Play On, California! is our noontime spotlight on the great musicians from our Golden State. From San Diego to Sacramento and from the LA Phil to the San Francisco Symphony, we have a goldmine of local musical talent across our state. So, each weekday at noon, join Dianne Nicolini for homegrown favorites. We’re also updating this blog daily, highlighting in detail some of the incredible efforts taken on by our arts communities to share music on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, their own websites and more! If you have any favorites to add, let us know in the comments.
On Saturday the US will be celebrating Juneteenth as an official federal holiday for the first time, marking the day that slaves in Galveston, Texas were told that they had been emancipated, almost 2 and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. We’ll be observing the anniversary on our air from 2 – 5pm with Let Freedom Ring: A Musical Celebration of Juneteenth hosted by Lara Downes. The music will be played or composed by black musicians, and exploring the role that these artists and their work have played in our country’s musical history. Then on Sunday evening, there’s a special Juneteenth edition of From the Top, co-hosted by cellist (and Pentatonix singer) Kevin Olusola. We’ll hear 12-year-old cellist Emma Spence from Los Altos play a work by Florence Price, and Olusola will play an arrangement of the Sam Cooke song “A Change is Gonna Come” with a pair of FtT alumni from Los Angeles: violinist Hannah White, and pianist Clifton Williams.
Opera is an industry that is dominated by men – in recent years, fewer than 30% of directors, and fewer than 15% of conductors have been women. In an effort to start evening the playing field, OPERA America has just presented its first round of grants, a total of $36,650 to “incentivize opera companies to hire women for key artistic leadership roles.” There were nine recipients in this round, representing a wide number of states, but two of them are from California: conductor Jenny Wong at Long Beach Opera, and stage director Indre Viskontas at Berkeley’s West Edge Opera. This August, Wong will be conducting a feminist-reimagined double-bill of Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schoenberg, and Voices from the Killing Jar by contemporary composer Kate Soper. Indre Viskontas will be stage directing three performances of Janacek’s Katya Kabanova at the end of July and early August, as part of this year’s West Edge Festival.
It’s going to be a season of celebrating at the Oakland Symphony – both the return to the Paramount Theatre in October, and also the 30th anniversary of Conductor and Music Director Michael Morgan. Over the years he’s made his mark on the orchestra, wanting to reflect the diversity of the audience in his programming, and being inclusive so that the audiences feel welcome in the first place. Throughout the season, there are large works by composers of color and women, including Amy Beach’s infrequently programmed Gaelic Symphony, and Lara Downes playing the Florence Price Piano Concerto. Their “Playlist” series continues in February, with dancer/choreographer Debbie Allen curating the selections. There are plenty of standard repertoire warhorses too, including the Dvorak Symphony No. 8 and Brahms Symphony No. 4 – and the season ends with Beethoven’s “Eroica” in March and the Verdi Requiem in May, with the Oakland Symphony Chorus.
Michael Morgan, photo courtesy Oakland Symphony
Festival Mozaic was to have its 50th anniversary season last year, but they had to postpone it. This year’s festival runs from the 24th of July to the 31st, and begins with a program called “Baroque in the Vines” at the outdoor chapel in Shandon. Single tickets San Luis Obispo-based festival are on sale as of Wednesday, and there are Chamber Series concerts (at SLO Brew Rock brewery, and Miossi Hall at the Performing Arts Center) as well as the Mozaic Series, which offers two non-classical programs: the cabaret/tango quartet called Grand Orquestra Navarre on the 25th, and Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno on the 29th.
San Francisco Performances has announced their upcoming season – including many returning soloists and ensembles, but also several series. The first program in October launches the “Uncovered” series, with the Catalyst Quartet playing works by composers who’ve been overlooked because of their race or gender. In four programs throughout the season, they’re joined by Stewart Goodyear, Anthony McGill, Dashon Burton, and Michelle Cann. The PIVOT festival returns, including Theo Bleckmann (who was part of their virtual festival earlier this year,) and Post:ballet and the Living Earth Show with a Samuel Adams world premiere. The Sanctuary series, which launched during the pandemic, returns to show music as a source of solace and refuge. Isata Kenneh-Mason makes her SF Performances debut, as well as mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital, joining the long list of returning chamber musicians and singers. You can find more information and schedules at the San Francisco Performances website.
Catalyst Quartet – Photo by Ricardo Quinones
A chamber work commissioned by the Pacific Symphony, which was meant to be performed by players who couldn’t necessarily share a stage, has had its virtual premiere. Composer Margaret Brouwer wrote the piece Parallel Isolations, the title of which sums up the experience of many of us, and many of the musicians over the past year. For the chamber music series Café Ludwig, pianist Orli Shaham is the pianist, joined (from another location) by a trio of Pacific Symphony players: Principal cellist Warren Hagerty, Concertmaster Dennis Kim, and Principal flutist Ben Smolen (playing an alto flute).
Quartet San Francisco is among the finalists in the ensembles category of a competition celebrating the centennial of Astor Piazzolla. The father of the modern tango, Piazzolla took it from the dance halls of Argentina to concert halls around the world. He infused elements of both Classical and jazz into it, and taught the world about the accordion’s cousin, the bandoneon. The Piazzolla Foundation (in association with the composer’s family) are holding the competition, and the winners will be announced tomorrow. Here is the entry that QSF submitted, an arrangement of “Nuevo Tango” by quartet founder and violinist, Jeremy Cohen.
Composer Julius Eastman’s works have been growing in popularity in the more than 30 years since his death. Many of the scores to his works were lost – or given as gifts to friends – but some of those have resurfaced, and others have been transcribed from recordings. He was a gay, black composer when those were enormous obstacles to overcome. The LA-based ensemble Wild Up has been championing his works, and has just released the first of a multi-album anthology of his music. They’ll be playing his minimalist work Femenine at the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza at Segerstrom Hall this Thursday evening.
J.S. Bach wrote hundreds of chorales in his various church duties as a composer – they were four-part harmonizations of tunes that were originally intended to be sung. But they also have served as a great teaching tool for the rules of both harmony and “voice leading” – how each part moves from note to note. Dr. Aaron Lington is the coordinator of the Jazz Studies Program at San Jose State University, and plays primarily jazz these days, but he studied classical saxophone, and decided to return to the chorales during lockdown. He was inspired by the “Brady Bunch” style of videos of virtual performances, and used the time he wasn’t playing gigs to record chorales playing all four parts on his baritone sax, and posting the results to his Facebook page. Now 21 of them have been collected on a new recording on the Little Village label called 4 Bari x Bach. He says the chorales are a natural match for the instrument (although the range goes higher than the usual limit for a bari) and selected them based on their great melodies and “juicy chord progressions.”
After a season of “At Home” recorded concerts, Cal Performances has announced its upcoming season, with a return to in-person concerts and events. The season begins in August with a Greek Theatre appearance by Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, under the title ‘Not Our First Goat Rodeo.’ Ensembles like The English Concert and the Danish String Quartet will be partnering across several seasons for performances of Handel operas and oratorios, and concerts and commissions, respectively. The Takács, Kronos, Tetzlaff and Spektral Quartets also will give concerts, and there are solo recitals by pianists Daniil Trifonov and Eric Lu, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, soprano Angel Blue, and violinist Tessa Lark. Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han return, and making a duet premiere at Cal Performances, violinist Leonidas Kavakos plays with Yuja Wang. Plus, Mitsuko Uchida plays Mozart with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. The season also includes their “Illuminations” series, which is called “Place and Displacement,” with music and scholarship from UC Berkeley exploring the effects of migration and gentrification on individuals and society.
Photo of Mitsuko Uchida by Justin Pumfrey
Pittance Chamber Music presents a free streaming concert this Sunday, featuring songs by Andre Previn. (The conductor/pianist/composer died in 2019) The first group, called Two Remembrances, has texts by Frau Ava, who was born in the 11th Century, and Expressionist poet Else Lasker-Schüler, who lived in Berlin until the mid-1930s, when she had to flee as the Nazis were rising in power. The second collection, called Four Songs, have texts by the writer Toni Morrison. They’ll be sung by soprano Elissa Johnston, accompanied by pianist Grant Gershon, LA Opera flutist Heather Clark, and cellist Michael Kaufman. Pittance Chamber Music got its start in 2013 when Lisa Sutton, Assistant Concertmaster of the LA Opera Orchestra, wanted to create an opportunity for “pit” musicians from her ensemble to play chamber music in front of the public.
Photo of Elissa Johnston, Grant Gershon, and Michael Kaufman by Pittance Chamber Music
Composers who left World War II Europe and settled in Hollywood are featured on the final concert of the season for Ensemble for these Times. Some, like Franz Waxman and Miklos Rozsa are well known to film buffs, but some, like Alexandre Tansman and Hanns Eisler remain little known, although they were nominated for Oscars for their scores for Paris Underground and None But the Lonely Heart. Their chamber works will be played by E4TT, and livestreamed on the Center for New Music’s YouTube channel. Emigres and Exiles in Hollywood finishes not only the season, but a several season series, and also includes several Polish composers, like Grazyna Becewicz.
Photo of Alexandre Tansman – Wikimedia Commons
Walt Disney Concert Hall will begin to have live audience performances once more, for the first time in more than a year, with a free concert on the 26th by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, led by Jaime Martín. The concert is by invitation only, since there’s a roughly 50 percent capacity limit – but members of the community can enter for a chance to win a free ticket. There will be strictly enforced safety rules: audience members will have to be fully vaccinated and wear masks, and there will be neither an intermission nor the sale of food or drinks. The concert program has Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes, then a work by contemporary Mexican composer Juan Pablo Contreras, celebrating his home state of Jalisco, called Mariachitlán, and ending with Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony. If you don’t happen to get a ticket, don’t fear – the program will be streamed later in the summer, as part of LACO’s second SummerFest digital concert series.
