Welcome to Play On, California! A daily update on how musicians here in the Golden State are keeping the music playing while they’re sheltering in place. While the concert halls are dark, tune in to KDFC weekdays at noon as we shine the spotlight on our great California musicians. 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. Music Heals. The Arts Unite. Play on!
San Francisco Opera’s costume sale is going to be online next month (a little late for a Halloween costume this year, but plenty of time for next year). The over 500 adult costumes were worn on the Opera House stage in productions of The Merry Widow, Die Fledermaus, and Tannhauser, among others, and include military uniforms, tunics, robes, and fancy ballgowns, as well as other period attire (and costumes that children wore in Tannhauser. The sale will be online from November 13th to the 15th, and prices range from $75 to $1,000, with proceeds to benefit San Francisco Opera operating expenses, including artist support.
In the spirit of Halloween, a piece of music that lets you try to channel ghosts… “Ouija” by L.A.-based composer Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum was inspired by Robert Schumann’s fascination with seances, in which he claimed to make contact with the spirits of Beethoven and Schubert. There are 16 short movements, each depicting a different emotional response (as in Schumann’s song cycle Dichterliebe) and although the music is notated, the performer is encouraged to “play at the piece, much like hands placed on a ouija board, feeling her way through the ghosts from whom she might communicate.” Here are five movements from a performance by pianist Joanne Pearce Martin from the Hear Now festival.
Italian pianist Federico Colli has a lifelong love of the instrument, joking that the best time to play it is between 2am… and midnight. He was scheduled to give a March concert for the Steinway Society – The Bay Area as a part of their 25th season, when COVID forced the cancellation of the recital. He’s about to launch season 26, in a format that they’re calling “Home Concert Hall” – which gives ticket buyers access to the recital over a four-day window from Friday to Monday. The concert performances are pre-recorded, and include an introduction by the artists, as well as a pre-concert talk. The other pianists this season are Zlata Chochieva, Vyacheslav Gryaznov, and Andrew Li. Federico Colli’s program will be of sonatas, by Domenico Scarlatti, Franz Schubert, and ending with Beethoven’s “Moonlight.” Here’s a sample of a Scarlatti sonata from his recent Chandos album, his second collection of them.
Astor Piazzolla is now thought of as one of the pillars of Argentinian classical music, mixing the bandoneon (the familiar button accordion) with chamber music and jazz to come up with a new style of tango heard in concert halls. Many tango purists originally objected to the changes he made to the form, but have come around as his music has grown in popularity worldwide. 2021 marks the centennial of the composer and performer, who died in 1992, and the Quinteto Astor Piazzolla has been performing his works for more than 20 years, and they’re going to be presenting a concert recorded in Buenos Aires especially for the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, which will be streamed this Sunday afternoon at 3pm. Here’s a track from their Latin Grammy-winning album “Revolucionario.”
As unprecedented as these many months have felt for all of us, there actually were many years during the 17th Century when the world, and Britain in particular, experienced similar upheavals. In a historical presentation he recently gave for the Yale Center for British Art, conductor Nicholas McGegan uses poetry, fiction, and contemporary accounts of “Plague Years.” The populations that could afford to do so tried to leave the big cities for the countryside, and sequester themselves to try to prevent spread of disease. Some would treat the letters that they received with smoke and vinegar before daring to read them. The year of 1665 was particularly bad, with so many fatalities in cities that a student a Cambridge decided to go back to his family’s home in Lincolnshire – and it was there that Isaac Newton observed the falling apple that inspired his explanation of gravity. Much was written in journals and diaries (Samuel Pepys account of the Bubonic plague was particularly harrowing) but, as McGegan points out, there was music being written too. He plays a few examples from earlier in the century, and as he points out, there were few years in which there wasn’t some sort of outbreak of illness.
A new documentary about Michael Tilson Thomas premieres tonight on PBS’s American Masters Series. It chronicles the life of the conductor and composer, from his childhood and early days in Los Angeles through his tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony. The title of the documentary, “Where Now Is” comes from an anecdote he tells about how he was thunderstruck the first time he heard the soul singer James Brown’s song “Cold Sweat.” The precision of the band, being absolutely together was like nothing he had ever heard. In a conversation he had with Brown, they discussed what the singer called the “situation of music,” and MTT said that when he’s teaching students, he tells them that the challenge and the job of a conductor is to decide – and be able to show – “when now is.”
