Monday, April 2

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus gave a recent concert of the music of composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, which featured a late addition to the program: a new work called Testimony that he wrote especially for the group, setting texts from the “It Gets Better” project. Artistic Director Dr. Timothy Seelig received the score at the very end of last year, and it had its world premiere in late March. Seelig says the work’s message, and its evolution from despair to optimism is one that can resonate with all audiences.

The premiere took place in the SFGMC’s concert at Davies Hall last month, but the video that was produced was shot at Skywalker Ranch, the only location in the area big enough to fit the almost 300 singers for the recording session.  Seelig calls the entire project “a labor of love on everybody’s part. Every word of the piece is something that our singers have experienced on a really deep level, and really comes across.”

After Schwartz suggested that he might want to use words from the “It Gets Better” project videos, Seelig and the Gay Men’s Chorus put Schwartz in touch with Dan Savage, the founder of the organization. The score arrived in the final week of last year. Timothy Seelig decided the best way for the full chorus to be introduced to the piece was to have a small group of them learn and perform it, so the rest of the ensemble could experience the emotions without doing it while sight-reading unfamiliar parts.

“We played it for the first time, and of course just wept at the absolute rawness of the first part, and then the extraordinary texts at the end that are so unbelieveably hopeful”

Seelig says that they “didn’t want to sell the video, we wanted to give it away” so they posted it to youtube.  There, and at the chorus website, it’s available for download.

Tuesday, April 3

Today is the first “State of the Arts: A to Z” … an occasional  feature that will take a look at terminology, composers, some of the fundamentals of music, and other miscellany that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else. This time, a look at three tempo markings that happen to begin with the letter A: adagio, andante, and allegro.

Working through the trio  from slowest to fastest, Adagio comes first – meaning ‘at ease’ or ‘leisurely’. With the Albinoni (attributed to Albinoni anyway) Adagio, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, and the Adagio from Spartacus by Khatchaturian as memorable examples, Adagio was once a catch-all term for the slowest movements. (As the spectrum of tempo markings grew a little more specific, Largo and Lento came to fill that area on the extreme slow end.) Adagios tend to have an emotional deliberateness that calls to mind great depth of feeling. But as with all of these tempo markings, the definitions are open to personal interpretation – everyone will have a slightly different take on what speed and manner of playing feels appropriate.

Andante, or ‘walking pace’ falls in the middle, but again, a middle that stretches in both directions depending on the composer and performer. In the days of the Classical era (for example in Mozart’s symphonies and concertos), many times it’s the second movement that’s an andante, with a chance for the audience and performers to catch their breath, with a singable melody at a relaxed pace that nonetheless moves forward.

Allegro really means ‘cheerful’, or ‘lively’ – rather than a specific speed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music says “some time-words (like adagio and allegro) describe mood directly, tempo indirectly” and others, like lento (slow) or presto (fast) do the reverse, implying the mood, but stating the tempo. It’s clearly not an exact science, because even with the advent of metronomes that (one would think) could allow a composer to settle what the “proper” tempo is for a piece, there are still any number of valid approaches, and as many interpretations as there are conductors or players.

Wednesday, April 4

Anna Netrebko will be singing the title role of Manon in Massenet’s opera on this Saturday’s Met Broadcast – and it will also be part of their “Live in HD” series, that presents the opera into theaters around the world. It’s a role the Russian soprano has sung many times, in opera houses in Vienna, Berlin, Tokyo, London, and Los Angeles, but it marks the first time she’s sung Manon at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

There’s more information about Saturday’s broadcast of Manon on KDFC’s Metropolitan Opera page.

The character she plays, Manon Lescaut, shares the name of the Puccini opera, and the novel that inspired both operas, by Abbé Prévost. Netrebko says the challenge is finding the balance between “naughty, but not too bad” for Manon.  About the filming of the opera, she says that it’s great for audiences to be able to see the nuances of  singers’ performances in a way that’s impossible from out in the hall.

This is Netrebko’s second appearance with the Metropolitan Opera this season, which opened with her singing the title role of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena.

Thursday, April 5

Two San Francisco museums are part of the newly announced second round of entries into the “Google Art Project“: the de Young, and SFMOMA. There are over 150 museums now included in the collection, which allows armchair curators a chance to explore works of art with zoomable hi-res images, multimedia, and other supporting information.

Visit the Google Art Project and SFMOMA’s website.