Photo courtesy of LA Philharmonic
Launching this weekend – a musical performance that you can meander with. It’s called Soundwalk, by composer Ellen Reid, and once you’ve downloaded an app on your phone, it plays a piece that evolves depending on where you walk, based on GPS information. There are versions in several cities, including at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, but on Saturday it will also be in Golden Gate Park. It’s presented by the Kronos Performing Arts Association and the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, to help kick off the 2021 Kronos Festival. Kronos Quartet performed some of the music that’s heard in Soundwalk. Ellen Reid describes it this way: “It is meant to serve as artistic nourishment — a place to recharge, reconnect, and re-energize.”
An mini-series opera in 8 parts, by 8 composers… desert in is a new kind of work, commissioned and produced by Boston Lyric Opera, in association with Long Beach Opera. LBO Artistic Director James Darrah directs several of the episodes. Each week, two episodes are being released for streaming on OperaBox.tv. It was filmed in Palm Springs, primarily, and combines aspects of many different kinds of works – there are singers like Isabel Leonard and Talise Trevigne, composers including Nico Muhly and Michael Abels, and also actors who don’t sing, and singers who remain ‘offstage’ as the story unfolds. “It’s part supernatural love story, and part dazzling long-form music video.”
San Francisco Performances has added something that was missing to their “Summer Music Sessions” series: singers! The first announcement of the lineup for the mini festival that runs in the second half of July was made before it was known for sure that they’d be allowed to include singers on the programs. Now that they know that they can, in addition to the pianists, guitarist and strings players, they’re adding programs with Gabriel Kahane, Nicholas Phan, and Lawrence Brownlee. The series (their first-ever summer concerts) will run from July 14th to the 24th, with 12 concerts in those 11 days. San Francisco Performances President Melanie Smith says: “The voice is the most personal instrument, and after 14 months of silence, it’s great to be able to include singing in these first live person-to-person concerts.”
Lawrence Brownlee, photo by Shervin Lainez
The Santa Barbara Symphony, while unable to provide their usual music education and outreach in person last year, created virtual versions of two of their most popular programs: the Music Van, and Concerts for Young People. One small silver lining following the last difficult year is that they’ll be making these available with the Santa Barbara County schools, and the general public for free. Instead of the mobile ‘instrument petting zoo’ of the Music Van, there’s a video with Music Van Docents and volunteers introducing young people to 16 different instruments; and instead of a live performance at the Granada Theatre, there’s a recorded concert program that will live on their website.
Music Van Docents, photo courtesy Santa Barbara Symphony
Revisiting an idea from early in the pandemic, composer Danny Clay and the guitar/percussion duo “The Living Earth Show” have released a video called Music for Hard Times, and this time they’re joined by musicians from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, as well as the San Francisco Girls Chorus. The original project tried to answer the question of whether it’s possible to use the tools of Classical Music to make people feel better. Music that was peaceful and calming was joined by visuals from nature, and around the Bay Area. This time around, the “score” was mostly made up of prompts or instructions that each musician would interpret and perform – and then those recordings would be layered and mixed by Clay to make the final piece. It ended up being a hybrid of a collaboration and a solo recording project. You can hear the results here – the discussion about the piece begins at 6:09, and the music begins at 13:30.
The 84th season of the Stern Grove Festival will launch on June 20th, with its tradition of running on ‘Ten Summer Sundays’ through August 29th. The programming for the concerts will be announced soon. Since its early days, the concerts have been free of charge, and that will continue. There have been a few changes planned for this year, mostly having to do with keeping people safe: there will be a limit on the capacity, to keep the crowds from becoming too big, and for that reason, a new reservation procedure has been set up. This will also be the first year ever that the concerts will be streamed live, for those who can’t make it to the park or meadow.
The Pacific Symphony is presenting a production of Verdi’s La Traviata for our times this Saturday night… Stage director Robert Neu, faced with the challenge of scaling the opera down, says the plot still works with the focus on only the three primary characters of Violetta, Alfredo, and his father. Rather than making it a “greatest hits” collection of arias, they’re telling the story as a series of flashbacks, and the fact that the work is filmed means that the performances can be more subtle – not having to play to the audience in the balconies. The running time is also shortened to about an hour and a half, and Music Director Carl St. Clair points out that the minimalist staging allows the orchestra to have a more focused role in the production. It premieres Saturday night at 7:00.
The Maxwell Quartet, which grew up together playing both classical and traditional folk music in Scotland, will have an opportunity to do both again as they wrap up the Music at Kohl Mansion performance season this Sunday. (There will be another stream the following Thursday). They’ll play Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 13, which he wrote after returning to his home in Prague following his trip to America. First violinist Colin Scobie says that idea of ‘homecoming’ rang true for them, as they spent much of the lockdown with two members in England, and two in Scotland, unable to cross the border. Also on the program will be some of their own arrangements of Scottish tunes. Here they are with a sampling of that repertoire:
The final installment of “Close Quarters” premieres this Friday from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. Grant Gershon is the guest conductor for the concert, with a larger group of musicians than have played together since February of 2020. As both a celebration of the beginning of a return to the familiar, and also a recognition of the challenges faced, the images that will accompany the music offer what they call “a poignant visual tone poem that reflects the diverse artistic family that LACO built through the series and chronicles Los Angeles’ emergence from the global pandemic”.
Photo by Ira Selendripity for Unsplash
The Irving M. Klein International String Competition returns this weekend, in its second online incarnation. There are nine semi-finalists vying for the top prize: five violinists, two violists, and two cellists, between the ages of 16 and 23. 128 entrants representing 16 nationalities were narrowed down to these nine, including Grace Huh from San Jose, who studies at the San Francisco Conservatory Pre-College Division. The semi-finals begin on Saturday at 10am, with the finalists then moving on to Sunday, after which the winners will be announced. The online competition will be co-hosted by violinist Tessa Lark, who was the winner in 2008, and Mitchell Sardou Klein. The prizes include cash and performance opportunities, including with the Peninsula Symphony and Santa Cruz Symphony.
Photo of Sory Park courtesy Klein Competition
It’s not the Bizet that we know from Carmen… Pacific Opera Project is staging a work he wrote almost 20 years earlier: a comic opera called Don Procopio, which is modeled on the popular Italian style of bel canto. The three performances over next weekend will be back at the lawn of the Heritage Square Museum, with shows starting at 8, and picnicking an hour earlier. The action has been moved to 1910 California, set at a Highland Park ostrich farm – the plot, with miserly old men and some attempted matchmaking that threatens true love, (of course) ends happily ever after. Setting the action in the early 20th century isn’t so far-fetched, actually – the premiere performance didn’t happen until 1906, more than 30 years after Bizet’s death.
Photo courtesy Pacific Opera Project
Tenor Pene Pati is profiled in the most recent edition of San Francisco Opera’s artist profile series called “In Song.” The Samoa-born singer has been through the Merola and Adler programs, as well as singing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, so he’s well known to San Francisco audiences. But he began singing with the other members of his family when he was still a child growing up in New Zealand, joking that his father formed a Pacific Islander version of the Von Trapp family, entertaining the residents at the retirement community he managed. Pati sings a traditional song “La’u Lupe” accompanied by his brother Amitai (with whom he performed in the trio Sol3 Mio) and sings Paolo Tosti’s “Serenata,” accompanying himself on a ukulele.
The 75th Ojai Music Festival is going to be a few months later than usual this year – moved from June to mid-September so they could plan an in-person festival to celebrate together. John Adams is Music Director this year, and the number of composers represented on the schedule is impressive – all the more so, since many will be there. There’s a world premieres by Dylan Mattingly – Sunt Lacrimae Rerum (these are the tears of things) – as well as the West Coast premiere of Samuel Adams’ Chamber Concerto. There’s a recital by pianist Vikingur Ólafsson, and a ‘dusk concert’ by violinist Miranda Cuckson; vocalist Rhiannon Giddens will be making several appearances, with the Attacca Quartet, Francesco Turrisi, as well as in the Festival Finale, when she’ll sing works by John Adams, with the composer conducting.
Photo by Musacchio Ianniello Pasqualini
A new video series that looks at how one art form can influence another begins today, with New Century Chamber Orchestra launching its Resonanceseries. In the first film, the musicians play Debussy’s Sacred and Profane Dances for harp and strings as fashion designer Colleen Quen creates a mixed-media sculpture, inspired by their performance. Next week, in the second film, choreographer Antoine Hunter will create a new dance work while listening to a performance of music by Missy Mazzoli. The series will live on their website, where the films can be watched for free. Earlier this week, the ensemble released a ticketed concert video that was recorded at Bing Concert Hall, the first time in more than a year that Daniel Hope and the musicians have been able to play together. That included the world premiere of a Double Concerto by Tan Dun, and it’s going to be available for viewing through the end of August.
Photo by David Law
LA Opera’s production of Oedipus Rex will mark their return to the indoors, with a concert performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on the afternoon of June 6th. James Conlon will conduct, and artist-in-residence Russell Thomas is in the title role, with J’Nai Bridges as Jocasta, and British actor Stephen Fry providing the pre-recorded narrator’s voice. It’s totally sold out, but there will be a subsequent online version for home viewing starting on the 17th. It’s an ideal production to stage in these early days of getting back inside: it’s not too long, so it can be performed without an intermission, and Stravinsky specifically wanted very little action on the stage – instead, there are projected animations by Manual Cinema. There’s a new air filtering system in the hall, and reduced seating, to comply with new Department of Health guidelines.
