Monday, December 3

The Del Sol String Quartet is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this season, and this week they're presenting "Del Sol Days" – a series of concerts and events showcasing their work with local and contemporary composers and collaborators. The group originally formed at San Francisco State University, working as graduate assistants for the Alexander Quartet. Violist Charlton Lee was a founding member – he says they decided early on to focus on new music, feeling that it would enable them to make more of an artistic contribution to the community. 

There's a full schedule of events at Del Sol String Quartet's website.

The collaborators they'll be appearing with this week show the kind of musical exploration the quartet enjoys. They'll be playing a work by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe for quartet and didjeridu, (joined by soloist Stephen Kent); the San Francisco premiere of Mason Bates' Bagatelles for String Quartet and Electronica, in which they'll play live, accompanied by electronically manipulated sounds of the quartet on tape; they'll also be joined by the ZOFO four-hand piano duo, and a toy piano player for the American premiere of Kui Dong's Shall We Play?; a multi-media event called Garden: Chapter 1: Night will team them with video artist Chris Jonas; plus there are panels with featured composers, and a composition student workshop led by Gabriela Lena Frank.

The members of the Del Sol String Quartet are Kate Stenberg and Rick Shinozaki (violins), Charlton Lee (viola) and Kathryn Bates Williams (cello). They'll be presenting three concerts over the course of the "Del Sol Days", Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Del Sol String Quartet

Tuesday, December 4

San Francisco Opera has announced their 2013-14 season, including a preview of the upcoming opera by composer Tobias Picker and librettist J.D. McClatchy, Dolores Claiborne. It's based on the novel by Stephen King, and tells the story of the lengths a woman will go to protect her daughter from being abused. The season will also include 200th birthday year performances of Verdi and Wagner – plus a grand opera style presentation of Showboat, the musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.

There's more information about the upcoming season at San Francisco Opera's website.

The season will begin with Boito's Mefistofele, followed by the new work by Picker. Then there's a trio of works in honor of the bicentennials of two of opera's greatest composers: Verdi's Falstaff (with Bryn Terfel in the title role), Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, and then a special presentation of Verdi's Requiem. The Fall season ends with a new production of The Barber of Seville, with three more works for the Summer of 2014: Show Boat, La Traviata, and Madama Butterfly.

Here are Dolores Claiborne's librettist, J.D. McClatchy, and composer, Tobias Picker: 

J.D. McClatchy and Tobias Picker

And Elizabeth Futral (Vera Donovan) and Dolora Zajick (Dolores Claiborne):

Elizabeth Futral and Dolora Zajick

Wednesday, December 5

It's an A-to-Z edition of State of the Arts looking at Meter and Measures – the composer's tools for organizing time and beats in their works. Most of Western classical music uses the same building blocks of groups of twos or threes to make up meter, with the bar line going in front of the emphasized first beat. In 4/4 or common time, there are four beats per measure; 'cut time' or 'alla breve' has two; there are dances like waltzes and minuets that are in triple time with three. Once you have a predictable and steady pulse, it's possible to add syncopation and other rhythmic patterns that play off of that pulse.

Here's the "Ode to Joy" section from the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the famous melody of which is in 4/4:

The "Waltz of the Flowers" from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker – The 3/4 meter begins at 1:12 –

Thursday, December 6

Berkeley Symphony premieres a work tonight by a home-town composer who already — at age 21 — has had an impressive musical career . Dylan Mattingly was born in Oakland, and grew up hearing Kent Nagano and Berkeley Symphony. His Invisible Skyline, a work in three movements, or as he calls them, 'acts', is on a program with Shai Wosner playing Ligeti's Piano Concerto, and Schumann's Symphony No. 2, all conducted by Joana Carneiro.

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

This is a bit of a homecoming for Dylan Mattingly, who's now studying at Bard College Conservatory of Music. He also wrote a piece for the Symphony's "Under Construction" composition program several years ago.  But even that wasn't his first composition for orchestra, which came when he was about twelve. He's making the most of his time in town, though, with another premiere as part of the Del Sol String Quartet's anniversary series of concerts this week. 

