat.  The Mariinsky Ballet (formerly Kirov) and Orchestra present the Ratmansky/Prokofiev Cinderella in performances through Sunday afternoon in Berkeley. The Beatles cover band Classical Mystery Tour performs around the country with full orchestras providing the backup - 'Marin Symphony's Waterfront Pops concert will be led by guest conductor and arranger Martin Herman. Symphony Silicon Valley kicks off its season on Saturday and Sunday with Schumann's Symphony no. 2, and Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with Nikolai Demidenko as soloist - they'll be led by David Adamo. And Sunday evening at Davies, Andras Schiff presents a recital of the final sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert - through San Francisco Performances.

Thursday, October 1

Stephanie BlytheStephanie Blythe presents We'll Meet Again: The Songs of Kate Smith this Sunday at the Venetian Room of the Fairmont Hotel through Bay Area Cabaret. It's been a pet project over the past few years for the mezzo-soprano, joined by accompanist and co-arranger Craig Terry. Kate Smith, once one of the best-selling recording artists, now is largely known for her rendition of "God Bless America," but Blythe wants to bring her to the fore again.

There's more information about the show at the Bay Area Cabaret website.

Stephanie Blythe has been showing the city her versatility in the past few weeks, starring as Mrs. Lovett in San Francisco Opera's Sweeney Todd, singing the national anthem in Herbst Theatre at the re-dedication of the War Memorial Veterans Building, and offering a show-stopping "You'll Never Walk Alone" at the San Francisco Symphony gala. But she describes her whole career as "switching gears" between composers as varied as Bach and Wagner: "It’s exactly the same voice, it’s just a different way of basically singing text. That’s it. It’s just the way you approach the text that’s different... I believe all of this music is really part of what American art song is, and I love the feeling that you get when you sing it. It’s just wonderful, it’s very visceral."

Blythe's admiration for Kate Smith - who, although self-taught, had a powerful and natural talent - includes Smith's generosity and integrity: "She supported her mother ‘til her mother’s death, she maintained her relationship with her agent for his entire life... There was never any paper written, and it was a 50-50 split. And she maintained that her entire career. That’s something, you know? I don’t think we would have that from anybody today."


Wednesday, September 30

Lang LangThe Green Music Center's season opening gala concert this Saturday night will star Lang Lang in a solo program of Tchaikovsky, Bach, and Chopin... On Sunday, he returns for a special combination master class and concert called '101 Pianists.' His foundation has been putting on these events around the world - inviting 50 duo piano pairs to perform and be coached, this time on the stage of Weill Hall.

There's more information about the concerts at the Green Music Center website.

The woman who was asked to select the pianists for the event is Robin Beloff-Wachsberg, who's taught and judged competitions in the Bay Area for many years. "We have about 50 kids from Sonoma County itself – and the rest come from the Bay Area. It was really hard to limit the number of kids. There were more kids who wanted to do this than the hundred that we found." The students who were chosen were those their teachers thought would best respond to the kind of coaching that Lang Lang will be providing. They'll rehearse in the morning, and then return for the concert/masterclass in the afternoon. There's a lead duo, who will be playing on an actual pair of acoustic pianos, the rest of the students will be on electric instruments. "You have a duo, who’s been trained by their teacher to play two duets," Beloff-Wachsberg says, "one by Schubert and one by Brahms, the very famous Brahms Hungarian Dance #5, and the Marche Militaire #1 of Schubert. They’ve been practicing for many months with their teacher as a duo, and then they come to mix...with 49 other duos."

You can see an example of how the "101 Pianists" program works in this video:


Tuesday, September 29

Il Trovatore at the MetThe general manager of the Metropolitan Opera says their tenth season offering their 'HD Live' series begins with a dream cast of Verdi's Il Trovatore. Peter Gelb explains that the production, which will be simulcast into theaters around the country and the world, stars Anna Netrebko, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Dolora Zajick. 

There's more information about the series at the Met's HD Live website. You can find out which theaters are going to be showing the opera here.

Peter GelbPeter Gelb has been an enthusiastic supporter of new techonology as a way of getting the word about opera to people who can't come to Lincoln Center in person. But he says that's always been the way at the Metropolitan Opera. "The Met, long before I came on board, was a pioneer in using technology. It began its historic series of radio broadcasts 85 years ago." (And the broadcasts on KDFC will return to Saturday mornings in December). "As the technology continues to improve, the productions that we present in theaters get better and better, I think. And at the same time, we’re also experimenting with new ways of making the Met available – although not live – through different electronic platforms." Those include a recent Android app, and partnerships with platforms like AppleTV, Roku, and Samsung. 

Though he says there's nothing quite like being in the same room with the orchestra and singers, there are benefits to the theatrical showings: "To see the performances in a movie theater in close up, you get to see details, nuances of performances that you might not capture inside the opera house when you’re at a greater distance... I’m not suggesting that it be a permanent replacement or substitute for seeing it at the Met. It’s sort of like a sporting event, you know, in the sense that It’s great to watch a Super Bowl on TV, but it’s also even greater to be there."  

Monday, September 28

Oakland SymphonyThe Oakland Symphony begins its season with a slimmed down name, and a program that sings, dances, and makes a trip to Russia... Music Director Michael Morgan built the concert programming around Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances and a Prokofiev Violin Concerto with the impressive young soloist Kenneth Renshaw.  

There's more about the concert at the Oakland Symphony website.

