Monday, April 6
The Cypress String Quartet presents their 16th Call and Response concert this Friday night, at Marines Memorial Theatre, with a premiere of a work by French composer Philippe Hersant that was written to be paired with the other works on the program, a Beethoven 'Razumovsky' middle period quartet, and Bartok's Quartet no. 4. Cellist Jennifer Kloetzel explains they share a source of inspiration: the outdoors at night.
There's more information about the concert at the Cypress String Quartet's website.
The quartet has had an impressive roster of composers participate in the series, including Jennifer Higdon and Kevin Puts – this is Philippe Hersant's second time. "He was our Call and Response composer in 2012, he wrote an amazing quartet for us, the third quartet, and we immediately looked for an opportunity to commission him again." Despite a very full schedule, Kloetzel says, he agreed. "He’s been so busy, we were really lucky to get on his dance card. He told us he didn’t have time, but he would do it anyway. He just wrote a really great piece for the 850th anniversary of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and now he’s working on something for some big anniversary at Versailles, for next year. So he’s very popular in France." This piece,“Der gestirnte Himmel” means 'The Starry Sky' in German. Kloetzel says it has that title because of the inspiration for Beethoven's Op. 59 no. 2. "So much of Beethoven’s music, we’re not sure the exact inspiration, and this one, there are two sources, plus part of Beethoven’s conversation books that talk about the second movement coming from Beethoven taking a walk outside at night, in Baden. I’m imagining back to 1806, when you’re walking outside in Baden at night, how many stars you can see." At the same time he was writing this quartet, Beethoven was reading a work of the philosopher Kant that was all about 'The Starry Sky.'
And although Bartok never fully explained what it meant to him, he described several of his works, including his fourth string quartet as 'night music.' "There are usually lonely melodies, solitary lonely melodies, with held dissonant harmony, that’s number one, and number two, the sounds you would hear in the countryside in the summertime, so imagine crickets, owls hooting, peeper frogs…" The third movement, right in the middle of the five sections especially includes those kinds of sounds.
Tuesday, April 7
Cantor Arts Center has just opened an exhibit of works by American artist Jacob Lawrence, called 'Promised Land' – pieces that will remain part of their permanent collection, thanks to a gift by the Kayden family. Director Connie Wolf says they're particularly excited to have the works because despite his popularity, Lawrence hadn't been well represented in the Bay Area.
There's more information about the exhibit, which runs through early August, at the Cantor Arts Center website.
Lawrence had success in selling works beginning at a relatively early age, compared to the popular conception of the struggling artist, and was creative for decades, which makes the Kayden family gift all the more significant. "They got to know Jacob Lawrence very early on in his career, and stayed with him to collect work at every stage of his career," explains Connie Wolf. "So this is an unusual collection in that it spans so many decades. He was a very prolific artist, and so this exhibition of 56 works allows us a view of these different stages of his career." But although he sold works, and they might be very familiar, Wolf says he's not necessarily a household name. "His work was collected by the Museum of Modern Art, by the Whitney Museum of American Art, by the Philips Collection. He has had such a career on the East Coast, and yet here in the Bay Area, his presence has been really not very strong. Lawrence was an artist who was appreciated, but at the same time, wasn’t embedded into the sort of canon of Art History, American Art History… And yet there’s a kind of a renaissance of his work now." In fact, there's a show that also just opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City that features his 'Migration' series.
Above is 'Construction' from 1952. Wolf says it's a theme that Lawrence returned to many times in his career, as he documented the African-American community. "On first glance, it’s about construction. But yet you recognize it’s about hard work, building a future. It’s about individuals making a difference, about individuals coming together to build something together, it’s about hope… It’s so meaningful… it’s got layers of information, and meaning and expression."