Chad Coerver is Director of Publications, Graphic Design and Web at SFMOMA. He says the museum’s curators chose the works they did for the Google project in order to showcase Bay Area artists; he’s pleased that in doing so, they’re able to display examples of practically every discipline SFMOMA collects: painting, photography, graphic design, multimedia, drawing, architecture.

Only a fraction of the newly expanded assortment of museums (up from the first round of 17)  have the “street view” virtual tours of galleries and megapixel photography of some of the original roster, and Coerver says that SFMOMA provided the hi-res images and multimedia buildouts with information about the artists and their works. But with this round of new museums, there’s a much broader selection of works to explore – both geographically, and in their subject matter.

“Part of the beauty of a project like the Google Art Project is that it can make the local global,” Coerver says. “So it allowed us to speak to our roots here as an institution in this region, and then at the same time it was also a body of artists that we had developed a substantial amount of engaging digital content around.”

He sees it as a beginning: “the intent was to go out with this salute to the Bay Area, and then gradually  build out the collection as we understood how the interface is working, and to also represent the much broader kinds of art that SFMOMA collects. So for us, and I think for many of the museums, this is a small first step to something that’s going to be a long and much more expansive relationship.”

“We are now in a conversation that extends worldwide about people’s interests in art, and not just restricted then to what they experience on SFMOMA’s site, and I’d say that’s another really exciting aspect to the project.

Friday, April 6

The Caretaker, Harold Pinter’s play running at the Curran Theatre, has only 3 characters – and star Jonathan Pryce has now played two of them in his career. He’s now in the role of Davies, the homeless old man, offered a place to live by a younger man named Astin, and by turns threatened and flattered by Astin’s brother Mick, whose quick changes of mood keeps the tension up. In the 1980s, Pryce played Mick in a production of the play, but always wanted to take on the part of Davies.

There’s more information about the play at SHN’s website.

The rhythms of speech, and the use of silences in the play are staples of the style of Harold Pinter, but Pryce warns about the use of the term “Pinteresque” to describe them: “It was frowned on by Pinter… He never knew what it was supposed to mean, and I think it usually means that it’s not a very good production if you’re aware of the fact that there are pauses written into the script, and there are silences written in.” He adds that often these silences are to be used as needed to allow for audience laughter.

Despite the dark places the drama goes – Astin’s slightly odd behavior is explained in a powerful monologue about his experience with mental illness, and horrific electro-convulsive therapy – there’s a lot of comedy in the play too, which in addition to lightening the moment, Pryce says, helps to highlight and deepen the darkness.

“It is funny, and it is incredibly moving.” Pryce says of his character, who although blustering throughout  the play that he will soon travel to the town of Sidcup, to sort out a bureaucratic mixup with his identification papers, seems to become more and more dependent on both of the young brothers. “Davies takes on a huge presence with his needs, when he shouts ‘What am I going to do? What shall I do? Where am I going to go?’. You do feel you’re crying out and shouting out for half of humanity when you’re doing it. It’s a great piece.

Monday, April 9

In this installment of “State of the Arts: A to Z“, the double-reed instrument starting with “B” that’s the cello of the woodwinds: the Bassoon. Its somewhat ungainly appearance – a large wooden tube with a hairpin turn in the middle, and a pair of reeds emerging from a curved piece of metal called a bocle – have inspired some composers to use it when they want to suggest clowning or comedy. But it has a wide and expressive range, capable of runs, jumps, as well as lyrical melodic lines.

The bassoon as an orchestral solo instrument or section features in some of the most memorable lines: the plaintive opening to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the role of Peter’s grandfather in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, The Sorceror’s Apprentice by Dukas, Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”… But it’s also the bassline in the woodwind quintet, and has been used in pop songs like “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher.

According to early 20th Century Scottish music critic Cecil Gray, “the bassoon in the orchestra plays the same role as Gorgonzola among cheeses – a figure of fun. Actually the bassoon can be the most romantic and passionate of instruments, and Gorgonzola can be the finest of cheeses – but they must both be treated properly.

Tuesday, April 10

On this day a hundred years ago, the Titanic left on its maiden (and final) voyage between Southampton, England and New York City. Among all the stories of the ship going down is the image of the group of musicians who kept playing to entertain the passengers and try to keep them calm. Because of conflicting eyewitness reports, and the way the stories were changed as they made their way into the newspapers, we can never know for certain what the last piece of music the chamber orchestra played that night. But whether it was either of the hymns “Nearer, My God, to Thee” or “Autumn”, or the popular waltz “Dream of Autumn” by Archibald Joyce, music has been associated with the ship’s sinking since the night it happened.

