Tuesday, December 1

The San Francisco Symphony will be accompanying some favorites from the Warner Brothers cartoon library in Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II, led by the creator of the program, George Daugherty. In this 25th anniversary season, they’ll play What’s Opera Doc? and The Rabbit of Seville, but also new additions to the lineup, including a couple of new 3-D shorts.

There’s more information about the performances at the San Francisco Symphony website, and the Bugs Bunny at the Symphony website.

Daugherty says he originally planned to only pursue this project for a year, but its popularity, and advances in technology that have allowed him to take it on tour with a greater and greater number of shorts on the program have kept him at it for a quarter century. There are some titles they have to include in each performance: “We always have What’s Opera Doc? and The Rabbit of Seville because those are iconic classics, and people would be very unhappy if we didn’t have those. What’s Opera Doc, which has of course, as all fans know, the entire Ring Cycle, as well as Tannhauser, Rienzi, Lohengrin, and The Flying Dutchman, so eight Wagner operas, what is that, 42 hours or something like that, in 6 minutes and 20 seconds…”  Part of the appeal is the attention that went into the crafting of the animation by directors like Chuck Jones: “If you watch Bugs conduct in Baton Bunny especially, all of the patterns are exactly correct,” Daugherty explains. “The orchestra could watch Baton Bunny and be able to totally play it without me, just watching Bugs conduct, because it is perfectly… Chuck had the conducting book out when he did this.”

Here’s a clip from a concert with the New York Philharmonic:

Wednesday, December 2

Berkeley Symphony
‘s season continues Thursday night with a program called ‘Mystical’ – that includes the U.S. premiere of a work for bayan – a chromatic accordion – played by the man it was written for by Sofia Gubaidulina. Conductor and Music Director Joana Carneiro says the concerto, called Fachwerk, will come between music of Gabrieli and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

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

Geir Draugsvoll, the soloist, has inspired Sofia Gubaildulina to become a champion of his instrument, which is a chromatic button accordion (no keyboard). This concerto gets its name from the architectural term for timber framing. “There’s certainly a very clear formal structure to it, I think that’s part of the inspiration,” Carneiro says. “It’s a great piece for the bayan, and orchestra, the strings, the percussion, and in many ways, it’s a tribute to music of the past, like a lot of her music, and to her spirituality as well.” So Carneiro decided to program a pair of antiphonal works by Gabrieli to open the concert, and lead directly into the concerto. Finishing the program is the Ravel orchestrated version of Pictures at an Exhibition.

Thursday, December 3

There’s going to be a bit of a feeling of deja vu next week, when San Francisco Opera presents a double bill with two interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe’s tale “The Fall of the House of Usher.” In the lead for both halves is baritone Brian Mulligan, who’ll play Roderick Usher in Debussy’s La Chute de la Maison Usher and Gordon Getty’s Usher House.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151203.mp3

There’s more information about the show(s) at the San Francisco Opera website.

Brian Mulligan’s season has been, and will continue to be rather blood-soaked, singing the lead in the San Francisco Opera’s Sweeney Todd this fall, and playing Enrico, Lucia di Lammermoor’s brother. Now he’s got the challenging opportunity to play the same part, but different role twice each evening. “The good news is that in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ the Poe, there’s so much room for interpretation. You know, with the characters, with the house… Is Roderick ill, or isn’t he?… What’s the matter with him? Did he kill his sister? Is she dead?  There’s room to make compelling interpretations in both pieces for all choices.” Claude Debussy’s score is dense and intricate; Gordon Getty’s, Mulligan says, is more straightforward. But they’re both horror: “The Debussy is like an old-fashioned horror film, with cobwebs and shadows. The Getty is more like The Shining. The starkness of it is horrifying.”  As if there’s not enough spookiness for him this season, this Spring, Mulligan will be starring with the Minnesota Opera in the world premiere of an adaptation of that Stephen King novel by composer Paul Moravec.