The haunting painting 'The Ordeal of Alice,' which was created at the height of the fight for Civil Rights, has a young African-American girl in a white dress, pierced by arrows, but steadfastly holding on to a pile of books. "So there’s a sadness, and yet there’s also a sense of hope. That’s what I feel is so powerful about his work. And the color certainly does create that sense of possibility. He uses such vibrant colors, and he takes those colors really from the street scenes of his life, whether he was living in Harlem, his travels to Africa, and later in his life when he lived in Seattle, Washington. And while the African American experience was his subject matter, it is powerful to see and recognize that it has meaning today for all people."
Wednesday, April 8
Opera San Jose presents a production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, running from the 18th of April to May 3rd. Director Brad Dalton says along with the memorable music, fun, and comedy, there are also some existential discoveries made along the way by the prince Tamino as he pursues the lovely Pamina.
There's more information about the production at the Opera San Jose website.
When we first meet Tamino, he's slaying a dragon, and acting as a heroic prince might. But Brad Dalton says the journey and quest he has to go on for the remainder of the opera is harder: "‘Flute’ is an opera about growing into maturity, from sort of first-half of life ego to second half of life, getting outside of yourself, recognizing community… Of course it’s a fun opera, and there’s lots of lightness, and it’s just the funnest and most wonderful and joyous piece, but within that I’ve tried to emphasize that Tamino is living in a world of illusions." Namely, he comes to the realization that he's been lied to by the Queen of the Night and the three ladies who serve her. They told him Pamina was being held by the evil sorcerer Sarastro. "One of the things about Magic Flute that I love is that Tamino stops in the middle of act 1, two thirds of the way through act 1, and he realizes that everything he assumed is true in life is NOT true. And that is one of the most astonishing moments in opera, to me."
The stage design for the two acts represents this growth and realization. The opera opens in an elaborate set: "a very very beautiful Baroque theater with Baroque scenery, and flats and flying and it’s very charming, and it’s very quaint… And it sets up the whole fun of the theatricality of the first act, and doors opening and closing for comedy, and curtains going up and down, and things moving before your eyes. And then in the second act, things become much more spare. And it’s a beautiful beautiful place with a lot of reflective floors, a lot of mirrors." When they succeed in the trials that Sarastro puts them through, Pamina and Tamino don't just stay there in his realm, as is frequently the case. In the Opera San Jose production, Dalton wanted them to return to both the Baroque theater of the opening, and more importantly, to the real world, where they can use their new-found wisdom to rule well and make society a better place, in keeping with Enlightenment Era ideals.
Thursday, April 9
Cappella SF and Artistic Director Ragnar Bohlin present a program called 'Symphonic a Cappella: Grand Repertoire for Voices' this Saturday night, at the Mission Dolores Basilica. The composers range from Gabrieli to Lidholm, plus a world premiere by their composer in residence, David Conte, with works that split the ensemble into as many as 16 independent parts.
There's more information at the Cappella SF website.
The program is roughly chronological, beginning with Gabrieli's "Omnes Gentes Plaudite Manibus", taking advantage of the acoustics of the Mission Dolores Basilica by having four quartets of vocalists singing antiphonally to eachother. Then the Bach motet "Der Geist hilft uns'rer Schwachheit auf", and a set of three pieces by Josef Rheinberger from his opus 69, "Drei Geistliche Gesänge". Bohlin says: "And from there, we’ll go super Romantic, with Richard Strauss ‘Der Abend’ – his 16 part motet. It's a big piece. It starts with a serene high-G drone, for tenors and sopranos staying there forever forever, while the lush harmonies come in and out underneath it…A text by Friedrich Schiller, depicting a sunset as a meeting of the sun god and the sea god. Strauss didn’t write much choral music, but the few pieces that he did write are really masterpieces. It’s just super romantic and lush. If you like Strauss, you’re going to like this piece." Then there's a work by Krzysztof Pendercki, the Song of Cherubim, which was premiered at the 60th birthday gala concert for the Polish composer's Russian friend, Mstislav Rostropovich. "Where we’ve sort of done what we can within the tonal framework, that’s when we turn to Penderecki for something contrasting… It is in Church Slavonic, so it definitely has its musical roots in Orthodox, Byzantine music. You can hear the Western Christianity side of things, you hear remnants of Palestrina, Josquin… But it’s very Russian in a sense." Rounding out the program is a setting of "O Magnum Mysterium" by Bay Area composer Elliott Encarnación, and the world premiere of a work by Cappella SF's composer-in-residence, David Conte, called "Slumber Song."