During the pandemic, the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra has not only taken part in a U.S. Youth Orchestras eFestival (with ensembles from New Jersey, Hawaii, Chicago and San Antonio), they’ve also created this virtual performance of Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations. Recently, Artistic Director Russell Steinberg arranged a panel with alumni from the orchestra – who’ve gone on to professional positions, college or graduate school, so that current members of the orchestra could get practical tips from them about how best to prepare for an audition. Although everyone’s advice (after the most important one: know the music backward and forward) differed, some of the other suggestions included limiting or interrupting long practice sessions to prevent injury, playing in the same clothes and shoes you’ll be auditioning in, recording yourself, and to help nerves, have a friend watch you play as though you were performing. Also, they said an error or memory slip would be overlooked, if you play as the “best version of yourself.”
In a strategic alliance like none other, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music has announced that it’s acquiring the arts management company Opus 3 Artists. The roster of talent that they represent includes notable performers, conductors, as well as ensembles and dance companies. (Yo-Yo Ma, Daniil Trifonov, Marin Alsop, Alisa Weilerstein, to name but a few.) Each will remain independent, but having the partnership in place will enable greater interaction between students and artists, hoping to create what they are calling “a new operating model” for the arts world, and amplifying both of their missions. It will also allow for special projects like commissions and recordings, and give students the opportunity to take part in an apprenticeship program. The Conservatory has been taking large strides in recent years, expanding its relationships with other arts leaders in the Civic Center neighborhood, including the new 12-story building (soon to be home to KDFC) across the street from Davies Symphony Hall, the Ute and William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts.
Pasadena Symphony is offering a new series of on-demand concerts called “Pasadena Presents” that brings back the soloists and repertoire of great concertos, but scaled down to piano or chamber accompaniment for safety. This weekend, Music Director David Lockington will introduce the performances of Angelo Xiang Yu playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto, followed by the Brahms Clarinet Quintet featuring Principal Clarinet Donald Foster with members of the orchestra. Upcoming programs include pianist Inon Barnatan playing Chopin with a chamber ensemble from the Symphony, as well as his own arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. The season also has an American program, with Dvorak’s “American String Quartet” and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
12-year-old violinist Amaryn Olmeda will be joining a dozen members of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra this Sunday for a performance they’re calling a “Mini-Mainstage Concert.” She rang in 2020 in their series of New Year’s Concerts, playing a Mozart violin concerto with them as their ‘debut artist.’ The concert, which will be live-streamed from the Freight and Salvage coffehouse in Berkeley Sunday afternoon, will have music of Mozart, Schubert, and Copland, plus a work by William Grant Still that Amaryn Olmeda will join them for. As you can see in the interview and musical sample below, she’s taking on more ambitious repertoire, as well as having taken an online composition course from the San Francisco Music Conservatory over the summer (while on her family farm with an array of chickens, goats, and an impressive garden).
The New West Symphony has begun its re-thought season with “A Tour of Japan,” the first of several ‘mini-festivals’ that celebrate other cultures that have helped to create the artistic culture of Southern California. Music Director Michael Christie calls the season “Global Sounds, Local Cultures,” and for the initial concert, guest violinist Anne-Akiko Meyers performed the Bach ‘double concerto’ with concertmaster Alyssa Park. It’s one of several selections of Western classical music that influenced the founder of the Suzuki method of violin instruction. But there will also be film music by Toru Takemitsu, a selection from a concerto for koto, as well as a Taiko drum performance. The performances are recorded at the Fred Kavli Theater in Thousand Oaks, as well as the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Future concerts will include”tours” of India in November, South Korea in March, Mexico in May, and China in June. There are also programs for the Violins of Hope in January, and a celebration of Black History Month in February.