He might know more about virtual choirs than anyone else, at this point… Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre has led many ensembles in performances that have had to be edited together to be appreciated, but on Friday he’ll be leading a performance with singers in both Northern and Southern California. Irvine’s Southern California Children’s Chorus will join with the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and the Ragazzi Boys Chorus from Silicon Valley. Together, in real time, they’ll sing a new arrangement for upper voices of the work “Sing Gently.” They’ll be using the JackTrip Virtual Studio, which combines hardware and software to allow musicians to interact without the noticeable delay one can experience with regular video chat software. There will also be a Q&A session with Whitacre speaking with the co-founder of JackTrip. You can listen at noon on Friday on Eric Whitacre’s Facebook page.
Eric Whitacre – Photo by Marc Royce
A brand new venue will be the site of the San Diego Symphony’s season, beginning August 6th. Music Director Rafael Payare will lead their first concert, with the premiere of a work written for the orchestra by Mason Bates (Soundcheck in C Major), along with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green, and Payare’s wife, cellist Alisa Weilerstein as guest artists. The season will have more than 40 performances, with 8 led by Payare, and a host of guest conductors, soloists, and special events. The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park is surrounded on three sides by water, with views of downtown, the marina and the bay. It will be the home for concerts through November, including not only classical, but Broadway, film, jazz, pop, Latin, and classic rock.
Rady Shell – Courtesy San Diego Symphony
Berkeley Symphony collaborates with the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive for “Edgy Art,” the second installment of the “Real Berkeley” film series. The concert film premiered this Sunday on YouTube, with Musicians playing chamberworks in front of and surrounded by artwork from BAMPFA. The program includes music by Florence Price, Olivier Messiaen, Michael Daugherty, and Jessie Montgomery, and is guest curated by the museum’s director, Julie Rodrigues Widholm, introducing viewers to a retrospective of Rosie Lee Tomkins, and BAMPFA’s newest commission to its Art Wall, the work by Edie Fake called Affordable Housing for Trans Elders.
The Pacific Symphony premieres a work it commissioned with 3 other California ensembles tonight, called Alone Together. It was written by John Christopher Wineglass during the pandemic, in part as a project that would link the groups (the others are the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, Fresno Philharmonic, and Monterey Symphony) at a time when live music performance was impossible. The title also refers to the solitude that many of us felt during the time when interacting with each other in ordinary ways was also put on hold. And it’s written in memory of George Floyd, whose death and subsequent protests and outcry began many difficult conversations about racial inequity around the country. The piece itself is scored for strings and percussion, and lasts about 9 minutes. It will stream for free on the Pacific Symphony’s YouTube and Facebook pages from its premiere tonight through June 23rd.
John Christopher Wineglass – Photo by Randy Tunnell
120 Students will be playing music in 34 ensembles in 12 backyards this Sunday afternoon at 2:00 as the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra presents “Live in the Backyard 2,” a virtual chamber music concert. The presentation will be on Zoom as well as via Facebook Live. As the name would suggest, this is the second such concert in the past year. And based on the success of the prior concert that they released in December, they had 20 more musicians in their Spring semester. In order to make rehearsing safe and possible, they divided their 120 students into 34 different chamber ensembles, which were coached by a dozen professional players in a dozen outdoor locations.
Photo by Martin Knize for Unsplash
A partnership that spans the state… Tonight a free recital premieres that’s a co-production of LA Opera and Opera San Jose. It’s a Celebration of Latina Composers, curated by tenor Russell Thomas, who’s artist-in-residence at LA Opera, and part of their “After Hours” series of concerts. There are 11 women composers representing Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, and Peru, going back as far as the 19th Century soprano Ángela Peralta, and including four contemporary composers, including Gabriela Lena Frank and Mariela Rodríguez. Several of the singers are alumni of LA Opera’s Young Artist Program, and three are currently Resident Artists at Opera San Jose. The performance premieres tonight at five on both companies’ YouTube and Facebook pages, and then will be available on demand for a limited time.
Photo of Vanessa Becerra courtesy of Opera San Jose
For the first time ever, San Francisco Performances has announced a summer season, now that they’re going to be able to have performances indoors at Herbst Theatre. Their “Summer Music Sessions” will be a festival of concerts about 75 minutes long, with no intermission, with some of their favorite artists leading the way, like pianists Marc-André Hamelin and Garrick Ohlsson, the Alexander String Quartet, guitarist William Kanengiser, and violinist Jennifer Koh. The series will be from July 14th to the 24th, with a total of nine concerts (tickets go on sale June 14th). There will be assigned seating with limited capacity, and masks will be required to be worn during the performances. During this past year, they’ve featured at first archive, and then more recently newly recorded concerts and recitals, that they’ve offered in their “Front Row” and “Sanctuary” series. In the meantime, here’s Marc-André Hamelin having some fun with Chopin’s Minute Waltz:
The LA Phil begins its long-awaited Hollywood Bowl season with a special free concert that Gustavo Dudamel will be conducting this Saturday night, specifically by invitation only for frontline medical and essential workers. And KUSC will be broadcasting it live, with Brian Lauritzen hosting. They’ve announced their schedule for the summer (after another special concert on May 22nd), and the lineup has more than 50 performances. There are a lot of traditions returned to — Fourth of July fireworks, Weekend Spectaculars, big-named guest artists, and Mozart Under the Stars, with Dudamel conducting 14 performances — and also a lot of impressive soloists and conductors making their Bowl debuts: Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his sister Isata Kanneh-Mason appear on different programs, violinist Maria Dueñas, singers Julia Bullock and countertenor John Holiday; plus several women conductors on the podium, including Gemma New, Ruth Reinhardt, and Tianyi Lu. Returning artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Helene Grimaud, and Anne Akiko Meyers will perform, and the season also marks the kickoff of the multi-year Pan-American Music Initiative, a project that Dudamel had hoped to launch last season.
KDFC is teaming with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for a special broadcast this Sunday night of Gian Carlo Menotti’s one-act opera, The Old Maid and the Thief. What sets this opera apart is that it was specifically written for radio, in 1939. And while the Conservatory has staged it many times before, this was the first time it had been performed as originally intended. With many of the tropes of radio dramas, including a narrator to set the scenes, and sound effects (provided by the Technology and Applied Composition department). It tells the story of a handsome beggar Bob (Marcus Lonardo) who knocks on the door of Miss Todd (Alexandra Sanchez), dazzling both her and her maid, Laetitia (Makenzie Jacquemin) – as they try to keep it a secret from nosy neighbor Miss Pinkerton (Katherine Ahmann). Dianne Nicolini will be introducing the production at 8:00 on Sunday.
This March, 18 dancers from American Ballet Theatre formed their own bubble, and were developing and rehearsing works at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. They then performed several pieces live in front of an audience in April. Now, that program, called “Uniting in Movement” is available for ticketed on-demand viewing from today through the 26th. It was the first performance at the theater since March of last year, and one of the works, by choreographer Lauren Lovette (who’s a Principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet) had just been created in the days leading up to last year’s lockdown. There was also a work by choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie, to music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Billy Strayhorn, and two other, classical pas de deux to Tchaikovsky and Auber.
In their final “Explorers” concert called “Transcendence,” [email protected] presents the Calidore String Quartet this Sunday, in a concert that suggests the turning of a corner. They’ll play Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, which was written when Schubert was in failing health, and wasn’t published until after his own death, along with Samuel Barber’s Quartet, the second movement of which became the standalone “Adagio.” That piece has a long association with mourning and times of national tragedy. The quartet says of the program: We perform these two powerful and cathartic works to console and offer hope as we emerge from a turbulent and challenging period in history.” Just ahead, beginning in mid-July, the 19th season of the [email protected] Summer festival called “Gather” will run for three weekends, with virtual performances, and some in-person concerts.
Photo of the Calidore Quartet by Marco Borggreve
Santa Barbara Symphony is wrapping up its season with a program that honors “the strength, perseverance, hope, creativity, and community of Santa Barbara.” It’s the end of a long and difficult season, and the program is called “Triumph.” Nir Kabaretti will lead a fanfare by Benjamin Britten, Beethoven’s beloved Seventh symphony, and pianist Awadagin Pratt plays Mozart’s piano concerto No. 12 in A Major. There will also be a movement from a guitar concerto by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, played by 13-year-old soloist Joseph Malvinni, who won the 2021 Santa Barbara Youth Symphony Concerto Competition.
Photo of Nir Kabaretti by David Bazemore
The concert premiere of the Redwood Violin happens this Saturday evening – the instrument that luthier Andrew Carruthers has made from materials that are all sourced from within 25 miles of his workshop. The instrument will be played by the co-concertmaster of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Young People’s Chamber Orchestra, Aedan Seaver, playing a work written for the occasion by YPCO cellist Gwendolyn Przyjazna. The concert was recorded at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma in April, and features music by underrepresented composers including Marianne von Martinez, Johan Helmich Roman, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Scott Joplin, and William Grant Still. And this Tuesday evening, the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra will play its final virtual concert of the season, with a program called “Wanderlust,” with music by Britten, Holst, and Leonard Bernstein.
Just before the lockdown began, violinist and MacArthur “genius” Vijay Gupta played a concert at The Wallis of chamber music that had been written by his wife, Reena Esmail. In October, they released it on an album with the title “Breathe: Music of Reena Esmail.” The recent COVID crisis in India has led them to re-release the album on Bandcamp, with all the proceeds through the end of May going to the non-profit BREATHE INDIA, which is delivering desperately needed oxygen concentrators to Indian hospitals. The re-release includes the Piano Trio, and four other works, two of them not on the original recording. Tomorrow evening at 6, Gupta is the guest for The Salastina’s regular Zoom “Happy Hour” of music and conversation. It’s free, but requires a reservation.