Friday, April 10
Symphony Silicon Valley will be providing the soundtrack to the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy in live performances next week in San Jose. The musicians, joined by the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale, Cantabile Youth Singers and Ragazzi Boys' Choir, have been rehearsing the hours and hours of Howard Shore's through-composed score. General Director Andrew Bales gives a look at the logistics behind the concerts.
Accompanying classic films has become a popular way of introducing movie lovers to the concert-going experience, but as Andrew Bales describes it, the trilogy is "…this generation's 'Ring Cycle'. To take nothing away from Wagner's Ring Cycle, this is an epic of that same scale." And the preparations that have gone into the project are staggering. "Choirs, and orchestras… I mean, we’ll have 250 people performing for every one of these shows… You have to find the rehearsal time to do an entire season’s worth of music in two weeks. The score is some 12-hundred pages long. The length of music for each movie is effectively the length of what we would do at a Classic concert… two of them, so it’s two classic concerts each night, and you’re doing three of them. So that’s 6 programs of material."
Before the season began, this project wasn't part of the plan. In September, Andrew Bales heard that a production was being mounted on the east coast. "Once I heard it was being done in New York – there’s a Swiss orchestra coming in to do it, we called up and said: ‘Listen, we have to do it here.’ Symphony Silicon Valley, when we asked to do it, we realized, and in fact they realized, that it had never been put together this way. You had never tried to assemble all three movies, all the choirs, all the orchestras together, when they hadn’t already played them all before." Bales says the experience of all the action, sound effects and dialogue on screen with live accompaniment should be thrilling for fans of the film: "It's just a little sort of hyper-realism to have all that music coming at you."
Monday, April 13
The Lavrova/Primakov Duo plays a recital this Saturday in Cupertino, through the Steinway Society Bay Area. Included on the concert will be one of the Two-Piano Suites by Anton Arensky, a set of works that was responsible for them not only becoming a performing team, but also deciding to start their own record label, LP Classics.
There's more information about the concert at the Steinway Society's website.
They met back in the late 1990s, when they were studying at Juilliard, but they were focused on their classes and beginning their solo careers. It wasn't until about four years ago, when a friend introduced Vassily Primakov to the two piano suites of Anton Arensky that they considered joining forces. "I have to confess," Primakov says, "I didn’t know those pieces at all, even though I’m Russian, and it’s kind of shameful. I knew of Arensky’s music, but wasn’t familiar with any of his 2-piano suites, and apparently there were four. I just fell in love with the pieces, and so I called Natalia, and I said, ‘Listen, I think we’ve got our project – if we want to do something together, this is it.’" They began to play together, starting with the Arensky suites, and after a few years, thought they should record them – since part of the reason they were a discovery to the duo is that very few recordings existed at that point. They contemplated seeking out a record label to make the recording, but finally decided on creating their own, LP Classics. Since they began, they've had two primary goals: recording under-represented repertoire, by young, up-and-coming performers, and re-issuing recordings of performers from the past – beginning with Russian pianist Vera Gornostaeva, whose recordings were suppressed during the Soviet Russia era.
The duo's program in Cupertino also includes works by Saint-Saens, Lutoslawski, Scriabin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff, with a bit of a 'theme and variations' theme – the third of the Arensky Suites has the subtitle 'Variations', the second half opens with Lutoslawski's two-piano take on Paganini's famous caprice for solo violin, and Saint-Saens revisits a piano sonata in his 'Variations on a Theme of Beethoven', op. 35.