It’s scaled down a bit, but SF Music Day returns this weekend, hosted by InterMusic SF, and with performances from ten groups in a variety of musical traditions. In keeping with tradition, the pre-recorded sets were played at the War Memorial Veterans Building, in Herbst Theatre. From noon until about 6pm, various duos, trios, and quartets will play, representing a cross-section of music making in the Bay Area. In the line up are the Telegraph and Del Sol String Quartets; a piano trio with Tom Stone, Elizabeth Dorman, and Amos Yang; and two members of Quartet San Francisco, Jeremy Cohen and Andres Vera, will play Latin American-infused duets. There are also jazz ensembles like Mads Tolling & the Mads Men, and the Ricardo Peixoto Trio. In years past, the lobby of the building served as a meeting area where one could find out more about the performers. This year, that forum will be moving to the website. Here are some highlights from last year’s SF Music Day:
When violinist Agnes Gottschewski has given her “Porch Concerts” while unable to play with her colleagues at the Pacific Symphony, she’s often playing pieces that have piano accompaniment. But they’re not pre-recorded audio. Rather, they’re being played by an app that uses Artificial Intelligence to listen to what she’s playing, and match the tempos and mood of her performance. The app is called “MyPianist” and it was programmed from the ground up by someone who would know about the nuances of performance: Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen, who frequently plays at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York, as well as appearing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony. The repertoire that the software “knows” is growing – but in the meantime, there are plenty of pieces to be able to play on the porch.
In her ongoing series, "Porch Concerts," Symphony violinist Agnes Gottschewski performs Debussy's "Reverie" – her violin…
Champion: An Opera in Jazz was composer and performer Terence Blanchard’s first opera, and it tells the true story of boxer Emile Griffith, who killed his opponent in the ring when they were competing for the welterweight title in 1962. Benny Paret had taunted him with homosexual slurs during the weigh-in, and was sent into a coma from which he never recovered. The boxing world would forgive Griffith for the death, but he knew that they would never accept his sexuality. Champion had a sold-out two week run in 2016, and SFJAZZ is streaming a performance from that run for its members beginning Wednesday. It was a co-production with Opera Parallèle, and in addition to the orchestra, included a jazz trio of bass, piano, and drums. The staging combines flashbacks to his childhood in St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands, as well as the boxing ring itself, with chorus members doubling as members of the press and photographers. OP Music Director Nicole Paiement will be hosting a ‘Ringside’ panel discussion about the work with musicians involved in it this Tuesday at 5pm.
With the tagline “Leave Your World in the Rearview Mirror,” San Diego Opera opens a production of La Boheme this Saturday with a new approach: they’re going to be performing the opera in the parking lot of the Pechanga Arena, with audience members remaining in their cars, watching live video on large screens, and hearing the audio through their car radio. It will feature soprano Ana Maria Martinez as Mimi, and Joshua Guerrero as Rodolfo, sung in Italian with supertitles. It’s the first time they’ve tried a production this way, and hope that it will allow them to continue to present live opera in a manner that’s safe for the audience, singers, and musicians. Given the many ways companies have been presenting archive videos online for people to experience at home, using this retro model of staying in the comfort and safety of one’s car is a first step toward communal live performance.
Someone has decided to use the texts of inconsequential emails to inspire new pieces of music. In the early days of the pandemic, when it looked like her adult choir at San Francisco’s Community Music Center wouldn’t be able to meet in person, Beth Wilmurt was trying to get about a hundred of them to join a Zoom sing-along session that would keep the group’s spirits up. In the process, she sent and received lots of short emails. She’s decided to turn them into little songs in a project she’s calling “Hello Chorus”. Wilmurt accompanies herself on the ukulele, and harmonize with herself. She’s releasing the songs over the month of October, sending an email with a link to the songs to those who subscribe (from her chorus, and beyond). She’s released about a dozen already. Here’s an example, called “Best Donna.”
The Los Angeles Opera had been releasing digital materials under the “At Home” name, but have decided to re-name it “On Now.” And their first production, in fact the first staged work through L.A. Opera since the stay-at-home era began, will be The Anonymous Lover, by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. It will be conducted by Music Director James Conlon, and be streamed online for free on November 14th. Bologne is known for being the first Black classical composer, but his works remain relatively unknown to a wide audience. James Conlon says The Anonymous Lover is “ripe for rediscovery,” and making it available for free online is a good means of introducing more people to his work. The plot is a comic romance about a secret admirer, and L.A. Opera says the staging will be socially distanced, and blend “both modern film and traditional opera staging.”