Playing music for an appreciative audience is always rewarding, and a group of cellists in a little coastal town in Denmark has found a warm reception in an unlikely venue: playing in a barn for cows (along with a limited number of people as well). It’s the “Scandinavian Cello School,” founded by cellist Jacob Shaw, who helps young players both musically and with some of the nuts and bolts of the professional life: planning concert programs, and dealing with work/life balance, and more. Playing for the cows might have been a bit of a distraction (and a chance to play in front of an audience as things had ground to a halt) but now the word has gotten out, it’s bound to be a destination for cow and cello-loving audiences.
This Sunday night at 7 on From the Top, it’s a blast from the not too distant past, as the Fervida Piano Trio from Burlingame appears. Their name is from the Latin word for passionate, and they play on a program that was taped in Portland, Maine, at the end of 2019, hosted by pianist Orli Shaham. The repertoire is the opening movement from Beethoven’s “Ghost Trio” (Op. 70, No. 1) The group was invited to play on the national broadcast after they won the gold medal in the 2019 Junior Division of the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition at Notre Dame University in Indiana. Here are violinist Sean Mori, cellist Angeline Kiang, and pianist Karina Tseng at that competition.
It’s a celebration of Mother’s Day with plenty of strings and trumpets, as The Ford offers a “Día de las Madres” free concert on Sunday afternoon. There’s a lineup of some great Mariachi performances from seasons past, but notably (and appropriately for the day) there are more women musicians than men in this particular show. Along with Mariachi Ángeles de Pepe Martínez Jr. and Steeven Sandoval’s groups, there are five all-female ensembles: New York City’s Flor de Toloache, Las Colibrí, Mariachi Femenil Nuevo Tecalitlán, Marisa Ronstadt, and the young band from the training academy called Las Jovencitas. Plus, Ballet Folklorico Ollin, one of the top Mexican folk dance groups in the United States. The program starts at 3:30 on The Ford’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
Starting at 10am this Sunday, the Crowden School in Berkeley will be offering a free day-long outdoor piano concert called “Hear Together”. It’s their celebration of the return to live music performances, and they’re pulling out all the stops. The first hour will be Crowden students and faculty, followed by 45 minute sets (with 15 minute breaks) by Monica Chew, Liz Dorman, Tammy Hall and Leberta Lorál, Marcos Silva, Allegra Chapman, and Sarah Cahill. In the afternoon, composer Dylan Mattingly will play improvisations, and the culmination of the day, starting at 5:00, will be Robert Fleitz playing Mattingly’s epic work (in both scale and inspiration) Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field. Over the course of two hours, he reimagines the story of the Iliad, updating and bringing it into a more modern world that includes baseball. Although free, tickets have to be reserved in advance, and masks have to be worn during the performances.
A new oratorio called Naia: The Spirit of Hoyo Negro is being premiered this week, by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. It’s part of the tenth year of their Oratorio Project; they worked for 20 weeks with approximately 80 students from Van Nuys High School as the students wrote the libretto, and then the melodic lines. The subject is about an actual archeological find from an underwater cave near the Yucatan peninsula. The skeleton of a prehistoric teenager, who’s come to be known as Naia, was found there, undisturbed, after 13,000 years. Because she apparently was traveling alone, her story resonated with the students who have been dealing with their own isolation during the pandemic. The oratorio is being released over the course of this week, with the full performance to be premiered on Friday.
A work inspired by poetry… this Saturday evening, in the first of a series of concert films called “Poetry in Motion,” California Symphony will present the premiere of a piece by their latest Young American Composer in residence, Viet Cuong. It’s called Next Week’s Trees, inspired by Mary Oliver’s poem “Walking to Oak-Head Pond, and Thinking of the Ponds I Will Visit in the Next Days and Weeks.” This is the first work that Cuong has written for the ensemble; the launch of his three-year residency was in the midst of last year’s closures. He says that the piece is an appropriate reflection of our times: “a gentle reminder of the uncertainty of the future, the confident hope of the present, and the propulsive force of life that drives us through any doubt that a new day will arrive.”
The Soraya has announced that their next artist-in-residence is Étienne Gara, the artistic director and founder of Delirium Musicum. Serving as a bit of a virtual introduction to the violinist, starting this Thursday, will be a series of short films that he made with fellow violinist and Delirium’s management director, YuEun Gemma Kim. When venues closed and gigs cancelled last year, they got in a 1971 Volkswagen Westfalia bus, and toured California in what they called MusiKaravan. They played for farm workers, winemakers, and whoever happened to be within earshot (including some ostriches.) Episodes filmed in different locations around the state will be released on Thursdays through the summer. It’s a two year residency, so there will be opportunities for live performances in the future.
One of the dangers of being in a small ensemble is that the effect of any personnel change is bound to be significant, and especially amplified. Last year, amid the pandemic, the Horszowski Trio’s founding cellist made the decision to leave the group, and so violinist Jesse Mills and pianist Rieko Aizawa (who are married) have a new partner, their longtime friend cellist Ole Akahoshi, who teaches at the Yale School of Music. Music at Kohl Mansion will be presenting a virtual performance by the newly reconstituted trio this Sunday evening, with a repeat the following Thursday. On the program will be music by Sibelius and Schubert.
For their past few Symphony Thursdays @ 7pm concerts, the Pacific Symphony has been focusing on works by J.S. Bach – the most recent, this past Thursday, was the second Brandenburg Concerto, but there have also been programs featuring the Keyboard Concerto No. 1 with pianist Claire Huangci, and the Concerto for Violin and Oboe with Dennis Kim and Ted Sugata. Carl St. Clair leads the musicians in these performances (along with some ‘from the vault’) each week, recorded in Segerstrom Concert Hall. This upcoming Thursday evening, Anne Akiko Meyers joins them for The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Antonin Dvorak was fascinated by the music he encountered when he came to America in the 1890s, leading up to the premiere of his “New World” Symphony with the New York Philharmonic. And when he spent time in Spillville, Iowa in the summer of 1893, he had a chance to hear not only spirituals, but also music of the Iroquois people who lived nearby. Those influences show up in his 9th symphony, as well as two of his chamber works that are nicknamed “American” – a quartet and quintet. Tomorrow night, the Gold Coast Chamber Players in Lafayette will be presenting a virtual concert with both those pieces (played by the Alexander String Quartet, and violist and GCCP Artistic Director, Pamela Freund-Striplen). And they’ll be joined by soprano Michele Kennedy and Mary Youngblood, who plays the Native American flute. There’s also a pre-concert talk by musicologist Kai Christiansen.
The latest digital short that LA Opera is premiering today is called let me come in – it was written for soprano Angel Blue by composer David Lang, with accompaniment by viola, cello, and percussion. The text is from the biblical Song of Songs, specifically a moment as a woman “awaits the knock of her lover on her door.” The images for the short are from an obscure 1928 German film called Pawns of Passion. The director of let me come in is Bill Morrison, who has a track record with repurposing old film. His 2002 film Decasia edited together old silver nitrate reels of film in various states of disrepair – that filmstock itself becomes so unstable and combustible as it ages, each frame needs to be scanned individually, because it’s dangerous to run it through a projector. The Pawns of Passion footage, out of context from its original film, takes on new meaning with the music that’s been written for it.
April 29th is International Dance Day, and it’s also almost the conclusion of Films.Dance, a festival of 15 short dance films that they’ve been releasing, one a week, since the end of January. It’s a production of the LA-based Jacob Jonas The Company, and involves more than 150 artists from 25 countries. The most recent film to be released is “Plume,” with 21 acrobats leaping, rolling, and being captured in mid-flight. The cinematography, editing, as well as animated elements combine to create a performance that would be impossible to witness in real life. For the soundtrack, violinist Hilary Hahn plays an evocative solo score by Gaelynn Lea, who won NPR’s ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ several years ago. Films.Dance is a co-presentation of the Soraya and the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, with Chicago’s Harris Theater.
The Pivot series of adventurous musical programming was launched by San Francisco Performances five years ago this spring, with an unexpected bit of programming from the Jack Quartet – they played the third string quartet of Georg Friedrich Haas, which is to be performed in the dark. They were positioned throughout the Strand Theater, surrounding the audience, and played the work from memory. This year’s virtual Pivot series has the quartet returning, with pianist and composer Conrad Tao, in a program that was developed when the quartet was in a ‘digital residency’ at the Library of Congress. That concert premieres tomorrow, joining the other free offerings of the series: the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, and versatile singer Theo Bleckmann, whose program is called “Songs for Voice, Loops, and Toys.”
“The Way Forward” is a film that brings together alumni, students, artists-in-residence of the Colburn School and Conservatory for a concert that spans the globe. It was meant to redefine how we experience concerts in our current era: filmed remotely all over the world – with Esa-Pekka Salonen giving a downbeat next to the Baltic Sea in Finland, which cues brass and percussion players in Zipper Hall… There are guest artists like pianist Danielle de Niese singing Handel, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet accompanying a Fauré work for cello. The Calidore String Quartet plays a movement of Mendelssohn’s Octet with a Conservatory ensemble in residence. The grand finale, though, is Eric Whitacre’s “Virtual Choir 6: Sing Gently” which the Colburn School helped produce, with 17,572 singers from 129 countries. The film “The Way Forward” premieres tomorrow at noon on the Colburn website, and there’s an in-person screening at Zipper Hall on the evening of May 1st.
The San Francisco Symphony has announced that there will be live performances in Davies Symphony Hall, beginning with a pair of free concerts especially for medical workers, first responders, community partners, and members of the arts community. Those concerts will take place on May 6 and 7, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Then there will be seven concert programs on Thursdays and Fridays through May and June, led by guest conductors Jeremy Denk, James Gaffigan, Ken-David Masur, Joseph Young, Joshua Weilerstein, with Salonen returning for the final two in June. Tickets for the general public will go on sale on May 6th, and there will be a reduced audience size, with assigned seating to maximize physical distancing. The concerts will be about 75 minutes with no intermission, and the programming reflects the orchestration and size of the ensemble that’s safest for the audience and players. In announcing the performances, Esa-Pekka Salonen said: “We go into these concerts having worked as a unit to bring music into your homes in unique and meaningful ways this year. We now welcome audiences into our home—something we didn’t realize we had taken for granted. Let’s get started, together.”