Friday, December 4

A new vocal octet makes its debut this weekend, with concerts in San Jose and San Francisco. The group, called Gaude, is the project of Music Director Jace Wittig, who says the program of Advent and Christmas repertoire will range from Renaissance to 20th Century, with chants (Gregorian and Byzantine) as well as familiar and not-so-familiar carols.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151204.mp3

There’s more information about the program at the Gaude website.

Wittig, who is an alumnus of Chanticleer (and was recently their interim Music Director) says the ensemble formed as he found singers drawn as he is to small ensemble works from the Renaissance and beyond. As for the group’s name? “The word in Latin means to rejoice,” he explains. “And I’ve sort of added a tag line to our logo and to our title to say ‘Joy in Song’.  Partly because I want to clarify what the word means, but also because the singers really have brought such a sense of joy to every rehearsal, and I believe they will bring that same sense of enjoyment to the audience.”  Its his musical vision, but he’s not going to be conducting the eight singers when they have their concerts this weekend. He feels they should sing together as though playing chamber music.

The concerts are Saturday night at 8:00 at the Cathedral Basilica of San Jose, and Sunday at 7:00 at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco, presented by Music on the Hill.

Monday, December 7

Tomorrow night, at the recently restored Grand Theatre in the Mission, a concert presented by the foundation called The Open String will include special guest performers Amos Yang, Gilles Colliard, and Zoe Keating, a quartet of matched instruments by violin-maker and founder Robert Brewer Young, and a celebration of the organization’s first year of providing musical instruments to Bay Area musicians and teachers.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151207.mp3

There’s more information about the event and the organization at The Open String’s website.

Robert Brewer Young’s efforts to help fellow musicians date back to the days more than twenty years ago, when he was a violin-maker’s apprentice in New York City. He began by offering free repairs for subway and street musicians, and worked with the teacher Roberta Guaspari. “In the film “Music of the Heart,” Meryl Streep played her. But she was really teaching in the trenches in East Harlem. I helped her to maintain her instruments, do some fundraising to get some more.” He says that in the years since, he’s seen many of those young players graduate from Juilliard. “I realized pretty quickly that there were a lot of music programs who were lacking the basic tools, which was a decent violin.  I stepped in to try to fill that gap as well as I could, and the idea with The Open String is to do that on a larger scale, and make it more available to a larger community of musicians and teachers, and obviously children.”

He says within their first year, they’ve made a lot of progress: “We managed to get 80 instruments into 4 different programs, El Sistema style programs in the Bay Area, and we want to celebrate that.” El Sistema is the movement started in Venezuela that uses music and music education as a way of improving the lives and chances of children in underserved communities. The ‘Grant Concert’ will feature cellists Amos Yang (from the San Francisco Symphony) and Zoe Keating; violinist, conductor and composer Gilles Colliard; and a matched set of instruments that Young has recently made called the ‘Guadagnini Quartet.’

Tuesday, December 8

Celebrating the season at Davies on Wednesday and Thursday, the San Francisco Symphony presents A Classic Christmas. Guest conductor Teddy Abrams will be joined by the San Francisco Girls Chorus and violinist Elena Urioste for a program that includes carols as well as seasonally-themed works from classical repertoire by Vivaldi, Britten, Tchaikovsky, and more.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151208.mp3

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

Abrams describes the concert this way: “This is really a wonderful blend of both great populism and also real holiday classical music, masterpieces of the genre, but of course you also have carols, and you have pieces that are really emblematic of the season.” So there’s Urioste playing Vivaldi’s “Winter” from The Four Seasons, as well as The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams. The San Francisco Girls Chorus, a choir Abrams calls “a real jewel,” will sing selections from Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols.

It’s a reunion for Abrams and Urioste, who both studied at the Curtis Institute at the same time, plus the young conductor, who’s now Music Director at the Louisville Orchestra is also looking forward to spending time with his Bay Area friends and colleagues: “I was raised in the Youth Orchestra, and many of my most influential and most extraordinary teachers and mentors were all associated with the Symphony. So for me to get to now work with them as a conductor, it’s a little mind-blowing, and it’s a little overwhelming, but it feels like I get to come full circle and come back to a place that I really love.”