For Invisible Skyline, he says was inspired by the definition of a German word: Märchen.  It means 'wonder-tale' or fairy-tale. "I found this beautiful definition: a series of episodes or motifs, which moves in an unreal world, without definite locality or definite creatures, and is filled with the marvelous."

Joana Carneiro and Dylan Mattingly at Berkeley Symphony rehearsal

He says throughout history humanity has been fascinated by narratives and storytelling: "there are so many different things in our lives that are stories that exist across our lives but aren't actually part of our lives.  So you'll have Homer, and the Iliad and the Odyssey, and then at the same time, in the modern world, you'll have TV shows that span hundreds of hours… And you'll have a sports event where at the beginning of the game you don't know who's going to win, and all these people pour hopes and dreams into that."

For her part, music director Joana Carneiro calls Dylan Mattingly a huge talent, and calls his return to Berkeley Symphony with this premiere a perfect fit.

Friday, December 7

It's a concert full of music of the night… Left Coast Chamber Ensemble began with the original sextet version of Arnold Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) and built their program from there, including a guitar solo by Benjamin Britten, a solo cello selection from Donald Erb's Suddenly It's Evening, and George Gershwin's only piece written specifically for string quartet, Lullaby.

There's more information about the concerts this Sunday and Monday night on the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble's website.

Anna Presler says several of the works have literary ties as well – the Schoenberg piece was inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel – "sort of a heavy poem about the man and the woman out taking a walk, and she tells him secrets, and he forgives her…"  Although the form of the piece matches the poetry, and each section corresponds to a programmatic stanza, Presler says Transfigured Night stands very well on its own, apart from the text. The work is frequently played by larger ensembles, but the version that LCCE will be playing is the way it was originally scored: for two violins, two violas, and two cellos, which Presler says allows each player to be more individually expressive.

Benjamin Britten based Nocturnal, a set of variations for classical guitar, on John Dowland's song "Come Heavy Sleep" – and there's even text that can go with Donald Erb's Suddenly It's Evening: "Each of us is alone on the heart of the earth, pierced by a ray of sun, and suddenly it's evening…"
The Gershwin Lullaby, which Presler calls "a perfect antidote" to the Schoenberg piece, is a deceptively simple tune – which was written when he was a student, and published decades after his death.

Monday, December 10

The piano team known as ZOFO duet (Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi) play "one-piano-four-hands" – that is, side by side, rather than on two separate pianos. The CD they released this spring, called "Mind Meld", has been nominated for a Grammy Award.  The title of the disc describes the way they play… it involves a certain amount of choreography too, since their parts frequently cross or overlap. 

There's more information about the CD and the players at ZOFO duet's website

The pair began with solo careers, but a little over two years ago, an injury sidelined Nakagoshi for several months, during which Zimmermann played several of his booked concert dates. As he turned pages for her, he liked her playing, and suggested they try a long held dream of his: to read through the piano reduction of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which the composer did with Claude Debussy in Paris a hundred years ago. 

ZOFO actually stands for 20FO, or "Twenty Finger Orchestra", which you can see on display here, as they are playing the "Hesitation Tango" from Souvenirs by Samuel Barber:

Tuesday, December 11

The New Century Chamber Orchestra is famously run by consensus, with Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the other players shaping their musical interpretation based on group input during rehearsals. Their upcoming series of concerts, called Soloists of New Century (beginning Wednesday night in Atherton) puts that democratic ideal on display, with members of the ensemble in the limelight… including ten soloists for Vivaldi's Four Seasons.


There's more information about the upcoming performances at New Century Chamber Orchestra's website

Vivaldi's series of concertos known as the Four Seasons is usually performed with one soloist – who plays along with the group, but then adds individual flair during the solo passages. Here, Salerno-Sonnenberg decided that each member of the violin section should have a movement of her own; she'll play the first movement of Spring, and the final Allegro of Winter, but will be joined by nine other violinists. Associate Concertmaster Dawn Harms says Salerno-Sonnenberg's willingness to share the soloing duties shows her faith in her colleagues as musicians – and says she especially likes that when they stand to play their solos, it's not at the front of the stage, but from where they already are on stage.