The James Horner’s score for the 1997 film featured Irish-tinged melodies and the song “My Heart Will Go On” sung by Celine Dion; Broadway saw “Titanic: The Musical” (also 1997), although the earlier musical “Unsinkable Molly Brown” had had as its heroine the famed survivor of the wreck.

In the concert hall, Gavin Bryars’ “The Sinking of the Titanic” has evolved since it was written in 1969. Aware that discoveries and scholarship have changed some of the things we know about the events, performances of the work can vary in length from fifteen minutes to over an hour. The original production involved slide projections, recordings of survivor interviews, sound effects, with an overall underwater obscurity, and the idea that the music played by orchestra on the deck of the ship is still echoing, even at the ocean floor. It has been “performed” as a sound installation, and a few different recordings exist.

Getting its concert debut today in London, is a “Titanic Requiem” written by former BeeGee, Robin Gibb, with his son. The piece includes a few of the titled names of movements of the traditional Requiem mass – the Kyrie, Libera Me, and In Paradisum; but also pop-like song movements (Gibb himself sings on “Don’t Cry Alone”).

Wednesday, April 11

Pianist Olga Kern will return to the Bay Area for three solo recital concerts, Saturday through Monday, with a program that includes Chopin, Schumann, Beethoven, Liszt and Rachmaninoff. The 2001 Van Cliburn Competition gold medalist keeps a very busy schedule, with over 150 performances a year, but she says it’s just what she wants to be doing.

She’ll be playing at the Lesher Center for the Arts on Saturday afternoon in Walnut Creek, the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco Sunday afternoon, and in Palo Alto Monday evening.

Olga Kern frequently programs Rachmaninoff on her concerts. But aside from her admiration for the composer, there are family associations that tie her to both Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky before him. Kern’s great-great grandmother was a singer, whose accompanist got sick once while they were on tour. It so happened she was going to be singing songs by Rachmaninoff, who also was on tour, and the best qualified to play the fiendishly difficult piano parts. Kern describes that repertoire as being for piano and voice, rather than the other way around. Going back one more generation, her great-great-great grandmother was a pianist and trusted friend of Tchaikovsky, who dedicated some piano pieces to her.

Here’s Olga Kern playing Rachmaninoff in the Van Cliburn Competition she ended up winning, in 2001:

Thursday, April 12

The Lost Mode is an ensemble that fuses early music with active musical traditions from around the world that have their roots in modal music. Annette Bauer, Shira Kammen, Peter Maund and Derek Wright play a variety of instruments with different cultural specialities that they bring to their performances. San Francisco Early Music Society presents three Bay Area concerts by the group, called “That Which Colors The Mind: Musical Modes Through Time and Space” this Friday through Sunday. There’s more information about the concerts at the SFEMS website.

Annette Bauer with her sarodeAs an example of the crossover/eclectic nature of the ensemble, Annette Bauer, who was a co-founder of The Lost Mode plays recorders in traditional early music groups, but moved to the Bay Area to study the northern Indian classical instrument called the sarode with Ali Akbar Khan. She also plays the Armenian double-reed instrument called the duduk

She says that the specialized knowledge each of the players brings allows them to have cross-cultural conversations while they play or improvise: “In a way, it’s like sitting around a table and looking at the same object from many different sides. You’re all seeing the same object, you’re bringing your own perspective to it, but the piece that you’re playing is still the piece that’s in front of you.”

While she says it’s not important for the listener to understand the music theory that relates the varied repertoire they play, it’s there – a musical language based on systems of scales that go back to the well beyond the earliest history of notated classical music:

“This program is emotionally expressive music that uses the modes, both from the Middle Ages, and then also from modal traditions around the world, to show up in the present moment, and color the soundspace of the performance.”

Annette Bauer is going to be adding another interesting item to her resume soon: shortly after this series of concerts she’ll begin playing music as a part of the orchestra for Cirque du Soleil… as she put it, “running away to join the circus!

Friday, April 13

Our series highlighting this season’s “American Mavericks” concerts from the San Francisco Symphony kicks off on Sunday at 8 p.m. Emanuel Ax is soloist in a work that’s been called a “kind of anti-concerto”: Morton Feldman’s Piano and Orchestra, a work from 1975 that creates a wash of orchestral color without a sense of tempo or linear melodies. Also on the program will be Carl Ruggles’ Sun-Treader, and Synchrony by Henry Cowell.