Tuesday, April 14
The Green Music Center has announced its schedule for the 2015-16 season, as well as its plans for both Weill and Schroeder Halls during the summer months. Co-executive Director Zarin Mehta says one of the guiding principals of programming the schedules was variety, with classical, world, jazz, and pop acts following eachother in close succession.
There's more information about the season at the Green Music Center website.
Just a random page in the brochure shows the varied programming, which Mehta says he prefers to seasons with a given theme. "To see this one after another: Chanticleer, Anoushka Shankar, then Chick Corea and Bela Fleck playing together, followed by Zap Mama and then Midori, and then Matthias Goerne doing Die Schöne Müllerin… We're slowly expanding the presentations, but trying to keep it eclectic as possible, so that you have people of different musical tastes coming to the center and talking about it, because word of mouth is the best advertising you can get." The season will begin with Lang Lang playing at the Gala, as he has done to kick off each of the previous 3 years. In the classical realm, there are other top pianists: Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Andre Watts, Peter Serkin, and Yuja Wang; Daniil Trifonov will be playing with Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal with Kent Nagano conducting in March, and Cameron Carpenter will be playing the International Touring Organ in February; there are performances from violinists Joshua Bell, Augustin Hadelich, James Ehnes, and Midori; chamber ensembles include Philharmonia Baroque (2 other programs in addition to Messiah), Orpheus Chamber Ensemble, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Pacifica Quartet with pianist Manahem Pressler, the Juilliard String Quartet, Kahane/Swensen/Brey Trio; standout singers include Chanticleer, Soweto Gospel Choir, The King's Singers, as well as operatic tenor Lawrence Brownlee, and bass-baritone Eric Owens. Other musicians who defy pigeonholing are sitarist Anoushka Shankar; Chris Thile, who'll play a program of Bach on his mandolin; Chick Corea and Béla Fleck together in concert, and the Belgian/African ensemble Zap Mama. The 'world' music has another African pairing, of Habib Koite and Vusi Mahlasela in March, and there are Irish, Scots, Indian, and Latin American performers too.
Schroeder Hall will be in use during the Summer (as will Weill Hall and its lawn, beginning with a Fourth of July concert) – with a Chamberfest series of performances of music by Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, culminating with a performance of the Brandenburg Concertos in Weill Hall. The series is being led by Jeffrey Kahane, who told Mehta about a succesful program that he had curated back before the new hall had been built. Throughout next season, Mehta says, there will be three continuing programs making use of the smaller venue. "Having a 250 seat hall has allowed me to bring in things that I can’t put into a 1400 seat hall. Already I’m bringing things in a 1400 seat hall that should be in a 900 seat hall. But that’s OK. I accept that. But a young man coming in, doing a song recital in a 250 seat hall, it’s perfect." So there will be a Saturday cabaret series, 'Sundays at Schroeder,' as well as a compact series of four programs by Musicians from the 'Valley of the Moon Music Festival'. In an appropriate bit of programming, Margaret Leng Tan, 'the Queen of the Toy Piano' will be giving a concert in the hall named for the other champion of that instrument. She called Mehta, who responded with delight: "It was an ‘aha moment’, there’s no question about it. I didn’t even think twice about it, I said ‘You’ll have to close next season.’"
Wednesday, April 15
The San Francisco Girls Chorus will present the West Coast premiere of a cantata called Kinderkreuzzug, or "Children's Crusade," with a text by Bertold Brecht and music by the German-Kurdish composer Ralf Yusuf Gawlick. Artistic Director Lisa Bielawa explains that it tells a story of children in Poland during World War Two, orphaned by war, coming together to protect each other.
There's more information about the performances (one in Berkeley Friday night, and another in SF on Sunday afternoon) at the San Franciso Girls Chorus website.