Salerno-Sonnenberg says that each soloist was given the homework of coming to their own interpretation of their given movement; Vivaldi made notations in the score about certain special effects he was going for (a dog barking, and other sounds of nature, for example). "There are some players that are taking the notations that Vivaldi wrote very literally, and trying to create these sounds. I do that," she says. "And others that don't take it quite as literally. It's just that's what's lovely about this… They ahve free rein to do what they want and have their voice heard."

The other part of their program continues the focus on putting individuals in the spotlight. A work by Clarice Assad that's based on themes by J.S. Bach is called "Suite for Lower Strings" – and the violins, so busy in the Vivaldi, will be strictly accompanying as individuals in the viola and cello sections trade phrases.  There's also a work by composer Lera Auerbach, featured composer with NCCO this year, called Sogno di Stabat Mater for Solo Violin, Viola, Vibraphone and String Orchestra, with Jenny Douglass as viola soloist.  

There will be performances in Atherton, Berkeley, SF (Herbst Theatre) and Marin between Wednesday and Sunday.

Wednesday, December 12

Today, in recognition of this day full of twelves, a re-working of the "Twelve Days of Christmas" for the Classical music lover… From Steve Reich's Drumming, to William Byrd's Mass for Four Voices,  Haydn's Parisian "Hen"… and beyond.

 Here are the days (click and drag across the blank areas to reveal the suggested pieces of music to accompany them) 

12 drummers drumming…

Steve Reich: Drumming

11 pipers piping…

Peter Maxwell Davies: An Orkney Wedding With Sunrise

10 lords a-leaping…  

Edvard Grieg: Lyric Pieces, Book 4 (Op. 47 no. 6): "A Leaping Dance"

9 ladies dancing…  

Jacques Offenbach: "Can-Can" from Orpheus in the Underworld

8 maids a-milking…  

Johann Strauss, Jr.: Adele's "Laughing Song" from Die Fledermaus 
Georges Bizet: "March" from Fair Maid of Perth

7 swans a-swimming…  

Sibelius: Fifth Symphony, mvt. 3
Saint-Säens: "The Swan" from Carnival of the Animals
Tchaikovsky: Scene from Swan Lake

6 geese a-laying…  

Maurice Ravel: "Empress of the Pagodas" from Mother Goose Suite
Eugene Goosens: Concerto in One Movement, Op. 45

5 gold rings…

Wagner: "Ride of the Valkyries", from his Ring Cycle's Die Walküre

4 calling birds…

William Byrd: Mass for Four Voices

3 French hens…

Haydn: Symphony 83 (one of the Paris Symphonies) known as "The Hen"

2 turtle doves…  

Ralph Vaughan Williams: "The Turtle Dove"

A partridge in a pear tree…   

John Jeffreys: "The Little Pretty Nightingale" (sung by Ian Partridge)
Arvo Part: Arbos

Thursday, December 13

When the Green Music Center's Weill Hall opened officially in September, Don Green said he'd know it was a reality when he could hear Bach's B-minor Mass performed there. He'll get a chance to do that this Saturday, when the Sonoma Bach Choir and members of the Santa Rosa Symphony join forces under conductor Bob Worth. They'll also be performing it in San Francisco on Friday, as part of the Old First Concerts series. 

There's more about the performances at the Green Music Center's website, Sonoma Bach, and Old First Concerts.

Conductor Bob Worth, who's Music Director of Sonoma Bach, and the Choral Director at Santa Rosa Symphony says it was clear that this would be the piece for this year's choral special, once they knew that Weill Hall would be up and running. "First of all, because that's what Don's been looking forward to for fifteen years, but also because it's the right piece for the hall and for the moment." He adds that although it's a big room for the forces they'll have (about fifty singers in the chorus, 30 instrumentalists, plus five soloists) they won't have a problem filling it with Bach. 