A flute that had been missing for nine years has finally gotten back to its owner. The instrument was left in a cab in Boston by Heidi Slyker at the end of a long day, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. She was going to have her first rehearsal the next day with the New England Symphony, where she’d just gotten a position. The silver flute, made by Brannen Brothers had cost about 10-thousand dollars then, and about 13-thousand now, with special modifications and engraving. She tried to track down the instrument through the cab company, but had no luck, and after filing a police report, spent years looking at eBay and pawn shops hoping to find it. When someone came into a music store looking for an appraisal for a flute, it turned out to be the cabbie from nine years earlier. Photos and the serial number eventually led the music store back to Heidi Slyker, who’s been reunited with the instrument.
There are more than two dozen young classical musicians from California who will be taking part in this summer’s National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. The Carnegie Hall program brings together more than 200 of the best players from across the country. Because of Covid, they won’t be able to have a concert at Carnegie Hall (it’s closed until the fall), or go on tour after their month-long residency at the State University of New York at Purchase, as in previous years. But they will be able to gather and play in person – which they couldn’t last year at all – and have lessons, masterclasses, mentoring from faculty, and concerts. 41 states are represented in the ensembles this year – the NYO, NYO2 (the group for slightly younger players) and the NYO Jazz ensemble, which includes another 6 players from California. Here’s one of the virtual performances from last year’s session:
Mission: Commission is a podcast that goes inside the process of three composers as they write a work that’s been specifically commissioned for this project. It’s produced by Miller Theatre, which is part of the Columbia University School of the Arts. The composers, Courtney Bryan, Augusta Read Thomas, and Marcos Balter, have just six weeks to complete the piece. Through interviews, discussions with collaborators, and voice memo diary entries, they take the listener through the experience of false starts and sudden discoveries. The aim is to “demystify” how classical music gets made, and the final result will be a duet for trombone and piano, and solo pieces for percussion and harp.
Francesco Lecce-Chong leads the Santa Rosa Symphony in a live-streamed concert this Sunday afternoon, with a program that includes romancing, dancing, and serenading. It’s got works by two Pulitzer Prize-winning composers, Caroline Shaw, and the SRS’s Artistic Partner this season, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. It will open with Shaw’s Entr’acte for String Orchestra, followed by Zwilich’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra, featuring concertmaster Joseph Edelberg. Then there’s a Danzon by Arturo Marquez (although it might not be the one you’re thinking of), ending with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C Major for string orchestra. Subscribers will be able to watch the concert beyond its premiere date, but this season the Santa Rosa Symphony is making the livestream of the concerts available to be watched for free by all.
In this Friday’s “Close Quarters” virtual performance, the music for members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has been selected by composer Jessie Montgomery. It’s the first of two concerts that she’ll curate, and she’s chosen works by three other composers: Alyssa Weinberg, Anna Meredith, and Marcos Balter. The program is called Sonic Shift, and will have visuals augmented by animator Will Kim. Several of the pieces use the string quartet plus another instrument. Weinberg’s Still Life adds a clarinet, Meredith will have Two Movements for Trumpet and Quartet as well as Tuggemo, which is for quartet and electronics. The final work, Bladed Stance by Balter, is for flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, viola, and cello. Jessie Montgomery’s own music has been appearing on concert programs more and more frequently in the past several years, with commissions from organizations such as Carnegie Hall, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and the New World Symphony.
A video primer for kids about how to be a composer… and the quick answer is that they can already be one. Danny Clay leads the four-part series called The Composer’s Playbook with the help of two young friends, as well as ensembles like the Friction and Kronos Quartets, Delphi Trio, the choir Volti, and musicians from the MyCincinnati Youth Orchestra. It’s presented on the Noe Music website, as part of their Noe Music Kids program. Topics include finding sounds (described as musical puzzle pieces) and figuring out how to notate your compositions so that it can be played again. And all explained through demonstrations, animations, and musical examples. The videos are about a half hour long, with three of the four posted so far. While it’s specifically geared toward kids ages 6-10, they’re for “curious minds of all ages.”
It’s a concert of collaboration for One Found Sound’s next performance, Thursday evening. There will be performance videos of ‘virtual side by side’ pieces with students from Oakland’s Edna Brewer Middle School, as well as students from the El Sistema-inspired Enriching Lives Through Music program, based in San Rafael. They’ll also have live pairings of solo performers from One Found Sound with poets, for a collaboration that will mix violin, viola, oboe and cello with the spoken word. Poets Kar Johnson, Thea Matthews, Christine No and Preeti Vangani will read new works in the performance which begins at 6 pm.
Pacific Opera Project returns to live in-person performance this weekend, revisiting the very first production they staged in 2011, Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti. When the performance restrictions were lifted in LA county, Artistic Director and company founder Josh Shaw began the search for where the performances would be able to be staged. The venue will be the Heritage Square Museum lawn, with audience members spaced apart, and in pods of five people maximum. Section One will have seats (which are in pairs), and others should plan on bringing chairs or blankets. The small cast of five singers, the jazz trio “orchestra,” and its running time of less than an hour helps to make it a safer choice. The opera follows a day in the life of a young couple, Sam and Dinah, who live in suburbia, with a less than idyllic marriage.
San Francisco Opera is going to be presenting its first drive-in production this Friday, of Rossini’s Barber of Seville – a reworking of the opera that’s trimmed to about 90 minutes, so it can have no intermission. There will be a total of eleven performances through May 15th at the Marin Center in San Rafael, with audiences at the fairground, and simulcast viewing at Lagoon Park. This is a new sort of presentation for the company, which has been livestreaming archival works (including, recently, their Ring Cycle from a few seasons ago) and offering other virtual programs. Lucas Meachem will be singing the role of Figaro in the production, which is sung in English, and Roderick Cox will be conducting the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. SFO will also be presenting three concerts by the Adler fellows at the same venue on April 29th, May 6th, and May 13th.
Every year for more than three decades, LA Master Chorale has held a High School Choir Festival – and this Friday morning, they’ll release a virtual Festival Day video that will include three new performances, as well as highlights from past years. 26 school choirs will be represented in the video, with hundreds of students, which include an arrangement of Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy,” the piece “Es Tu Tiempo” by Francisco Nuñez (the founder of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City), and “Resilience” by Abby Betinis. Those last two works have special resonance – the Nuñez was premiered at this festival 7 years ago, and the singers have been forced by circumstances to show resilience in the face of a difficult year. Artistic Director Grant Gershon describes the festival as “a celebration of singing as a community,” even when that’s not possible to do in person. Here’s a glimpse of a Festival when it was able to held at Walt Disney Concert Hall:
It seems hard to believe, but there are plenty of California Summer Music Festivals making plans to return (slowly and carefully) this season. They’re subject to change, given all of the variables involved, but here’s a quick snapshot of the way some of them stand now.
- Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara will be having guest artists including cellist Steven Isserlis, composer and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey, and pianist Conrad Tao – Michael Tilson Thomas will also be a guest conductor. (June 28-Aug 7)
- [email protected] announced its season, called “Gather,” with nine live-streamed concert performances over three weekends, and they hope to be able to have in-person, reduced capacity and distanced audiences at the Spieker Center for the Arts, as well as the Menlo School campus lawn. (July 16-Aug 1)
- Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon Music Festival, with period instrument performances, have chosen the theme of “Love and Longing: Reaching Across the Distance.” They’ll have a series of virtual concerts, as well as a handful of in-person performances with limited seating which will also be livestreamed. (July 17-Aug 1)
- Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo plans an 8-day festival, with both indoor and outdoor venues. (July 24-31)
- La Jolla Music Society SummerFest in San Diego will have the theme of “Self and Sound,” with music that composers have infused with some of their own autobiographies, including premieres by Gabriela Lena Frank and Andrew Norman. (July 30-Aug 20)
- The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz will be presenting its second virtual season, free to the public, over the July 31st and August 7th weekends.
- The Ojai Festival will be delaying its live in-person events until mid-September.
The 24 Preludes and Fugues of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I explore all of the major and minor keys in turn – it’s a collection that every pianist is likely to have a relationship with, whether as pieces for practice, or competition, or recitals. Jeremy Denk had been in the midst of a long series of concerts playing the entire first book when the pandemic hit. The 300th anniversary of the collection is in 2022, and the concerts were by way of leading up to that celebration. He plays a Cal Performances At Home ticketed concert that premieres tonight, with a complete performance, and although he says “writing a program note for this landmark of music is like blurbing The Bible,” talented writer that he is, in his notes he says: “Its declared purpose was to be a helpful collection of teaching pieces. I’d argue it’s the most generous, rhapsodic, genial, heartbreaking set of lessons ever created.”
Scoring ‘Indiana’ over four decades… The fifth (so-far unnamed) and reportedly the final installment in the Indiana Jones saga will star Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and will have an original score by John Williams. The composer, who’s now 89, scored each of the previous films: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), …Temple of Doom (1984), … Last Crusade (1989), and 13 years ago, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008.) The new movie, which is going to be released in the Summer of 2022, will be directed by James Mangold, who directed Ford v Ferrari and Logan. The original March from Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most recognizable and played of his themes, although it lost its chance at an Oscar to Vangelis’s score for Chariots of Fire.