Lisa Bielawa founded the MATA Festival for young composers along with Philip Glass and Eleonor Sandresky back when, as she puts it, she was a young composer. And as a result made connections with other composers that have lasted since then. "Every year we had a call for scores, and young composers from all over the world send us things. And as a result, I’ve actually gotten to know hundreds and hundreds of composers of my generation, and it actually has given me an international community of colleagues, which is really tremendous. And one of the young composers whose work I was very impressed by was Ralf Gawlick… When I got the job with the Girls Chorus, I had a number of colleagues send me their choral works… actually I wrote to a lot of them and said, ‘hey, let me know if you have anything that might be of interest to us.’"
Gawlick's piece sets Bertold Brecht's epic poem Kinderkreuzzug for choir, and a chamber orchestra of strings, clarinet, and harp. "Children were orphaned by the circumstances of war," Bielawa says, "And those children in Brecht’s poem find each other, and form a kind of a roving unit of kids, of children, who come together to help each other survive. One of the things that is so poignant about this poem is that Brecht tells us that these children were from all sides of the war. They had in common that they were children, they didn’t have in common that they were all children of this or that nation, or this or that side of the war."
Thursday, April 16
The term 'Tafelmusik' – which Georg Philipp Telemann used to call his three collections of quartets, trio and solo sonatas and concertos – had been around for about a hundred years, as a way of describing music that was appropriate to accompany a feast or banquet. On this A-to-Z edition, a look at some other Table Music, both figurative and literal.
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber wrote a piece called Mensa Sonora, or The Sonorous Table in the 1680s, and it was already understood as a description for chamber works that weren't of a religious nature, which could be either instrumental or vocal.
Fast forward to the more literal recent past, when Belgian composer Thierry de Mey wrote a work for three percussionists to play using an amplified table:
A work that many attributed to Mozart (including the person who did this manuscript) is written in such a way that two players, across from each other at a table can read from the same score (the piece is also called The Mirror):
This duo is playing a longer version of the above, but you get the idea…
Friday, April 17
Violinist Hilary Hahn (who's in town this weekend for a sold-out San Francisco Performances recital at the SFJAZZ center) has recently released a CD with an unusual pairing of repertoire: Mozart's fifth concerto, and Henri Vieuxtemps' fourth. The two pieces are linked for Hahn, because she began learning them both at the same time, 25 years ago, when she was 10.
There's more information about the CD on Hilary Hahn's website.
The album is a tribute to two of her early teachers: Klara Berkovich, who she studied with from the age of 5 to 10, and Jascha Brodsky, who she studied with at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia from 10 until he died seven years later. Hahn says Klara Berkovich was (and still is!) a great teacher. "I think she was being modest; she could have taught me everything from there on as well. But I think it takes a very wise teacher to know when a student could use another opinion. And I think it was more a matter of that than that she didn’t want to teach me any more, or that she couldn’t." And, she says, the transition between teachers was seamless, even though their approaches were different, because they were tailored to Hahn's needs. "When I started with Mr. Brodsky, there wasn’t much of a jolt in my training. It wasn’t like he had to start all over with me, retrain my technique. It was more that he took what she had taught me, and developed it from there."
Henri Vieuxtemps' Fourth Violin Concerto used to be an especially popular piece with Russian soloists, where the composer had great fame. " He was instrumental (no pun intended) in founding the violin school there in St. Petersburg," she says, "which is funny, because he’s Franco-Belgian. When you think of the Russian school of violin playing, the counterpart is the Franco-Belgian school, yet they came from the same place." She says of the concerto, "It’s this dramatic work, it’s very symphonic. Very operatic also. And it plays with the idea of solo versus collaborative. There are a lot of moments where an unusual combination of orchestra instruments will be playing with the soloist. And the solo part has to dovetail into what they’re doing, but then suddenly step forward and be soloistic again. It’s really like an ensemble play, or an ensemble opera performance."