In a great example of “win-win,” the online recital series called “Piano Break” by the Ross McKee Foundation gives pianists in the Bay Area the opportunity to present professional recitals (helping the many who have lost income because of the pandemic), and it also is allowing audiences to become more familiar with works by Black composers. While the recitals are programmed by the performers, they’ve been encouraged to choose diverse works, and have assembled quite a broad repertoire. Jeffrey Ladeur, whose concert at the end of July launched the series, included a sonata by Pulitzer Prize-winner George Walker. He followed it with a Chopin Scherzo that opens on the same pitch that ends the Walker, letting the one flow out of the other (at 20:15 in the video below). There have been 11 recitals so far, and the next one, by Paul Schrage will be available Friday at 5 at their YouTube channel. You can explore the archive here.
Four graduate-level BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) musicians have begun the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship, where they’ll spend three years being mentored by musicians of LACO, as well as mentoring younger players of the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. All while pursuing graduate studies at the USC Thornton School of Music on a full scholarship. There are two violists, and a cellist from Long Island, Atlanta, and Cincinnati, as well as horn player Malik Taylor, who’s from Los Angeles. He went from the music program at Bret Harte Middle School in South Central L.A. to being mentored by Bob Watt, former Assistant Principal Horn of the L.A. Philharmonic, the first African-American horn player to be hired by a major U.S. orchestra. The aim of the fellowship is to try to increase minority representation in American orchestras. A 2016 study showed that people of color made up less than five percent of the orchestral workforce.
One of the many perks that go with being a prize winner at the Irving M. Klein International String Competition is having the chance to play on the concert stages of partner organizations, as well as house concerts in seasons following your win. Having exposure to a wider audience, and getting more comfortable in a variety of performance settings. With the pandemic, those plans have had to be recalibrated. A series called “Third Thursdays,” from the California Music Center, which holds the competition, is making those house concerts virtual. This week the music is from cellist Dakota Cotugno, who won 2nd prize overall in 2019, as well as the prize for best Bach performance. The ticketed performance streams live at 5pm Pacific, although he’ll be playing from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Here’s some of his prize-winning performance from 2019.
Jenny Wong has come a long way to be Associate Artistic Director of Los Angeles Master Chorale. She grew up in Hong Kong, and always wishing for a life that was as much fun as going to choir every day, and she’s certainly found it. She was a Voice Performance major at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, before earning two graduate degrees in Choral Conducting at USC. Wong was a co-conductor for the opera Sweet Land by The Industry, which got rave reviews before it had to be cancelled because of COVID. (They were able to capture a performance without an audience with cameras, and that can be purchased for download). She’s conducted the Master Chorale in programs around the world, and now, in a recent video, brings 90 of them together virtually in an arrangement by Moses Hogan of the hymn ‘Abide with Me.’
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music has decided to livestream their entire season this year, with 68 free performances that can be watched from home, just this fall. Among the many student, faculty, and ensemble performances, there are eight that they’ve decided can bring an (e)Motion Boost to audiences, and so will have additional features for the viewers at home, like interview materials, and mini-documentaries. The first among these will be Thursday the 15th, when the Telegraph Quartet, which is on faculty (and includes three alumni) will be performing a late quartet by Beethoven, one by Erich Korngold, and one by contemporary British-based composer Eleanor Alberga. This season is the first with Edwin Outwater as music director of SFCM, and he’ll lead orchestral concerts in December and January. Also in December, there’s a program by voice and opera students of operas specifically written for radio in the 1930s.
A $25 million gift from Tina and Jerry Moss will give the Plaza at The Music Center more programs, a new summer festival, and a new name: The Jerry Moss Plaza. The gift also specifically aims to develop partnerships with community groups, and reflect the diversity of Los Angeles by helping BIPOC artists. It’s the largest ever received by The Music Center, and will ensure that programs like Dance DTLA can continue to be free and low-cost into the future. Jerry Moss was the co-founder (with Herb Alpert) of A&M Records in 1962. In a press release, Rachel S. Moore, president and CEO of The Music Center said: “The Mosses’ donation makes it possible for The Music Center team to expand and deepen our work as a cultural anchor institution and to be a model for transformational change – to advance programming that is not only geographically, economically and culturally representative of L.A. County, but that also resonates in the hearts and minds of all Angelenos and meaningfully impacts their lives.”
Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, but sometimes frustration is too. When software engineer Mike Dickey’s son was unable to practice in person with his ensemble, the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, they were prevented from having workable rehearsals using Zoom or FaceTime because of the delay known as ‘latency.’ It’s not really a problem generally for conversations, but when you’re singing with anyone, or just trying to keep a steady rhythm going with another remote musician, the time it takes for your performance to get to them, and theirs to you, adds up and makes it impossible. There are some hardware solutions to address the problem (which we’ll be exploring soon) but Dickey came up with a software-based solution that reduces the latency to durations that are small enough (about 25-35 milliseconds) to allow for music to still feel together. It was developed in a partnership with Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, or CCRMA, and the JackTrip Foundation, and is called “Virtual Studio”. Two of the Ragazzi choruses have put it through its initial tests, and their other ensembles are using it for their rehearsals this fall. Here’s a recording of a rehearsal with more than 80 singers using the technology.
If you search for Bach’s “Air on the G String” on YouTube, one of the most popular videos, with more than 4 million views is from the Bay Area’s early music group called Voices of Music. They’ve been producing high definition videos of performances on period instruments for years now, with hundreds of uploaded pieces on their channel. As a way to kick off their online season, co-directors Hanneke van Proosdij and David Tayler will offer a lecture (illustrated with recorded performances) called “From Manuscript to Filmed Performance.” Many of the works their ensemble plays haven’t ever had a modern printing, and require transcription from parts, checking for errors, and deciding on instrumentation that would be true to the historical practice. Meanwhile, at the other end of the technological spectrum, they’re recording performances in High Definition and even 4K Ultra High Definition. This is the first of a series of lectures and interviews from some of the stars of the early music world, and both individual tickets and season subscriptions are available.
The third SOUND/STAGE presentation from the Hollywood Bowl continues the “Power to the People” festival that was interrupted by the pandemic. The mini-performance concert video “pays tribute to Black voices and excellence” with two orchestral works from the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Gustavo Dudamel, and a song from vocalist Andra Day. It’s bookended by anthems of sorts: on the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner, composer Jessie Montgomery was commissioned to imagine a new anthem for today, and Andra Day’s song “Rise Up” has become an unofficial anthem to the Black Lives Matter movement. In between them is a new smaller arrangement of a movement from William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American”
They’ll be on stage at Weill Hall at the Green Music Center, but Francesco Lecce-Chong and the Santa Rosa Symphony will be playing to cameras instead of a live audience. Yet he says that the technology, and multiple cameras will give virtual audiences an experience they could never have in the concert hall. Their SRS @ Home season launches this weekend, with the first pre-recorded performance live-streamed on Sunday at 3. It’ll be free when streamed live on their YouTube channel, and only available to watch again later (along with other special events including guest recitals) for season subscribers. The program includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, and an eclectic mix of short works that highlight various sections of the orchestra, with no more than 32 players on stage at once, complete with masked conductor. Lecce-Chong says the virtual nature of the performances have the upside of introducing the ensemble to many more than would ever be able to hear them live in concert, as well as creating a time capsule, documenting fully performances by the group in this difficult season. He explained the series in this video:
Four orchestras from across California have banded together to commission a work called Alone Together from composer John Christopher Wineglass. The Pacific Symphony, Fresno Philharmonic, Monterey Symphony and San José Chamber Orchestra will eventually perform the piece, which takes as its inspiration the events and social issues that we’ve been living through during the past many months. The title refers to the solitude that quarantine and social distancing has made necessary, and the inability of the musicians to play in large ensembles together. The duration of the piece will be 8 minutes and 46 seconds, in honor of George Floyd, who died as police officers pinned him for that amount of time. Composer Wineglass and conductor Rei Hotoda released a statement announcing the commission, and included this message: “This work is allowing us to continue our work as performers – to never lose sight of just how important the arts are and have always been. By creating this work, we are providing a way to connect to one another which is so valuable and something most of us probably once took for granted. We may feel alone at this moment but we as four performing arts organizations are coming to move forward together as ONE.”