Love & Secrets: A Domestic Trilogy is Opera San Jose’s exploration of romance in a time when new strains have been put on many relationships. It’s a performance of three short operas with love at their core. Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s early 20th Century comedy of errors Il segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s Secret) about suspected infidelity that’s actually something entirely other. Ned Rorem’s Four Dialogues follows a couple from their chance meeting through breakup in four episodes with words by American poet Frank O’Hara. And they’ll end with The Husbands by Tom Cipullo, from 1993, based on text by poet William Carpenter, which “summons visions of seasons long past in a stunning rumination on widows, tenderly keeping their departed spouses forever present in their hearts.” The performances were recorded in OSJ’s new multimedia studio, and for the first time since the pandemic, singers will be accompanied by members of the Opera San Jose Orchestra.
The Santa Barbara Symphony celebrates the common man… and woman, in a ticketed concert they’ll be streaming this Saturday at 7pm. It’s an all-American program, with Aaron Copland’s famed fanfare, as well as Joan Tower’s response, Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. The string section is spotlighted in works by George Walker, and late Santa Barbara composer Robin Frost, and the woodwinds in music by Samuel Barber for wind quintet. They’ll be led by Music and Artistic Director Nir Kabaretti, and joined by bass-baritone Cedric Berry for a selection of Old American Songs by Copland, and the world premiere of the orchestral version of a very new piece from a song cycle by LA-based composer George N. Gianopoulos.
Indre Viskontas brings together the world of neuroscience and music, teaching both at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the University of San Francisco. She has the added advantage of not just studying how the brain uses and recognizes music, she’s also a soprano who’s been on the other side of the footlights. She’s written a book called “How Music Can Make You Better,” and tonight will be the guest on a free virtual “Behind the Book” event through CaltechLive!, speaking about the book and being interviewed by Caltech’s director of chamber music, Maia Jasper White. Here’s a TEDx talk she gave a few years ago at Herbst Theatre:
The return of a summer tradition: Hollywood Bowl has announced it’s going to be offering a 2021 Summer Season, which will include four free concerts for those who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic: healthcare and essential workers, and first responders. The full details will be announced on May 11, but Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil will play the first two free concerts on the 15th and 22nd of May, and there’s a Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular planned. They’ll be capping audience capacity at about 4,000, with the hope that that can increase when it’s safe to do so. And other safety protocols will include distancing, mask policy, and contactless ticketing. There will be a 14-week season for the Bowl, and a 15-week season for The Ford, which will begin in late July.
They’re calling it A Celebration of Musicians Around the Bay, and tomorrow night, four groups will take part in a virtual showcase, hosted by the Bay Area Music Consortium. That’s an umbrella group formed by Berkeley Chamber Performances, Gold Coast Chamber Players from Lafayette, Mill Valley Chamber Music Society, and San Francisco’s Noe Music. They joined forces a few years ago to be able to be more effective in drawing performers while keeping costs low. The ensembles on tomorrow night’s program are the Friction Quartet, Quinteto Latino, Indian music virtuoso Alam Khan, and the four members of the Breshears family who make up the Stars Aligned Siblings quartet (who range in age from 8 to 14). For a young ensemble, they’ve already toured extensively, won competitions, and appeared on such shows as “From the Top.”
A 5-million dollar gift to the Los Angeles Opera from Terri and Jerry Kohl will fund a summer outdoor production of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, the first live, in-person staging the company will have mounted since March of last year. It’s the largest contribution during the COVID-19 era, and one of the largest ever in the history of the Opera. The Kohls will also be funding a challenge grant to support the company’s endowment, which will benefit the orchestra’s core group of musicians, making them sole underwriters for the LA Opera Orchestra. This windfall comes after 13 months of dark stages, and the company hopes and expects to be able to return to performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in September.
Yo-Yo Ma, in addition to playing performances for decades, has been acting as a cultural ambassador, and interacting with artists and people all around the world. He chronicles some of his experiences in a new release through Audible called Beginner’s Mind. The title refers to the importance of having an open mind if one wants to learn. He shares stories about reaching across borders, and the need for empathy in doing so. It’s part of their “Words + Music” series, and will also include some musical performances too. There are several other artists in the series who are best known for pop music, like Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, and Sting, but pianist Jonathan Biss has also released Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven. It’s part of the Audible Plus catalog, but Beginner’s Mind will be offered to listeners in the U.S. free of charge.
As the Adler Fellows at San Francisco Opera prepare for their “drive-in” concerts that take place at the end of the month and early in May, they’ve got a bit of equipment helping them in their rehearsals. It’s a hardware and software combo, “Aloha By Elk.” (The company Elk is based in Sweden.) It minimizes the inherent lag that you get using a regular video chat or conferencing application, to the point where it’s unable to be perceived by the users. That allows singers and pianists to work together at a distance, and still be in sync. The device is pocket-sized, and the Opera is helping beta-test the system, which will be able to take advantage of 5G as it’s rolled out (currently there needs to be a direct wired connection). The name of the app was inspired by Elvis’s 1973 concert, “Aloha From Hawaii,” which was broadcast internationally using then state-of-the-art satellite technology.
A wedding present serves as a centerpiece for a recital by flutist Catherine Gregory and pianist David Kaplan, presented by the LA-based Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra. The piece that the composer Timo Andres gave them on the occasion of their marriage is called Steady Gaze, which Andres describes this way: “Steady Gaze is a catalog of hundreds of different ways – from offhand to effusive – of saying the same thing.” There are other duets by Amy Beach, William Grant Still, Prokofiev, and David Lang, as well as two solo works (one for each of them) by Debussy and Caroline Shaw. The flute solo Syrinx is introduced by Catherine Gregory with the mythological story of unrequited affection that inspired Debussy… and David Kaplan plays Shaw’s Gustave Le Gray, a work named for an early pioneer in French photography, which draws on quotations from a Chopin Mazurka. The concert was recorded in Santa Monica in February.
The latest edition of “Currents” from the San Francisco Symphony is called Thundersong, and is an introduction to some of the ways traditional American Indian music has influenced classical repertoire. Hosted by composer and pianist Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, who’s a member of the Chickasaw Nation, the works combine the spirit and storytelling tradition with instruments found in a symphony orchestra. The title work, by Tate, is a timpani solo, paying tribute to the Chickasaw lore that tells of ancestors residing in the clouds, arguing to make thunder. There are several movements from Louis Ballard’s Katcina Dances for cello and piano, and some historical context for the works. It’s part of the SFSymphony+ streaming subscription service, which includes “Soundbox” programs, as well as free digital concert events.
The very first time the Los Angeles Philharmonic played at the Hollywood Bowl was on Easter Sunday of 1921. They celebrated that centennial anniversary by releasing a new episode of their Sound/Stage series, called “Easter Sunrise at the Hollywood Bowl.” Gustavo Dudamel and members of the orchestra are joined by soprano Nadine Sierra, who sings Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate, and the sister duo of gospel singers who perform as “Mary Mary.” They close the performance off with a hymn that was part of the original concert a hundred years ago.
As the father of the string quartet as a form, Haydn is naturally very special to the ensembles that continue to play them. The St. Lawrence String Quartet is no exception, and wanted to make some of their favorite works of Haydn available to audience members who wouldn’t be able to see them live in concert as performing venues were closed. Last summer they made available for free on their website a recording of his Opus 20 quartets, recorded in an empty Bing Concert Hall. And this Friday afternoon, they’ll begin a series of six concerts playing the Opus 76 quartets. They’ll stream first from the Bing, and then over the course of several Friday afternoons from other Stanford locations, where they’ve long been in residence. The final concert will be streamed on May 28th from Charleston, South Carolina, where Geoff Nuttall directs the chamber music program at the summer Spoleto Festival.
The Verdi Chorus is presenting their second virtual concert featuring the Fox Singers this Sunday night, kicking off their 38th season with “Amore della Vita”… Love of Life. The Fox Singers is the smaller professional ensemble from within the Chorus, and six of them and their accompanist will appear in the program that’s viewable on the Verdi Chorus website from April 11th through the 25th. The repertoire will be Neapolitan and Italian songs (earlier in the pandemic, they presented Amor y Odio, Songs of Spain and the New World). The repertoire that artistic director Anne Marie Ketchum and the full ensemble have made their mainstay are the choruses from grand operas, as here, in “Va Pensiero” from Verdi’s Nabucco.
For their “Symphony Thursdays” video this week, pianist Olga Kern is featured in a concert performance led by Carl St. Clair that opened the Pacific Symphony’s season in 2016. She’s playing Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, an audience favorite which she loves in part because of a family connection. Her great-great grandmother was a mezzo-soprano who not only sang Rachmaninoff’s music, but was accompanied by the composer in concert. Kern played his Piano Concerto No. 3 when she shared the gold medal at the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Her son Vladislav Kern accompanied her to the Bay Area last year just before the shutdown, and played in recitals with her through Chamber Music San Francisco.
The first of a series of video concerts by members of Berkeley Symphony is called “REAL Berkeley: Rad Women.” The word REAL in the name actually stands for “Rad, Edgy, Audacious, and Loving.” It’s introduced by author Kate Schatz, who wrote Rad American Women A-Z. It begins with a chamber work called Tessellations by Bay Area native Gabriella Smith, followed by a movement from a piano trio by Clara Schumann. The final piece is by Los Angeles-based composer Reena Esmail, called Meri Sakhi Ki Avaaz (My Sister’s Voice). It takes as its starting point the Flower Duet from Delibes’ opera Lakme, which as Esmail points out, is supposed to be two Indian women singing together by a river. In her piece, two South Asian women with different specialties sing together: one with the language of traditional classical Indian music, and the other, in a western operatic tradition. Esmail describes the piece as “bringing different strands into dialogue with one another.”