Monday, April 20
The appropriately titled CD, BEETHOVEN, Period., features Christopher O'Riley and Matt Haimovitz playing the instruments and strings for which the works were originally written. They say that the usual problems of balance between a concert grand and cello disappeared when they used gut strings, and an 1823 Broadwood fortepiano instead (from the collection of the Beethoven Institute at San Jose State University.)
There's more about the CD at the Oxingale Records website.
The disc came about rather serendipitously – they were planning to record a Russian program, when the opportunity to perform the Beethoven sonatas arose at a festival in Chicago, and O'Riley asked if there might be a fortepiano there. What they realized immediately was that the cello line was immediately more expressive and not buried. "I liken it to Leonardo DiCaprio in the Titanic movie," O'Riley says, "because he’s handcuffed to a railing and the water is rising. And in most collaborative situations with a modern piano, you have this image of the soloist really just barely getting his head above water. Barely able to be heard." Matt Haimovitz agrees: "I’ve always thought, for many years, that the cello and piano combination is a terrible idea. Going to this setup of the fortepiano and the early 19th Century setup cello, that solves a lot of these balance issues, and of course, Beethoven ends up solving them to a greater degree with the opus 69 sonata, which is sort of the seminal piece that really creates this perfect balance between the two instruments. With opus 69, I would say that that’s a really transformative moment. In his history and in the history of cello and piano. Where truly he’s thinking at every moment about how to distribute the material absolutely equally."
It's no accident that he called the duets 'Sonatas for Pianoforte and Violincello' – rather than 'Cello Sonatas' – they're meant to be equal partners. Haimovitz gives an example: "The second theme of the opus 69 sonata, where you question who has the most important role there. It’s like kind of a puzzle, actually that he’s dealing with. And it’s just brilliant, and was written at a time when he took just a short break from writing the fifth symphony… Can you imagine, you’re writing your fifth symphony, and you just take a couple of weeks off to write the opus 69 cello sonata. Not bad."
Tuesday, April 21
The newly-announced upcoming season at Cal Performances will be the first one following their new Berkeley RADICAL approach. As Artistic Director Matías Tarnopolsky described it, there will be the same high quality of programming audiences have come to expect, but with additional opportunities for learning and interaction, as evidenced by the first group in residence in September: Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.
There's a complete rundown of the new season at the Cal Performances website.
RADICAL stands for 'Research And Development Initiative in Creativity, Arts, Learning.' Tarnopolsky breaks the season down into three major strands (although he's quick to point out that the programs don't always only fit in one of them): The Natural World, ReVisions, and ZellerBACH. There's a special multimedia program which will pair David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra playing Olivier Messiaen's Des Canyons aux Etoiles, with photographs of the National Parks that inspired it. Berkeley photographer Deborah O'Grady explains the project:
There's also a work by Kaija Saariaho that falls into the 'Natural World' threat, with the Eco Ensemble performing Notes on Light; a piece called Rice will be danced by the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, and Kronos Quartet will again return to Cal Performances to give a multi-media presentation of Terry Riley's Sun Rings. There are more genre-crossing works under the 'ReVisions' umbrella, by the Ensemble Intercontemporain (led by Matthias Pintscher) with Pierre Boulez's Sur Incises, and pieces by UC Berkeley's own Edmund Campion and Franck Bedrossian. The Austin, Texas based theater troupe Rude Mechanicals will present Stop Hitting Yourself, and choreographer Trajal Harrell blends dance and theater with The Ghost of Montellier Meets the Samurai. Bach's works show up throughout the season, including in Twyla Tharp's 50th anniversary tour, and programs by the Bach Collegium Japan, and Gil Shaham – hence the ZellerBACH thread.
Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra will be bringing Ratmansky's Cinderella (to Prokofiev's score) to Zellerbach Hall, and returning favorites include the Mark Morris company with Handel's L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, accompanied by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Recitals will include David Finckel and Wu Han, baritone Matthias Goerne, countertenor Philippe Jaroussky; pianists Garrick Ohlsson, Yefim Bronfman, and Murray Perahia; and violinist Leila Josefowicz. In addition to the Simon Bolivar and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras, Kent Nagano will bring the Montreal Symphony Orchestra to Berkeley. There's also a full line-up of jazz and other harder-to-classify programs.
Friday, April 24
Israeli-born mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital will be presenting a solo recital through Stanford Live at the Bing Concert Hall on May 3rd. He says many of the audience members at his concerts are hearing the sound of his instrument played live for the first time, and so he varies the genres and eras represented on his programs to show off its expressive range. His most recent CD features works by Vivaldi.
There's more information about the concert at the Stanford Live website.
Avi Avital began to play the mandolin after he saw one at a neighbor's apartment in the city of Be'er Sheva, in southern Israel. "As a little kid, I really liked it," he says. It's a very approachable instrument, it's a very immediate and user-friendly instrument." Avital's first teacher was the conductor of a local mandolin youth orchestra, who believed in teaching kids to like classical music by playing it. Although the program he'll play at Stanford will be a recital with an accompanist – including works by Bach, Beethoven (who wrote a piece or two specifically for the mandolin), De Falla, Bartok, and Arvo Part – he's been touring with the Venice Baroque Orchestra, playing the works that appear on his Vivaldi CD, which was recorded in Venice. "We spent there about three or four weeks between rehearsals and the recording and performing it. And I really have to say that this period of spending time there and recording this Venetian music…that really gave this extra layer to the music, I feel, and to the whole experience."
"Vivaldi’s music is very clear, it’s very sharp. I don’t want to use the word simple, because it’s not simple music, but it’s recognizable, and it uses several kind of tricks that uplift your spirit. And I feel that the mandolin is a great instrument to play Vivaldi’s music on, because it is, like Vivaldi’s music, very clear. The attack of the sound it’s very clear when it starts. It’s the encounter of a plastic pick on a metal string. It’s a very precise moment."
Thursday, April 30
The San Francisco Symphony plays music by Ravel, Stravinsky, and also their guest conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen in concerts between now and Sunday afternoon. He wrote Nyx in 2011, inspired by a Greek goddess we know little about, beyond her being 'ruler of the night.'
There's more information about the concerts (the first one is this afternoon at 2:00) at the San Francisco Symphony website.
Salonen actually never planned to be a conductor – he was a horn player when he studied composition at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki in the 1970s. At first he conducted so that his works might have a chance to be performed at all. Decades later, he's firmly established himself in both pursuits, leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 17 years, and winning the prestigious Grawemeyer award in 2012 for the Violin Concerto that he wrote for Leila Josefowicz (they played it with the San Francisco Symphony in December of 2011). He says that sometimes he has to think like a conductor as he's writing music, and vice versa. "Of course, a huge part of conducting is the studying. Analyzing and dissecting the score, trying to understand what exactly the composer wants and so on. And in that process, of course I feel very much like a composer, trying to decipher the notation of a composer colleague… Then when I finally step in front of an orchestra and start rehearsing and performing, then I feel like one of the musicians. And then that becomes more practical, physical, more social."
In the four years since he wrote Nyx, he's grown more comfortable with the piece (as well as seen and heard colleagues conduct it). "I would say that I conduct it better now than I did when it was new," he says. "When the piece is new, you have to kind of get used to it as a composer/performer. With this experience I have now, I know fairly well what comes out when I write for orchestra, but still, the equation is so incredibly complex that sometimes the sheer balance, or the sound, the color is surprising. Now, of course, it’s already four years old, so I’m coming to it from a totally different place. I’m coming to it like a professional conductor coming to a score by a professional composer. Which is a more relaxed relationship. It’s very fascinating for me, the process: how something that feels totally personal and kind of raw, becomes more objective and more relaxed."