Wednesday, December 9

The winning ensemble for KDFC’s innaugural Local Vocals High School Choir Sing-Off is the Chamber Singers from Monte Vista High School in Danville. They got the good news from their conductor, Jodi Reed during a rehearsal yesterday of the larger Concert Choir. They’ll be part of the taping of the show “From The Top” when it comes to San Jose State, which will be broadcast at the end of March.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151209.mp3

You can find out more about the ensemble at the Monte Vista High School Choirs’ website.

The picture of Jodi Reed holding a trophy surrounded by her singers isn’t from this particular win… It was from their Northern California Golden State choral competition earlier this year. She’s actually still brand new to her job as Director of Choral Activities at Monte Vista High School. “This is my second year here, this is only my second year of teaching ever. So last year I stepped into this really awesome program, and last year was a great year for us. We won two high-pressure competitions, one was women’s Golden State, and the other was mixed Golden State in May… It’s the Chamber Singers who won this competition last year. So they’re used to it from before I came, and they’ve carried on the tradition, and I’m just so proud of them.” When she got the call during rehearsal, it took them all by surprise. “I was in with my 100-person group – who, our Chamber Singers are part of that group – and they erupted. They are thrilled, they’re really excited.”

The other finalists in the competition, Gunn High School Concert Choir from Palo Alto, and the San Ramon Valley High School Chamber Singers (also from Danville) managed to finish ahead of more than 20 exceptional Bay Area ensembles.


Thursday, December 10

returns from their annual cross-country tour to begin their Bay Area performances of ‘A Chanticleer Christmas‘ beginning tonight in Stanford. This is the first year for their new Music Director William Fred Scott, who began in that role in August. Between tonight and the 23rd, they’ll also sing in Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, Sacramento, Petaluma, Santa Clara, and Carmel (with a quick trip to Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA).

You can find out more about all of the concerts at the Chanticleer website.

William Fred Scott is no stranger to Christmas Choral programs, having worked with Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus for many years. But nothing can exactly prepare one for the whirlwind tour that follows every Thanksgiving for Chanticleer, with stops this year in Chicago, New York, Washington, and Portland. He says the program will keep with tradition – with the men processing in by candlelight to a chant. “I think the only piece that you have to do somewhere in the course of the evening is the Biebl Ave Maria, which is kind of our piece, and it’s a piece that I like very much. So not only would I have been foolish not to do it, because I would be cheating myself of a beautiful experience, but it would have been churlish to all the other thousands of people who are really living for that moment.”

There’s music from the Renaissance, keeping true to the history of the group, as well as contemporary English language Christmas music, familiar carols, and gospel music. And the experience for the singers, he says, is as enjoyable as it is for the audience. “You’re really happy about the fact that you’ve been able to share musical joy,” he explains. “As Beethoven would say, ‘May it go from one soul to another soul. From one heart to another heart.’  That you have touched that many hearts, and the things that only you can do. So there’s a wonderful feeling at the end of the day.”

Friday, December 11

Today, 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.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151211.mp3

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

Monday, December 14

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present a concert ‘played’ by the audience on boomboxes (and smartphones with speakers) called Unsilent Night this Saturday at 4:45, beginning at Civic Center Plaza. The piece, by New York composer Phil Kline is happening in about 35 different cities this year, and was inspired by the tradition of caroling, coupled with Kline’s longtime fascination with tape recorders.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151214.mp3

There’s more information at the SFCMP’s website, and also the Unsilent Night site. (Including mp3s to download, and links to the smartphone app)