The hall, which is in its first season, has already had performances in a variety of styles and genres of music, from many historical periods… Just in its first weekend, it played host to Lang Lang, a choral concert, the Santa Rosa Symphony, and Alison Kraus & Union Station. Worth says he's also looking forward to the smaller recital hall, still under construction, which will be an ideal size for more intimate early music performances.

Friday, December 14

Going to see the ballet of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for many people – and most of the performances are fairly similar… "The Hard Nut" by choreographer Mark Morris – which is in Berkeley again this year, through Cal Performances – has also become a tradition, but it's unlike other Nutcrackers. He chose to go back to the full music and the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and was inspired by the cartoon art of Charles Burns.

There's more information about "The Hard Nut" at the Cal Performances website.

Mark Morris says the unique look of the production harkens back to the 1960s or 70's: "It's not 'Laugh-In', although that dates me already, and I love how "Laugh-In' looks. It's a little 'Carol Burnett Show,' and it's a little whatever I'm remembering, and whatever we felt like making up." But he points out that previous settings of the ballet were set in a vague, nostalgic way. "I don't know where most of them take place – it's like somewhere in deepest darkest Germany. Obviously the San Francisco one takes place in San Francisco, the relatively recent one that Helgi [Tomasson, of SF Ballet] did. But very often it's just like in some mysterious other time, when everybody behaved in a different way."

Here's the "Waltz of the Snowflakes" from The Hard Nut… As Morris describes, the way the snow is spread by the dancers is "magic…and a lot of work" –  and an artistic decision helped along by the necessity of not being able to hang a bag of snow above the stage when it was first performed more than 20 years ago.

Mark Morris describes his ballet to Tchaikovsky's music and E.T.A. Hoffmann's story this way: "It's a deeper story, a scarier story, it's a little bit more complicated… It's not a parody, it's not a satire. It's a reading of a beautiful score of music, and a ballet that was a big flop when it happened a long time ago. There are many versions, many readings of this piece, and mine is one of them, and it's been around for a long time by now!

Monday, December 17

The British choral tradition goes back centuries – and the Chapel Choir at Jesus College, Cambridge has been in existence since the end of the 1400s… It's made up of young boy choristers, and older male choral scholars; their College Choir, which has male and female student singers, has only been around since the end of the 1970s. Both groups are now on tour in the Western US, and will present a free concert tomorrow night in Oakland at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. 

There's more information about the concert at the St. Paul's Episcopal Church website. And more about the ensemble itself at the Jesus College Choirs site.

For the concert in Oakland, they'll also be joined by the Chapel College Men and Boys Ensemble, part of Pacific Collegium, which is in residence at St. Paul's. Mark Williams, the Director of Music at Jesus College says they're looking forward to the collaboration, which will include a 17-part Magnificat by Giovanni Gabrieli. Williams had worked with Pacific Collegium's Artistic Director, Christopher Kula during a previous visit to the States.

Here are Mark Williams and his choirs with a bit of seasonal fun… 

The last time the combined choirs of Jesus College, Cambridge toured the United States two years ago, snow at Heathrow airport kept them stranded in Washington DC for an extra four days. But this time, they'll be flying home with time to spare for Christmas. They've already performed in Seattle and Portland, and in addition to Tuesday's concert in Oakland, they'll sing at lunchtime at Old St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco.

Tuesday, December 18

On an A-to-Z edition of The State of the Arts, it's Edward Elgar's Enigma… The set of variations he composed, each depicting one of his friends. But it's no mystery who is represented in each section. It's the elusive theme that Elgar said was not stated, but implied throughout all of the variations.

There are many theories about what the "hidden" theme is: Mozart's "Prague" Symphony, God Save the Queen, Auld Lang Syne, even the mathematical constant pi (3.1415 rounded up to 3.142, which corresponds to the opening four notes of the theme). This would-be sleuth thinks the answer is "Ein feste Burg" (A Mighty Fortress is Our God).