Among the many sketches that Mozart left uncompleted when he died, were four violin sonatas. To the casual listener, they just sound like Mozart. But to a musicologist like Timothy Jones, it was a challenge that he set for himself – to complete them in the style that Mozart would have. He tried to determine exactly when they were written, so he could know their context: what other pieces were written at the same time, and where along Mozart’s growth and path as a composer did they fall? The “Violin Sonatas Fragment Completions” have just been released on a new recording with violinist Rachel Podger (who had already recorded all of the sonatas that Mozart himself finished) and Christopher Glynn on fortepiano. Showing that Mozart could have gone any number of directions, Timothy Jones wrote a couple of different endings to several of them, which appear on the new recording beginning the same way, before they diverge.
For centuries, the parts of a violin have come from all over the world – there are certain types of wood that are frequently used that only grow in exotic locales. But a Santa Rosa-based luthier, Andrew Carruthers, is in the midst of a project he calls The Redwood Violin. He’s going about creating a violin using materials that all come from within 25 miles of his workshop. From the instrument’s top, made from a Redwood, to its back, made from Gravenstein Apple wood, plus all of the “tendon glue,” (from Sonoma county cows), varnish and turpentine, Carruthers is locally-sourcing the materials, and documenting the process. Ultimately, the finished instrument will be a reflection of the area, and he has plans for the instrument to play music composed locally, with local ensembles.
Brown Sounds is the latest digital short by the LA Opera, featuring mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis (who recently appeared in their productions of Eurydice and Roberto Devereux). She’s singing a piece of music that was written for her when she was a graduate student. The text, a poem by Henry Dumas, had made such an impression upon her when she recited it for a Black History Month celebration, that she asked a friend, composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson to set it for a recital. She was joined onstage by a dancer from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center when she gave its first performance eight years ago. The digital short has the same spare piano part, and a dancer, this time Lateef Williams, in a spacious greenhouse – big enough to fit trees – that is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Bryce-Davis describes the project as a “joyous celebration of Black art, Black bodies, and Black consciousness.”
“Double Bass Dimensions” takes a look at one of the lowest and biggest instruments of the orchestra, from the point of view of California Symphony Principal Double Bassist Andy Butler. In the four-part series of videos, he’ll explain a little bit about his instrument, the repertoire that is associated with it, and then play a work that is usually performed by other, higher instruments. The first was Saint-Saens’ “The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals, which is a mainstay for cello; then it was Bach’s “Air on the G String,” generally a showstopper for the violin. Butler began playing with the ensemble in 1992, as a substitute, and has been Principal since 2007, as well as playing with half a dozen other orchestras in the Bay Area.
In a sign that it’s looking forward to the eventual return of live shows in its venues, Los Angeles’s The Music Center has announced that it’s the first performing arts organization to earn the “UL Verified Healthy Buildings Mark” for indoor air quality. Among the modifications that led to the rating, they’ve made upgrades to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in their four venues: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum, and the Ahmanson Theatre. (They’ve also upgraded their administrative buildings.) The air in the spaces will be filtered and circulated every ten or fifteen minutes, and they’ve made several additional changes, including an enhanced cleaning program, contactless environments and procedures, added hand sanitizer dispensers and signage to enforce social distancing and mask wearing guidelines. They’re also subject to continued inspections to ensure that they remain in compliance with the UL verification standards.
The love that grows over the course of the opera Pepito is between an older rescue dog in a shelter, and his new adoptive family. The LA-based New Opera West has released an animated video of the scene in which they meet. The full work is a comedic one-act by composer Nicolas Lell Benavides and librettist Marella Martin Koch – commissioned originally by Washington National Opera, and performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC during the 2018/19 season. This adaptation is co-produced with San Francisco’s Muttville Senior Dog Rescue; Emily Thebaut, co-founder of NOW, had originally hoped to have a performance of the work at a concert where pets would be welcome, to be followed by animal adoptions, but COVID prevented that. One of the aims of New Opera West is to expand opera audiences by working with other art forms, and Thebaut had wanted to explore animation before circumstances made it necessary.
At the beginning of the pandemic, L.A.-based composer Richard Danielpour was told by his doctor that his asthma put him into the higher-risk category, and that he should keep entirely at home. He spent the early days with frequent insomnia, finding himself waking up at 2 a.m. each night. He did write the libretto to an opera during those night hours, but he really needed to be able to sleep. He began listening to the recordings of Simone Dinnerstein, and found they were able to help him calm down and finally get rest. He had already begun thinking of a work he wanted to write – an hour-long solo piece of gratitude for the heroes of the pandemic: nurses, doctors, first responders, teachers, scientists, as well as those who didn’t survive. Oregon Bach Festival had earlier commissioned his The Passion of Yeshua, and when he was talking with them about this new project, they suggested Dinnerstein as a perfect match. The result is An American Mosaic, a recording of which (recorded at her Brooklyn home) is being released this week.
A nostalgic musical tour around some of San Francisco’s landmark locations… Quartet San Francisco’s latest video is called Ives Been Thinking About You. That’s not a typo, since embedded in the piece is a tribute to Charles Ives, who used to layer tunes from his childhood amid complicated harmonies. Violinist and quartet founder Jeremy Cohen wrote the piece, which is described as a “Barbary Coast Bluegrass Blowout.” And the video, with the quartet’s members at such iconic locations as the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the Ferry Building, the Painted Ladies houses and a Redwood grove, is intercut with archival footage from the same sites. It was produced by the non-profit Music in Place, which early on in the pandemic stepped up to help musicians who were unable to perform get their music to a wider digital audience.
Violinist Gil Shaham joins the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Friday evening (for his debut performance with them) on their next “Close Quarters” performance. The audience will have a different point of view this time around, because the cinematographer will be filming from amid the players, giving a musicians’-eye view of the concert. There are two works on the program, Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, as well as a violin concerto by Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The free concert premieres Friday at 6:30 on their website and YouTube channel, and there’s a Zoom conversation with Shaham an hour earlier (requiring an RSVP).
To launch their “Close-Up” online recital series, Opera Parallèle is presenting “Celebrating the Spring Equinox” – the first of four programs that coincide with Spring celebrations (there’s also Earth Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day ahead.) The inaugural recital has soprano Shawnette Sulker, with pianist Zachary Gordin this Thursday at 5pm. The performances are free, and as they say, “with a spirit of new and light,” to allow the company to show off some of the talented performers they’ve worked with in their stage productions. The next full work that Opera Parallèle has planned is a “graphic novel opera” called Everest, about the 1996 disaster. It’s by composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer, and illustrated by Mark Simmons.
The Ojai Music Festival has decided to delay its season from the traditional June to September, in the hope and expectation that it will allow their 75th Festival to take place in person. There will still be an online buildup to the celebration over the summer, as well as events in other locations in anticipation of the season. Music Director John Adams has a lineup of composers and performers who will continue the “Ojai spirit” of adventure and exploration in music. There will be the premiere of a work by Dylan Mattingly, Sunt Lacrimae Rerum (These Are the Tears of Things) played by members of the LA Phil New Music Group. Samuel Carl Adams will have the West Coast premiere of his Chamber Concerto, and Rhiannon Giddons will collaborate with the Attacca Quartet, as well as solo in music by John Adams. Timo Andres will perform the 11-work collection for piano by a who’s who of composers called I Still Play, and there will be educational outreach through the BRAVO program, including a free community concert.
On Wednesday, two milestones will be celebrated in Monterey: exactly 300 years ago, J.S. Bach presented the six Brandenburg Concertos to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. As a job application, it’s pretty much unrivaled in history. But there’s at least one other bragging right Bach would be able to claim. When NASA was sending the Voyager spacecraft out to explore the unknown in 1977, they included onboard the “Golden Record” and player, which could carry information about the Earth and its culture to the far reaches of space. The very first track on that album was the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, and Voyager 1 is currently the farthest man-made object from Earth. In celebration of both the birthday and the inclusion on Voyager, there will be an afternoon and evening livestream with music, art, photography, and a panel discussion about the concertos’ significance. Since the Carmel Bach Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival have taken place in the region for decades, the music will be both traditional performances as well as jazz reimaginings.
A musical collaboration to help new and expectant mothers experiencing homelessness… “The Lullaby Project” began at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute about ten years ago, and has since appeared in communities across the country. The Bay Area’s program, at Noe Music, began just this January, and has already gone through its first cycle. It pairs the new, or soon-to-be mothers with songwriters who work with them to tailor make a lullaby for their child. The goals, they say, are supporting maternal health, helping in childhood development, and strengthening the bond between parent and child. It’s working with San Francisco’s Homeless Prenatal Program, which has more than 30 years of experience helping mothers deal with the demands of having children under difficult circumstances. Here’s an example of one of the finished lullabies:
Available for live chatting while it’s underway, members of the chamber music ensemble One Found Sound present a listening party tonight, with three music videos of contemporary works in live performance. The program, called “Ocean,” features pieces by composers 40 and under: Kevin Day, Angélica Negrón, and Ivan Trevino. And there’s a watery theme that runs throughout their season – after “Ocean” there will be events called “Spring” and “River.” The concert will open with Kevin Day’s The Mind is Like Water for violin and percussion, followed by Negrón’s Marejada for string quartet (the word for surge, or tidal wave). Ivan Trevino, who’s a percussionist, wrote Song Book Vol. 3 for wind quintet and percussion. There’s an original performance by choreographer and dancer Babatunji Johnson, and there are also conversations with two of the composers. The comfortable and relaxed atmosphere that One Found Sound has always maintained for their live concerts extends into the virtual concert world, as chatting with performers during the performance is encouraged. The premiere streams live at 6pm.
A new “re-granting” initiative from YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) and the LA Philharmonic will fund a half-million dollars of music education programs across the country during its first grant cycle. It’s called Partners in Music Learning, and the goal is to both support existing organizations that teach and mentor young people in music, and also create a network that teachers can use to share best practices and collaborate with each other. The first year they’re targeting specific underserved areas of the country, including Southern California and some of the Southwestern states, along with the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Plains and Midwest. How much funding the organizations receive is based on their budget, goals and needs. The application deadline for “Partners in Music Learning” grants is the end of April.