There’s more information about the series on our American Mavericks page.

Morton Feldman’s scores went through a series of changes over the years – he was using graphic notation in the early 1950s – there’s a discussion of how it works here, but you can see a sample page of the score to Projection IV here on this video:

By the time of Piano and Orchestra, Feldman was back to using conventional notation; although it was scrupulously written out, he managed to keep the random, free-floating sound he had achieved when he was asking players to make their own decisions about pitches, and how long notes would be

Monday, April 16

In honor of KDFC’s Black and White Week, see how many of the twenty mashed-up piano pieces you can identify:

(click and drag over the space below to see the listings.)

  1. Satie: Gymnopedie #1
  2. Bach: Goldberg Variations (Aria)
  3. Stravinsky: Petrushka, Scene 1
  4. Schubert: “Wanderer” Fantasy
  5. Bach: Prelude #1 in C (from Well-Tempered Clavier, book 1)
  6. Mozart: Sonata #16
  7. Beethoven: Sonata #8 in c minor, “Pathetique”
  8. Brahms: Intermezzo
  9. Debussy: Golliwog’s Cakewalk (from Children’s Corner)
  10. Schubert: Impromptu #2 in E-flat
  11. Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 9, no. 2
  12. Joplin: Maple Leaf Rag
  13. Chopin: “Heroic” Polonaise, Op. 53
  14. Brahms: Waltz in A-flat, Op. 39, no. 15
  15. Liszt: Liebestraum (“Dream of Love”)
  16. Debussy: Clair de Lune
  17. Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody #2
  18. Beethoven: “Moonlight” Sonata
  19. Rachmaninoff: Prelude in c-sharp minor
  20. Gershwin: Prelude #2

Tuesday, April 17

The current incarnation of Los Romeros guitar quartet includes two original members, Celin and Pepe, as well as two more grandchildren of the patriarch and founder of the quartet, Celedonio Romero. They’re going to be playing a concert at the Marin Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael this weekend. The popularity of the guitar quartet as an chamber ensemble (and much of its repertoire) can be traced to pieces that were written or arranged for the Romero family.

There’s more information about the concert at the Marin County website.

Celin Romero says his family members come by their signature sound naturally, since the first group began playing together in 1959. Celin’s son Celino joined the ensemble when Angel Romero decided to pursue conducting, so between 1991 and 1995, there were three generations represented. Angel’s son, Lito joined upon the death of his grandfather Celedonio in 1996.  They all learned by hearing the solo work of Celedonio as they were growing up, and have maintained both his technique and philosophy of playing.

They first made a name for themselves playing transcriptions of popular Spanish songs, and when looking for more repertoire were inspired by the masters of the Baroque: Telemann, Bach and Vivaldi works that had been written for four violins soon were transcribed for their guitars, and became a stape of their concerts.

They’ve had many pieces composed for them, including Joaquin Roderigo’s 1967 Concierto Andaluz, and works by Federico Morento Torroba, Francisco de Medina, and even Morton Gould.

Wednesday, April 18

The brand-new ensemble Trio Valtorna is made up of players who have a lot of history performing together. David Jolley plays the horn, with Ida Kavafian on violin, and Gilles Vonsattel at the piano. They’re going to be presenting a free concert as part of the Morrison Artists Series at San Francisco State University this Sunday, with a pair of works by Brahms and John Harbison (the latter was written for David Jolley, who played it with Ida Kafavian back in the mid 1980s).

There are details about the concert, and other activities with the trio at the Morrison Series website.

When Ida Kavafian and David Jolley decided that they should form a horn trio with Gilles Vonsattel, it wasn’t because they weren’t already quite busy. In addition to performing as a soloist (on both violin and viola) and in a variety of ongoing chamber groups, Kavafian also teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Bard College Conservatory of Music, and was the founder of the Bravo! Vail Valley and Music From Angel Fire festivals.

One of the advantages of a trio made up of seasoned solo performers is that their repertoire will eventually include different combinations of duos and solo piano pieces, in addition to the works written specifically for horn trio. And, Ida Kavafian says, they all enjoy playing new music, and hope to be able to commission works for Trio Valtorna.