Another theory ties in with the "Nimrod" variation… Elgar said that when he wrote it, he was remembering a conversation that he had had with his friend and publisher Augustus Jaeger. Elgar had been depressed with the circumstances of his life, and Jaeger sang the theme to the slow movement of Beethoven's "Pathetique" sonata, which the opening of "Nimrod" hints at.

The other mystery that remains unsolved is the "Dorabella Cipher" – this note that Elgar wrote to his friend, Dora Penny in 1897.  Although some claim to have broken the code, the arguments are a little dubious, and impossible to prove: Elgar didn't tell, and although he assumed Dorabella would be able to make sense of it, she never could.
The Dorabella Cipher

Wednesday, December 19

The singers of Chanticleer can count on a busy schedule each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when they tour pretty much non-stop with their holiday concert program. Their remaining concerts are tonight in Livermore, then Carmel on Friday, Santa Clara on Saturday, before ending the tour at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco on the 23. KDFC will broadcast "A Chanticleer Christmas" one-hour special on Sunday.

There's more information about the program and remaining concerts at Chanticleer's website.

The all-male choir is celebrating its 35th anniversary this season, with a gala concert event scheduled for March. Jace Wittig is Chanticleer's Interim music director – he says that with their long history, there's a lot of repertoire to choose from for the Christmas concerts; the first priority is to retell the story of the Nativity, from plainchant through the Renaissance, and Spirituals.  There are also traditional carols – including arrangements by former music director Joseph Jennings – that usually make up the second half of the concerts.

A Chanticleer Christmas

One of the staples of Chanticleer's Christmas concerts, the beautiful 'Ave Maria' by Franz Biebl:  

Thursday, December 20

The year is drawing to an end, and some have pointing with alarm to the fact that the calendar designed by the pre-Columbian Maya people to keep track of long historical blocks of time is also coming to an end… But going on the presumption that the world isn't actually ending on Friday, here's a little bit of music (inspired by that era) by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, called La Noche de los Mayas (Night of the Mayas).

Revueltas wrote La Noche de los Mayas as the score to a Mexican film in 1939 – just a year before he died at 40 years old. He wrote several other film scores, as well as orchestral works for the concert hall that captured the exuberance and rhythmic drive of folk music of Mexico.

The original film for which it was written — a historical drama directed by Chano Urueta, with a romance and a bit of the early days of Spanish explorers — has largely faded from memory, but the music, as adapted into a concert suite by José Ives Limantour in the early 1960s, is now heard regularly in concert halls – the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel recently played it at Zellerbach Hall during their residency in Berkeley.

Here's the final movement, Night of Enchantment, which shines the spotlight on the percussion section (including a soloist playing a conch shell) in an exciting series of variations:

Friday, December 21

You can make your choices for KDFC's Classical Music All-Stars up until midnight New Year's Eve… But with so many to choose from (the full ballot is here, and you can write-in works if your favorites are missing) maybe this little montage might remind you of a title or two you've forgotten. 

Here's a list of the pieces in the montage (click and scroll over the space below to reveal the names):

  1. Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring (Simple Gifts)
  2. Aram Khachaturian:  Adagio from Spartacus
  3. Leo Delibes: Lakme “Flower Duet”
  4. Edvard Grieg: “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from the Peer Gynt Suite
  5. Antonin Dvorak: Cello Concerto
  6. Georges Bizet: “Seguidilla” from Carmen
  7. Franz Schubert: “Trout” Quintet (mvt. 4: Theme and Variations)
  8. Giacomo Puccini: “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot
  9. Sergei Prokofiev: “Dance of the Knights” from Romeo and Juliet
  10. Bedrich Smetana: “The Moldau” from Ma Vlast
  11. George Frideric Handel: “Largo” from Xerxes
  12. Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Guitar in D Major
  13. Hector Berlioz:  “Un Bal” from Symphonie Fantastique
  14. George Gershwin: An American in Paris
  15. Gustav Holst: “Jupiter” from The Planets