Phil Kline says the first Unsilent Night was in New York in 1992; he had already begun writing pieces for a dozen boomboxes, the relatively inexpensive cassette tape-recorder/radio combos that were the way a lot of people listened to music in the ’80s and ’90s. “A friend of mine and I had a conversation about caroling in the Midwest, we were both from the Midwest, and I suddenly thought… ‘Wait a minute! I’ll bring the boombox orchestra outside, I’ll write a piece that lasts one length of a cassette… which, if it’s a ninety-minute cassette, 45 minutes. I’ll write the piece, I’ll make it multi channel, I’ll separate the channels, I’ll copy them, and we’ll just take it outdoors and see what happens.” What happened was an unexpected sound – thanks to the combination of movement, and the low-tech quirks of cassettes. “When you have those boxes being carried by people out in the street, the sound seems to just come out of the air and up from the ground.. The music really sounds like it’s coming from the atmosphere. You turn a corner and the sound changes, you turn around, the sound changes. It’s always oscillating and so it’s like something that’s really with you, and it’s actually quite unlike anything else I’ve ever written.”

You can get a sense of the spirit of a New York Unsilent Night in this video:


Tuesday, December 15

It’s time to start thinking about making your choices for KDFC’s Classical All-Stars… But with so many to choose from (the link to the full ballot will be here later today, and you can always write-in works if your favorites are missing) maybe this little montage might remind you of a title or two you’ve forgotten.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151215.mp3

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

Wednesday, December 16

Clarinetist David Krakauer brings the Klezmer tradition to the New Century Chamber Orchestra‘s ‘Holiday Lights’ program, Thursday through Sunday. On the other half of the program, the ensemble will be joined by the San Francisco Girls Chorus for traditional music of the Christmas season. The concerts are in Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and San Rafael.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151216.mp3

There’s more information about the concert at the New Century Chamber Orchestra’s website.

David Krakauer came to Klezmer in a roundabout way – beginning with Jazz and Classical when he was young – playing jazz with friends, and getting to know the music of his heroes like Sidney Bechet and Coleman Hawkins, while studying with one of the finest classical clarinet teachers in the country, Leon Russianoff. “Russianoff was very important for me, because he encouraged me to improvise, to follow my heart, to follow my passions. My parents were a little nervous that I was playing jazz. And he just said to them, ‘Your son should do what he loves – it’s hard to find a niche in the music business, and he should just be as versatile as possible.” Those words turned out to be prophetic, as he came to explore all kinds of music, and eventually discovered Klezmer. “It made sense to me because it was the music of my ancestors.  Beause when I heard Klezmer, I thought – wow, that sounds like my Belorussian, Yiddish-speaking grandmother… The inflection sounds like her.”

Thursday, December 17

Two ensembles come together for a Christmas concert tomorrow night in Berkeley. They’re both led by conductor Cindy Beitmen: WAVE, the Women’s Antique Vocal Ensemble, and the men of the Schola Cantorum at St. Albert’s Priory. The seasonal concert will also celebrate the upcoming jubilee year, the 800th anniversary of the Dominican Order, to which the friars belong.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151217.mp3

There’s more information about the concert at the WAVE website, and St. Albert’s Priory site.

Since she leads both groups, and each one spends the rest of the year singing only with like voices, Cindy Beitmen decided fifteen years or so ago to unite them. “I thought why don’t we get these two groups together for Christmas, cause then they get to sing four-part, SATB repertoire.” And this year’s program is built around the distinctive style of chant that the friars of Schola Cantorum use on a daily basis, serving as introductions to works by early composers like Lassus, Morales, and Palestrina. Her group ‘WAVE,’ which began as a class she offered through the San Francisco Early Music Society, specializes in Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music – they’ll also be having a ‘singalong’ section of familiar carols in tomorrow’s concert at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley.

Friday, December 18

Winter’s Gifts: Celebration
is the name given to this year’s seasonal offering from The Choral Project and San Jose Chamber Orchestra. Both groups are celebrating big anniversaries this season. Daniel Hughes founded the choir, and Barbara Day Turner, who founded the orchestra, describes the concerts as “a lovely space” for audiences.

You can find out more about the concerts (in Palo Alto Saturday night, and Santa Clara on Sunday night) at The Choral Project website, or the San Jose Chamber Orchestra site.