It might sound like a contradiction for an early music orchestra, but after several successful collaborations with other contemporary composers in the past few years, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale has named Tarik O’Regan as its first official Composer in Residence. Over the course of three and a half years, he’ll write three major works for the ensemble: a concerto for the oud (a middle eastern traditional lute), an operatic production, and a new piece for the Philharmonia Chorale. He’s also going to be commissioning ten to twenty short pieces for the ensemble from others, and hopes to launch a composition contest as well. The aim, according to O’Regan and Music Director Richard Egarr, is to make their repertoire a continuum of music that runs fluidly from old to new. Egarr says that new music should be “an extension of what all the old music has taught us.”
A ballet based on a cult classic film about love and obsession, which in turn was inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale… Choreographer Matthew Bourne, perhaps best known for his male-centered retelling of Swan Lake, made a ballet of The Red Shoes in 2016, and a performance was filmed live in 2019 at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre. There will be five streaming performances this Friday through Sunday through Center Theatre Group’s Digital Stage. Although there’s an extended dance sequence in the film that’s fully accompanied, and composer Brian Easdale won the Academy Award for his score, there wasn’t enough music to make a full ballet – so the score is an adaptation of a few early film scores by Bernard Herrmann, before he began to team with director Alfred Hitchcock.
Tonight Zuill Bailey will be giving a masterclass for two young cellists from the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra and Young People’s Chamber Orchestra. The class, presented by the Santa Rosa Symphony Institute for Music Education, will be free for audiences to watch as a Zoom webinar. He’s no stranger to teaching – in addition to his recordings and performance career, Bailey is a Professor of Cello at the University of Texas at El Paso. He’ll be joining the Santa Rosa Symphony for the concert that they’ll stream on March 28th, playing the Cello Concerto by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich that he premiered in March of 2020 with the South Florida Symphony Orchestra, just before concerts started to be cancelled.
After his second COVID vaccine injection over the weekend, Yo-Yo Ma spent the “observation” time giving an impromptu solo recital for the other people who had received their shots. It was at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, near Tanglewood, and the concert lasted about 15 minutes, including Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and a bit from a Bach solo cello suite. He began the pandemic with a social media post of a similarly simple recording of himself playing Dvorak, with the hashtag “SongsOfComfort,” and played a series of pop-up concerts with Emanuel Ax for first responders.
A newly-designed mask is going to make the experience of rehearsals a lot more comfortable for San Francisco Opera singers. It was designed by a Professor of Surgery at UCSF Medical School, Sanziana Roman, (who also happens to be a singer), and then constructed by the SFO Costume shop. It’s got an interior supporting frame that keeps the cloth away from the mouth and nose, and allows singers to have free movement of their jaws – something traditional masks don’t do – as well as an accessible flap that lets singers drink water through a straw without taking the mask off. It’s all the more important because the CDC has singled out singing in indoor spaces as an activity that can increase the spread of COVID-19. Singers are projecting their voices – and aerosols – strongly, and inhaling more deeply than the average non-singer. When San Francisco Opera performs in The Barber of Seville in late April, it will be in a ‘drive-in’ outdoor performance.
The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was, famously, an enormous fan of opera. So today, on what would have been her 88th birthday, there’s a concert planned that will include arias from some of her favorite operas, in a virtual event by the National Museum of American Jewish History, Opera Philadelphia, and the Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. The program, called “For the Love of Opera: Celebrating RBG’s 88th Birthday” will have both commentary and performances. Many of the arias feature strong, independent female characters, or people seeking justice and equality. The program streams at 5pm, and then will be available for on-demand viewing thereafter.
Pianist and actor Hershey Felder has created a dramatic history of music with performances that focus on the music and life of individual composers: Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy, Chopin, Leonard Bernstein and more. The latest addition to the genre is Hershey Felder, Puccini, which is going to have its world premiere this weekend, in a livestream from Florence. It’s presented through Opera San Jose and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. Felder will play the role of the operatic composer, and will be joined by a quartet of opera singers: Nathan Gunn, Gianna Corbisiero, Charles Castronovo, and Ekaterina Siurina. There will be on-location footage from Lucca, where Puccini was born, as well as Pisa and Florence. Felder was given permission to film in locations that were important in the composer’s life, including the theater where he saw his first opera. And Felder plays the piano on which Puccini composed Turandot. The ticketed event is this Sunday at 5, with on-demand access for a week after.
The acoustics and space provided by the historic 16th Street Station in Oakland come together as dancers from Post:ballet perform to music played by the San Francisco Symphony’s Associate Principal Second Violin, Helen Kim. The performance of seven contemporary works (including several digital world premieres) is called “Playing Changes.” It’s described as “an exploration of collaborative art during a time marked by isolation and uncertainty, and a celebration of the resilience and creativity of the Bay Area artistic community. The composers include Philip Glass, Samuel Adams, Daniel Bernard Roumain and Mary Kouyoumdjian, and the choreography is by Robert Dekkers in collaboration with the dancers in his company.
Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale tells the story of a young man who makes a deal with the devil, and in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s next “Close Quarters” presentation, they’ll be joined by members of L.A.’s Robey Theatre Company, including (as narrator) company co-founder Ben Guillory, and actors playing the soldier and the devil. It’s an economical orchestration, with only seven instruments, but chosen to be able to cover a wide range: violin and bass, clarinet and bassoon, trumpet and trombone, and timpani. An evocative work of conceptual art will provide some of the visuals for the performance. Wang Huimeng was inspired by the Stravinsky piece for “To Have Still the Things You Had Before.” She brought a baby grand piano to the desert, with a firearm specialist, shot 400 bullets into the instrument, then “fully dismantled, flocked, reassembled, and reinforced the piano.” The reconstructed instrument is coated with a delicate red velvety covering that contrasts with the violence of the bullet holes.
Jonathan Biss has spent almost 10 years concentrating on the music of Beethoven, recording the 32 piano sonatas, and until it was interrupted by Covid, he had planned on spending Beethoven’s 250th anniversary season last year playing nothing but sonata programs. He’s been obsessed by Beethoven much of his life, and actually released an audiobook through Audible late last year called Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven, centering on that obsession, and the relationship his anxiety has with the repertoire. Having all of the sonatas in his fingers at once is quite a feat, and in programs like this one, for San Francisco Performances’ “Front Row Premium” series, he provides a musical guide through Beethoven’s growth as a composer, with works from his early, middle, and late periods.
A year after their last live concerts, Carl St. Clair and the musicians of the Pacific Symphony have returned to Segerstrom Concert Hall for a series of Thursday evening concerts. (The free programs are available on demand for a month after they premiere.) For the first segment, members of the winds and strings sections played serenades by Richard Strauss and Tchaikovsky, with plexiglass separating the wind players, and masked string players spread the full space of the stage. In the second program, the spotlight was on the brass and percussion sections, with works by Morton Lauridsen and Michael Daugherty. The concerts will be running each week through April 8th, called “Symphony Thursdays @7,” as part of their Pacific Symphony+ offerings.
30 years ago, during another pandemic, a requiem by Kristopher Jon Anthony called When We No Longer Touch was dedicated to those lost to AIDS. It was commissioned by the Artistic Director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, Dr. Timothy Seelig, who is now the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. A streaming concert this Thursday evening called “Angels” will feature the work, sung by the SFGMC in a 2018 concert at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco. Seelig says, “Those of us now living through the second pandemic of our lives know on an even deeper level that we are surrounded by angels… This extraordinary work has proved itself to be timeless. Having been performed all over the world, it still brings a very personal message to each listener. All of us have experienced all of this in our lives. Yet, we can stand and sing or say as the music soars to its triumphant end, ‘Through all the tears, pain and sadness, comes the one thought that can make me smile again: I have loved.’” The concert will stream on their online platform SFGMC TV on Thursday at 6, as well as their Youtube and Facebook pages.
The new Artistic Director and Chief Creative Officer at Long Beach Opera is James Darrah, who has been very active with other Southern California arts groups during the pandemic – overseeing the visuals of LACO’s “Close Quarters” series, and working with LA Opera on their Digital Shorts series. His debut with LBO will be this May, in a drive-in staging of Philip Glass’s Les Enfants Terribles, based on the novel by Jean Cocteau. It’s an energetic “dance opera,” which he previously staged as part of Opera Omaha’s One Festival (where he’s also Artistic Director). When the new position was announced, Darrah said, “The future of opera is both cinematic and live. I’m excited to continue my exploration of operatic cinema with the amazing team at Long Beach Opera, creating diverse, robust streaming content while also building towards a safe return to live performances.”
A confluence of things French led to Hilary Hahn’s new album, fittingly called “Paris.” A few seasons ago, she was an artist-in-residence with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, working with their conductor Mikko Franck. Even before the end of the residency, they began considering what pieces they might include on an album, if they were able to record one. Hahn says she’s always loved Prokofiev’s 1st Violin Concerto, saying even if she hadn’t played it in five years, she could perform it with a day’s notice. The piece was written in Paris when Prokofiev was working with the Ballet Russes, and combines the Russian soul with French ambience. When Ernest Chausson’s Poeme was first played in Paris, the soloist was Eugene Ysaye (whose pupil Jascha Brodsky was one of Hahn’s teachers). The violin she plays was made in Paris by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume about 30 years before Chauson’s Poeme. The last work, “Two Serenades,” was written for her by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, just before his death. Hahn was unaware that he had been writing it; she had been hoping to commission a full concerto from the composer, but was told by Mikko Franck that he was in poor health. It wasn’t until after his death that his widow let them know of the score’s existence. You can hear the Rautavaara piece on tonight’s inaugural Lara Downes program.
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