The Paramount Theatre performance will start a West Coast premiere... Mason Bates' Devil's Radio. "We consider Mason Bates ‘ours,’ because we played him first," Morgan says. "And so I will often go to him and ask him for a piece for an occasion like the opening of the season... This concert, which is particularly dancy, because of both the Liebeslieder Waltzes and the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances… I thought Mason Bates was the perfect thing to open a dancy evening, because his music  is always so rhythmic and dance oriented."  In addition to Kenneth Renshaw having a chance to shine, the orchestra's Chorus Director will also be featured: "Lynn Morrow is going to conduct the Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes, about… I think she’s doing about six of them, because they’re very tiny pieces, because this is her tenth anniversary as the chorus master, and so we thought it would be nice to have her on stage, as opposed to just the results of her labor being on stage."

Friday, September 25

Gustavo DudamelTonight's live broadcast of Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela marks the start of Cal Performances program called "Berkeley RADICAL" - (which stands for Research And Development Initiative in Creativity, Arts and Learning). Dudamel conducted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in a outdoor concert he describes as unforgettable back in 2009, when he began his job leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

There's more information about the concert at the Cal Performances website. You can listen to the entire concert from our On Demand page!

Dudamel explains his relationship with the composer this way: “Beethoven is wonderful to play, but it’s very difficult. There are so many ways to interpret Beethoven. But the center of that music is one, and it’s the power of Beethoven’s soul.”  The Ninth has assumed such cultural weight and symbolism over the years, but Dudamel says that soulfulness comes through in his other grand works too, and that's the challenge for him as a conductor: “Beethoven, all the time, in every symphony -- especially the bigger, the biggest symphonies like the Eroica, like the Nine -- this song to life, to the spirit… to the love.. is wonderful, but how to put that in every note?” 

Thursday, September 24

San Francisco Symphony GalaThe San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas kick off their 2015-16 season this evening, with a gala concert celebrating Broadway. They'll be joined by special guest vocalists Nathan Gunn, Alexandra Silber, and Kelsey Grammer - and you can hear it live hosted by Rik and Dianne tonight a little after 8 pm. 

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

The curtain raiser will be the third of Respighi's tributes to the city of Rome: Roman Festivals - but soon enough the destination is Broadway, and the classics of music theater by Rodgers & Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe. The "Carousel Waltz" connects the orchestral world to the Great White Way, before the Symphony is joined by baritone Nathan Gunn for songs from South Pacific and Carousel. Alexandra Silber (who was Maria in last year's Grammy nominated performance of West Side Story) is Eliza Doolittle to Kelsey Grammer's Henry Higgins for scenes from My Fair Lady in the second half of the performance.  

Wednesday, September 23

Matthew ShilvockSan Francisco Opera's next General Director has been announced - it's Matthew Shilvock, who's been serving as Associate General Director for the past five years. At the press conference making the announcement, Steven Menzies, chairman of the search committee said Shilvock was the strongest of all the 70 potential candidates from the U.S. and Europe they reviewed.

There's more information about Shilvock, who begins his tenure in August 2016, at the San Francisco Opera website, where you can also see the full video of the press conference.

He'll be only the seventh General Director in the company's history, and said all of his predecessors possessed a legacy of vision and passion. But he was especially grateful for the opportunities that David Gockley had provided him: "At every juncture, he has flung wide the gates of opportunity and possibility. What David has done, not only for me, but for this company and this art form can never be underestimated...Over the last decade, I’ve been privileged to work with increasing responsibility on many aspects of this organization. Being involved in over a hundred productions, and having the unique opportunity to work with, and be mentored by one of the greatest impressarios of this business, I have a very robust understanding of all the moving parts needed to produce the highest quality opera on an international stage." 

Tuesday, September 22

Cantor Arts Center - Artists at WorkThe most recent exhibit at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford is called Artists at Work - and was inspired by two recent acquisitions, as well as the building immediately next to the museum. The new McMurtry Building is built to highlight the intersection of both study of art history as well as the creation of new works, and as the exhibit's curator, Alison Gass explains, there's a throughline to being an artist that can be seen in works from all eras.

There's more about the exhibit, which runs through mid-January at the Cantor Arts Center website.

"Artists at Work was really conceived as the celebration of the opening of the building," Gass explains. "The McMurtry Building is the place that houses students who study the history of art, and think about the history of art, and the lives of artists, and it also houses students who are learning to make art." The opening of the building this Fall followed on the heels of the museum acquiring the 29 sketchbooks of Richard Diebenkorn, as well as an early Edward Hopper painting called 'New York Corner.'  The sketchbooks and the Hopper are on view at the Cantor in their own exhibits, but served as the jumping off point for this exploration of process, object, and place. "In the sketchbooks, you really look at the process of being Richard Diebenkorn. Actually kind of the process he went through, they’re very much about the hand of the artist. You also see these clear moments of inspiration, of things that kind of made him want to pick up a pen or a pencil and start drawing." Artists at Work includes 70 works from the collection - deliberately not in chronological order. "You’ll see works that are brought together only by virtue of this thematic connection but in fact, there’s no other reason why they would be together, and you start to look at works of course in a very different way when they’re next to unexpected things."

Monday, September 21

Jean SibeliusOn an 'A-to-Z' edition of State of the Arts, it's Sibelius and his Symphony of Swans and Silence... The Finnish composer (and national hero) Jean Sibelius was commissioned to write a symphony to commemorate his own 50th birthday - he ended up revising it several times before it came to the version we know today, but one of its most memorable themes came to him on a morning in April when he looked to the skies.

We know which morning, because he wrote in his diary (along with the theme that recurs in the horns throughout the final movement): "Today at ten to eleven, I saw 16 swans. One of my greatest experiences! Lord God, that beauty. They circled over me for a long time. Disappeared into the solar haze like a gleaming, silver ribbon." That was April 21st, 1915. A few days later, he would write: "The swans are always in my thoughts and give splendor to life... Strange to learn that nothing in the whole world affects me - nothing in art, literature, or music - in the same way as do these swans and canes and wild geese."

The final movement in this performance starts at 22:20...

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