The two groups have combined forces for a dozen holiday years of holiday concerts. But Turner says they realized within the first few years that they wanted to set themselves apart with a shorter and more diverse program: “Picking themes, and creating sets of music around the themes. So instead of just a short piece, stop, a short piece, stop, we have four sets of music that are continuous, they just kind of flow into eachother…All sorts of interesting different repertoire. Something other than a Christmas concert. It doesn’t mean we don’t have Christmas music on it, but… just create a really lovely space for people to be in for 75 minutes so close to the holidays.” The orchestra is 25 years old this season, only 5 years older than the choir. “In honor of the Choral Project’s 20th year, we have five world premieres that we’re doing throughout the season,” Daniel Hughes explains. The first, called Epiphany in Ice is on this concert. “Richard Burchard is a Kentucky-based composer.  He’s a specialist in chant, but the piece we’re doing he took a real departure from a lot of linear writing, and it’s very chordal, a lot of beautiful color.”

Monday, December 21

An A-to-Z edition of State of the Arts, stopping at the letter “O”… For Ostinato, Orff, and “O Fortuna“…  An Ostinato is a musical idea that’s repeated with an insistent focus – it could be a repeated note, or rhythm, or motivic idea, maybe a repeated bass line that is played against an evolving melody. The word comes from the Italian for ‘obstinate’, since an ostinato refuses to give up, and can generate dramatic momentum with repetition. One of the many examples is the ever-growing “O Fortuna” in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana – as a choir chants over a determined and repeated accompaniment.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151221.mp3

Classical Music is filled with repetition – what makes something an ostinato? It’s really a question of intensity, and the way the gesture is being used.

Gustav Holst used the low strings and percussion to create a rhythmic ostinato for “Mars, the Bringer of War” in his The Planets:

And here’s the famous “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana, at :44 seconds in:

Tuesday, December 22

Today is the birthday of Giacomo Puccini – born on this day in 1858. One of his most beloved operas, La Boheme, opens with artists and poets attemting to fight the cold by burning their works on Christmas Eve. To help celebrate in a less destructive way, here’s a quiz to see how well you know some of his most famous works.To see the answers, (bonus points if you can identify the singers!) click and drag across the white space below to reveal them.http://kdfcinteractive.org/audio/SOTA151222.mp3

  1. Che gelida manina – La boheme – Jussi Björling
  2. O mio babbino caro – Gianni Schicchi – Kiri Te Kanawa
  3. Humming chorus – Madama Butterfly
  4. Nessun dorma – Turandot – Luciano Pavarotti
  5. Senza Mamma – Suor Angelica – Renata Tebaldi
  6. Musetta’s Waltz (Quando m’en vo’) – La Boheme  Renee Fleming
  7. Chrysanthemums
  8. Un bel di vedremo – Madama Butterfly – Maria Callas
  9. Vissi d’arte – Tosca – Leontyne Price
  10. Chi il bel sogno di Doretta – La Rondine – Angela Gheorghiu
  11. Recondita armonia – Tosca – Placido Domingo


Wednesday, December 23

C Major
sometimes is dismissed as being bland or boring – the ‘vanilla’ of the keys – because it doesn’t use sharps or flats in its scale. For that reason, it’s often the starting point for young pianists, who can play tunes  in C without straying from the white keys. But just because it might have that reputation doesn’t mean composers haven’t been using it well and inventively for centuries. From the very first notes of J.S. Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier to Terry Riley’s In C and beyond, it’s a key that has much to offer.

To see the titles of the pieces included in the medley, click and scroll over the white space below…

  1. Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings, Op. 48
  2. Bach: Prelude No. 1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier
  3. Mozart: Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio
  4. Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf (Peter’s theme)
  5. Wagner: Prelude to Die Meistersinger
  6. Ravel: Bolero
  7. Schubert: “Wanderer” Fantasy (D. 760)
  8. R. Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30
  9. Terry Riley: In C
  10. Sullivan: Overture to The Pirates of Penzance
  11. Chopin: Etude in C Major, Op. 10, no 1
  12. Haydn: Symphony No. 94, “Surprise” mvt. 2
  13. Liszt: Les Preludes
  14. Mozart: Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter” mvt. 4