One Found Sound’s answer to not being able to perform in as intimate settings as they used to? They’ve planned the season with a couple of live performances that will be held at The Midway outdoor restaurant and performance space in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood. Those concerts, which have audiences of only a handful of people, are videotaped so they can be presented via video watch parties later, combining the music with live chat and social media interaction. Their next live concert program has performances on the 21st and 22nd of October, with a watch party in mid-November. That program will have string quartets by Beethoven, and two African-American women composers, Jessie Montgomery, and Florence Price. This season they’ve chosen their repertoire to include more composers of color. At their most recent livestream viewing party, they included “Umoja” by Valerie Coleman of Imani Winds:
Pacific Opera Project has announced three works for their fall season, which are all reflective of the current times: COVID fan Tutte, a double bill of one-act operas by Gluck featuring one called La Corona, and a revisiting and updating to present day of their take on La Boheme, called The Hipsters. Because of performance restrictions in L.A., they’re moving the performances to Ventura county’s Camarillo, where they’ll stage them in Drive-In format. The audio will be broadcast on FM radio, and a live video feed of the performance will be projected above the stage with supertitles. The first, a reworking of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, is now set at a SoCal golf resort, with masquerading caddies and their quarantining girlfriends. There will be three performances, starting November 14th. The Gluck operas, which will be having their US staged premieres, will be November 20th and 21st, and The Hipsters will run the 10th, 12th, and 13th of December.
Conrad Tao, best known as a piano soloist, but also a composer (and accomplished violinist, too) joins Berkeley Symphony’s Music Director Joseph Young for “One on One with Conrad Tao” this Thursday at 5pm. He was the soloist at their season opener back in October of 2019, playing the Ravel G Major piano concerto. The conversation is part of the series Joseph Young & Friends. Here’s a video showing his work both as a composer and pianist.
Young pianists and singers are on display in the Emerging Artists series at Pasadena’s Boston Court, with concerts that are recorded live, and are available for a week following the premiere. This is the fourth year of the series, which pairs the young performers with more established mentors. There are three vocalists and two pianists this year, and each program includes a world premiere. The concerts are free (although you’ll need to register.) Here’s a conversation with soprano Angel Riley, the first of this season’s performers; composer Nick Benavides; and Mark Saltzman, the Director of the Emerging Artist program.
The latest venture from the composer of the operas Dead Man Walking and Moby-Dick: Jake Heggie has launched a podcast called “Sing Louder,” in which he talks informally with operatic stars about what led them to pursue that career, their experiences onstage, and backstage, and how they’re dealing with the fallout of the seasons cancelled by Covid-19. He describes it as “the high-wire act” of being an opera singer. Heggie has five singers lined up for the first season of the podcast: Sasha Cooke, J’Nai Bridges, Ana Maria Martinez, Ryan Speedo Green, and Brandon Jovanovich. Even in the best of times, the life of an opera singer is both challenging and uncertain. Having worked with so many singers professionally as his works have been staged, and as an accompanist, Jake Heggie has forged lasting friendships, and brings a unique vantage point to the conversations. The podcasts started being released at the beginning of this month. You can find the shows here, and wherever else you subscribe to podcasts.
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s upcoming season is called “Close Quarters,” and will be presented virtually with eight programs livestreamed between November and February. They had practice in the style of presentation with their SummerFest concerts, but for the new season, there will be additional visuals: artwork in various media that was inspired by the musical programming. The concerts will be released on their YouTube channel, FaceBook page, and their website, and be available for free on demand after the original airdate. The first concert, on November 6th, is called “Baroque Crossings,” and will be led by harpsichordist Patricia Mabee.
The Peninsula Women’s Chorus is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment with their first livestreamed virtual concert on October 3 at 4pm, called “Hands Upon the Plow.” That’s also the title of a work that PWC commissioned from composer Jocelyn Hagen as part of its Trailblazers Project. This piece honors Alice Paul, one of those who worked hardest to win women the right to vote in the United States. Also on the program are the other 2 commissioned works that celebrate pioneers in the pursuit of human rights: Harriet Tubman, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. There’s going to be a panel discussion after the performance, moderated by the ensemble’s Artistic Director, Martin Benvenuto.
When Vijay Gupta co-hosted the broadcast of From the Top which we’ll be airing this Sunday night, he didn’t know that it would be his last big public event before we all went into lockdown. It was recorded in early March at the Wallis Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills – where Gupta had played a recital of his own just two weeks earlier. The violinist and founder of the musical outreach program Street Symphony has worked with the show for a few years, and loves how the young musicians defy expectations: “What I’ve found in conversations with these young people is what incredible people they are, and their wide-ranging interests in trying to be kids, and trying to have lives where they’re having fun and they’re playing along with balancing this sort of complicated calling, that really involves a kind of sacrifice. Of their time and their effort to draw out a very real kind of transcendent love in their musicmaking.” This particular show had a number of very personal resonances for Gupta, who just two weeks before (and a day after his recital) had gotten married to composer Reena Esmail. A movement from a piano trio she wrote is on the program, played by Gupta, co-host Peter Dugan, and 17-year-old cellist Mei Hotta from Torrance. And if that weren’t enough, another of the young players has another connection. “I got to introduce an amazing young pianist named Olivia Larco,” Gupta explains. “And Olivia Larco’s dad, Michael Larco, was not only a colleague of mine in the LA Phil, but was actually one of my first ever violin teachers, who met me when I was Olivia’s age.” You can tune in to From the Top this Sunday at 7pm.