Thursday, April 19

The program the Oakland East Bay Symphony presents this Friday night is called “Notes from the Philippines” – and in addition to David Requiro, who’ll solo in the Dvorak Cello concerto, the concert will feature two jazz pianists – and first time symphonic composers – whose families have their roots in the Philippines. Victor Noriega will be at the piano, to join the musicians for his piece, Generations, Directions: a three-movement work that tells the story of three generations of his family in their move to North America. The Bay Area’s own Arthur Khu has written a work called The Symphony of Souls, which is his first non-improvised piece.

There’s more information at Dianne’s Top Five list, and at the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s website.

The task of writing a commissioned piece for a symphony orchestra led Arthur Khu to do a lot of studying of scores, and listening, in addition to studying the traditional rules of orchestration.  “The thing that I found to be most challenging,” he says, “was just the relative volumes of instrument to instrument. How many horns do you need to have to balance a string section, for instance?”  He chose not to include his own instrument in his piece, so he’ll be in the audience on Friday, which he says is also a new experience for him.

Victor Noriega says going into the project, even though he knew Mendelssohn and Dvorak would also be on the program, he didn’t set out to write orchestral music that wasn’t true to his voice. “Because I can only write what I know how to write. I’ll admit, I’m limited in terms of what I’m able to do with this, but it makes it simpler, actually, if theres not so much to draw from. Then you just try to make the best with what you have.”

The performance will continue Music Director Michael Morgan’s past programming of concerts tied together with a cultural or geographical theme. He said that he was glad to be able to offer a program that highlighted the Bay Area’s rich Filipino culture and its performing artists.

Friday, April 20

Jean-Yves Thibaudet is in town to play the Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”) by Camille Saint-Saens with the San Francisco Symphony. It’s a piece the composer wrote for himself to play while on a grand tour, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his career as a pianist. It’s a non-stop workout for the soloist, with scales, parallel octaves, thirds, sixths, arpeggios – Thibaudet says it’s all the things a player should work on to perfect their technique.  Remaining concerts, with Stephane Deneve conducting , are Friday through Sunday.

There’s more information at the San Francisco Symphony website.

Thibaudet has long been a champion of the work, with a recording and many concert performances (in fact, the last time the San Francisco Symphony played it, in the 1990s, he was the soloist). He says recently he played it in Cincinnati, where it hadn’t hadn’t been performed since 1969… Although the composer played it there in the 1906-07 season.

“The reason this concerto exists was just to show off for Saint-Saens himself,” Thibaudet says. “He was apparently a phenomenal virtuoso, and he wrote the piece just for a big tour that he was doing. He wanted to show off what he could do, and boy.. he could do a lot. He certainly wrote a difficult – technically amazing – difficult piece.”

It’s the second movement, with its exotic melodies, that he particularly loves. “It sends you to another place. You immediately feel – well, it’s called the ‘Egyptian,’ so I guess you feel you’re in Egypt. But sometimes you feel like you’re in Spain, or Morocco, or the Far East, suddenly, almost like a gamelan moment. It’s just really fascinating, everything that goes through that second movement.”

Here’s rehearsal video of Thibaudet and the orchestra playing the frenetic third movement, with Stephane Deneve conducting:

Monday, April 23

This is Bay Area Dance Week… It actually began with an “Open Dance” flashmob Friday at noon in Union Square. Dancers’ Group has organized the 14th annual event, which will offer more than 600 activities, performances, lectures, classes – and cover the entire Bay Area free through the week’s finale on Sunday the 29th.

There’s a searchable database for all the activities at the Bay Area Dance Week website.

Here’s some video, and also some photos taken at the flashmob Open Dance Friday at Union Square… You’ll probably want to lower the volume of your speakers, because the audio is quite loud!!

Flashmob for Bay Area Dance Week

Flashmob for Bay Area Dance Week

Flash mob for Bay Area Dance Week

Flash mob for Bay Area Dance Week

Tuesday, April 24

It’s a trio of C’s on this edition of State of the Arts “A to Z” – Crescendo, Celesta, and C Major.

A crescendo is  the entire process of getting louder – moving from one dynamic to another over time, not just the final destination. It’s something that can happen within a single measure, or sometimes, like in the case of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, or the final movement of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite can last the entire duration of the piece. The celesta looks like a scaled-down piano, but instead of strings, tuned pieces of metal are struck over resonators. And C Major… just gets no respect.

Here’s Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony playing the ending to the Firebird Suite. The crescendo lasts pretty much the length of the movement. But at the very end, in the final three measures, there’s another fast crescendo, starting at a soft pianissimo (pp) and increasing to a super-loud sforzando (sfff)!