Stanford Live begins its Fall season this weekend with a streaming documentary featuring the St. Lawrence String Quartet, which has long been in residence at Stanford, and is one of the regular ensembles to have appeared on the stage of the Bing Concert Hall. The film includes a complete performance of a Haydn Quartet, as well as interviews with the players, and behind the scenes materials following how they’ve been dealing with the pandemic, and an entirely different way of rehearsing and playing this year. The performance they gave was on the stage of the Bing, masked and distanced, and the film will be available for streaming by Stanford students as well as Stanford Live subscribers. It’s the launch of the season that had to be reimagined for the uncertainty and concerns about safety of our current times. The film is called Stanford Live Presents: St. Lawrence String Quartet – Return to Haydn.
The PBS Great Performances series “Now Hear This” has returned, a musical travelogue hosted by violinist and conductor Scott Yoo. This second series explores the music of Schubert this week, with visits to New York, Quebec and Philadelphia. And next Friday, an episode premieres with the music of Mozart on center stage, with footage shot in and around San Luis Obispo, where Scott Yoo is Music Director of Festival Mozaic. Musicians from the festival will join pianist Stewart Goodyear, who learns the technique of conducting from the keyboard as he plays and improvises the solo part of a Mozart piano concerto. You can get a preview of the whole series here:
Pianist Lara Downes is celebrating National Voter Registration Day today with a musical collaboration. A performance of the song “Take Care Of This House” by Leonard Bernstein from the 1976 musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She says despite it being still relevant today, the musical was a famous flop. “Like so many things that Bernstein did, it was just way ahead of its time. It’s this musical that’s really investigating and exploring the racial history of the White House, that problematic history, and it opens in the bicentennial year and nobody wants to hear about anything except fireworks.” Downes enlisted some of her friends and musical partners to contribute to the project, including Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony McGill, and Thomas Hampson. The message of the song, sung in the musical by Abigail Adams to a young black servant, is one of inclusion and pride: that the White House belongs to him too. “And it really is just this profound statement about the equality and the shared responsibility of civic duty, which I think is so important for us all to hear right now, because I think this is a time when people are feeling so overwhelmed. And the scope of things seems unmanageable. And then we think, well, I can’t do anything. I don’t have any power. And I think that this song is another reminder that, you know, our duty as citizens can be carried out in small ways.” You can check to make sure you’re registered to vote in California at this website and more information about registering nationwide here.
Berkeley Public Library will be beginning a new program on Friday the 25th, bringing together (virtually) guest storytellers and musicians for Reading is Instrumental. Included in the line-up as readers are Rita Moreno, Andy Samberg, Maxine Hong Kingston, and more, plus Berkeley Symphony Music Director Joseph Young and other members of the orchestra, accompanying. The events will be streamed live on the Berkeley Public Library’s Facebook page. They’ll read some classics (and yet-to-be classics) by Judy Cox, Carol Diggory Shields, Oge Mora, and more. They’ll start at 11am, starting next Friday.
It’s Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie #1” for five… well, actually still for one, but rather than being played on the piano, Warren Hagerty, principal cellist with the Pacific Symphony takes on all the parts in this “quarantine clip” video they posted.
Hagerty took advantage of the down time of the pandemic to dive deeply into the Bach unaccompanied Cello Suites for what he called The Bach Project, learning and recording performances of all of the dance movements contained in the six suites. He had long wanted to have more of them “in his fingers”, as well as to keep in playing shape when there weren’t regular concerts to play. He joked that because the more difficult suites are toward the end, and he was recording them in numerical order, he had more time to learn the hardest ones – and a viewer can chart the passage of time by watching the progress of his beard’s growth. You can find the Bach Project videos here, but here’s the first one:
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