And here’s Sergiu Celibidache, conducting the longest and slowest Bolero possible – (the section featuring parallel piccolos, horn and celesta is at 9:08):

Wednesday, April 25

The world premiere cantata by composer Gabriela Lena Frank that the Berkeley Symphony is presenting Thursday night has special significance for conductor Joana Carneiro. When soprano Jessica Rivera said she’d love to be able to sing a work focusing on the strong women of the Bible, Carneiro turned to Frank for the music, and to her family’s priest in Portugal for adaptations of the Biblical texts. But at the heart of Holy Sisters is music that Gabriela Lena Frank wrote as a surprise wedding gift for Carneiro last year, where it was sung by Rivera, and accompanied by the conductor’s musical siblings.

There’s more information about the concert at the Berkeley Symphony website.

Gabriela Lena Frank and her frequent collaborator, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Nilo Cruz will be writing the second part to Holy Sisters, with the same musical forces, plus the addition of a mezzo-soprano. Frank says the the texts of the first half (provided by José Tolentino de Mendonça) focuses on women of the Bible: Mary Magdalen, Rachel, Sarah, Miriam, and Hannah. The second half will concern strong women of the New World: Latin American holy sisters. Frank says each part should be able to stand alone, but together will be a cantata showing a continuity of “a vibrant portrayal of women’s faith.

Thursday, April 26

Opera San Jose is presenting Charles Gounod’s Faust – the story of an ill-fated deal with the devil, or Mephistopheles. And the bass who’s singing the role in this production made a dramatic career change several years ago, when he stopped working as an engineer in Silicon Valley, and tried to take a stab at singing professionally. Silas Elash has starred in several productions on the California Theatre’s stage, in his time as a resident bass with the company. This is one role he’s been waiting for, though – when he first started voice lessons eleven years ago, he was told that as a bass, he would someday get to “be the Devil”

There’s more information about Faust at Opera San Jose’s website.

Elash says it’s the best role he’s had so far, (he’s played Scarpia in Tosca, Sarastro in The Magic Flute, among many others) describing Mephistopheles this way: “He’s suave, he’s all-powerful until the very endy, when God intervenes. He’s controlling everyone, playing on everybody’s weaknesses, and with sarcasm. What fun!”

Faust runs until May 6th.

Friday, April 27

The program Susanna Mälkki is conducting with the San Francisco Symphony tonight and tomorrow brings together two of her specialties: music from her homeland of Finland (the first symphony of Jean Sibelius) and a modern work by Gérard Grisey called “Modulations” from his larger work Acoustic Spaces. There’s also the Third Piano Concerto of Sergei Prokofiev, with Cuban-American soloist Horacio Gutiérrez.

There’s more information about the concerts at the San Francisco Symphony website.

Mälkki is music director of the Paris-based Ensemble InterContemporain, which was the group that commissioned the Grisey work back in the 1970s. Modulations calls for an interesting assembly of 33 musicians – many playing a second instrument, so in addition to the two flutes, for example, there’s also piccolo and alto flute – and Mälkki says that the “because of the spectrum of the sounds, it’s something you absolutely must hear live, in a great acoustical surrounding.”  It’s not a piece about melody, it’s more about sounds and what one can do with sound combinations, in a style known as ‘spectral’ composition. “Even in the instrumentation,” Mälkki says, “you have a Hammond Organ, which also has these wonderful qualities of sound that is alive: there’s the vibrato, the standard Hammond sound. The other instruments can have trills, flutter-tonguing, tremolo, vibrato… all these things that can manipulate the sound without changing the note.

Monday, April 30

Spring performances of Smuin Ballet feature music by the grandson of Sergei Prokofiev, Oscar-winner Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Igor Stravinsky. The West Coast premiere of Val Caniparoli’s ballet Swipe is set to London-based composer Gabriel Prokofiev’s second string quartet. The recording by the Elysian Quartet features electronica remixes of the piece – something that the young Prokofiev is comfortable with (he’s written a concerto for turntables and orchestra). Ma Cong’s world premiere Through is accompanied by works of Sakamoto, and the final piece on the program was one of the last works choreographed by the man for whom the company was named: Michael Smuin, in a setting of Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms.

The performances run at the Yerba Buena Center for Performing Arts through May 6, before going to Walnut Creek and Mountain View. There’s more information at Smuin Ballet’s website.

Smuin Dancers rehearsing