Tuesday, July 3

Singing the Star Spangled Banner isn't easy to do under any circumstances. The highest and lowest notes in the melody are an octave and a fifth apart from each other, and can be found cheek by jowl in the jump from "gallantly streaming" to "rockets red glare".   But if you're up to the challenge, and want to sing it in front of a stadium full of opera fans, you can upload a video audition tape to youtube, and enter to be in KDFC's "Star Spangled Sing-Off".

There are complete rules about the competition here.

The challenge of a good performance isn't just how high the anthem is… (although if you're not a tenor or soprano, you'll probably want to transpose it down from the key of B-flat major where we usually hear it played.)  If you haven't practiced scales and especially arpeggios, the opening phrase demands that the soloist hopscotches down and up a major chord with precision and agility. 

Then there's the text. Unlike "God Save the Queen", there aren't phrases that are repeated – and some of the poetic contractions like "o'er" can prove to be a mouthful. Some pop stars (notably Christina Aguilera) have forgotten the words, and there's usually no place to hide or easy way to start over if you take a wrong turn. (An unfortunate singer at a hockey game started over twice before falling on the ice.)

But if you've got a voice of gold and nerves of steel, go ahead and upload your video!

Thursday, July 5

Helping young artists in the opera world navigate the transition from student and active professional, the Merola Opera Program offers an opportunity to work in a setting that's demanding and nurturing at the same time. This summer's opening Schwabacher concert will be tonight at Herbst Theatre, and then repeated outside in a free performance in Yerba Buena Gardens this Saturday afternoon. The concert will feature extended scenes from four operas, Donizetti's Anna Bolena, Boïto's Mefistofele, Bizet's La jolie fille de Perth and Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress.

There's more information about the concerts at the Merola Opera Program website.

In addition to the young professional opera singers in the program, there are also apprentice coaches, and an apprentice stage director, getting the hands-on experience of preparing for two major concert performances, and two full operas. This year's schedule will include Dominick Argento's Postcard from Morocco and Mozart's La finta giardiniera.

Tenor Joshua Baum says he had met several of the other "Merolini" while auditioning for other programs around the country, and points to the relatively small world of professional opera performers when he says "These are people that we're going to be with and know for the rest of our lives… So it's wonderful creating that sense of support and community." 

Here's soprano Elizabeth Baldwin (Margherita) and tenor Chuanyue Wang (Faust) in a moment from Boïto's Mefistofele

Friday, July 6

There was one obvious choice for repertoire when the Stern Grove Festival's 75th anniversary and the San Francisco Symphony's 100th were going to be overlapping in one live, free concert: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. KDFC will be broadcasting live from the eucalyptus-scented venue, which was given to the city of San Francisco in the early 1930s for a dollar, and has been host to free public performances ever since.

There's more information about this Sunday's concert at the Stern Grove Festival website

Executive Director Steven Haines says although programming the Beethoven is an obvious choice, one of the advantages to being an admission-free performing arts organization is that they can often be adventurous: since they're not dependent on ticket sales, they don't have to play it safe. He says their 75 years of concerts has created a very loyal fan base that return year in and year out, and trusts their musical judgement.  The performances regularly attract audiences of over 10-thousand people, as they enjoy shows that adhere to the guidelines established at the start of the festival by Rosalie Meyer Stern, when she gave the land to the city to honor her late husband.

KDFC will be broadcasting Sunday's concert live, beginning around 2 o'clock in the afternoon!

Wednesday, July 11

Hundreds of young singers from around the world are spending the week in the East Bay, for the Golden Gate International Children's and Youth Choral Festival. It's also a competition, with awards going to the best Historical/Folk and Contemporary performances, as well as Vocal Solo. Artistic Director Robert Geary, who also conducts the hosting Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir, says they were inspired to create the festival after participating in similar events around the world, but only outside of the U.S.

There are a lot of activities during the weeklong festival, which concludes on Saturday with a concert of the competition winners, and some works performed by all eight hundred or so young singers! Schedule information can be found at the Golden Gate Festival website

The week's first public event was a concert that served as a "sampling menu" with selections from most of the participating choirs – which represent twelve countries, including the "The Discovery Choir" from Honduras:

The Discovery Choir from Honduras

Here's the Amoy Phoenix Flower Youth Choral Group from the People's Republic of China, with an excerpt from  "The Rainbow of July":

Austria's Kinder- und Jungendsingakademie Graz:

Kinder und Jungendsingakademie Graz

Members of the Choir of the E. Mikeladze Central Music School from the Democratic Republic of Georgia, a crowd favorite when they sang a traditional toasting song:

Singers from the Choir of the E. Mikeladze Central Music School, Georgia (DRG)

Chamber Singers of the Fairfield County (Connecticut) Children's Choir:

Chamber Singers of the Fairfield County Children's Choir

Thursday, July 12

Victor Fleming directed Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz… but Anita Monga, Artistic Director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival says Mantrap is his masterpiece! It's one of 16 or so featured films during the four-day festival, alongside a lovingly restored Pandora's Box, The Mark of Zorro (with Douglas Fairbanks), examples of Chinese and Soviet cinema, plus Buster Keaton and Felix the Cat. Each showing at the Castro Theatre will feature live accompaniment, and two works will also include narration: South, a documentary about the Shackleton polar expedition made in 1919 will have a reading of letters written home from the voyage, and the well-known A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès will have the less-well known text intended to go with it.

There's full schedule information at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's website.

Victor Fleming's Mantrap, starring Clara Bow:


Friday, July 13

With instrumentalists and singers bringing their families, and many rehearsals open to the public, the community feeling of the Carmel Bach Festival is a big part of what's being celebrated as it turns 75 this year. Music Director Paul Goodwin says the 50 concerts over the course of two weeks gives players and singers a chance to take part in a wide variety of styles and repertoires – so someone singing in the choir of Bach's Mass in B Minor might also be performing in a solo or chamber setting. 

There's a full schedule of all the events and concerts at the Carmel Bach Festival website.

In addition to the major Bach work of this year's festival (the Mass in B Minor is in a group of works in rotation along with the St. Matthew Passion, the St. John Passion, and the Christmas Oratorio), there are dozens of concerts and recitals spanning styles, composers and even genres: guest artists Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg bring two contrasting traditions of mandolin playing to the festival's "Crossover" concerts, with bluegrass and baroque.

With the festival's 75th anniversary as the central theme, Paul Goodwin says he had a "wide remit" in programming the 50 concerts – able to choose pieces that might have been performed 75 years ago, or topics that have been explored in the intervening years. Composers as varied as Stravinsky, Brahms, Prokofiev, Schubert and Mozart all find themselves comfortably programmed side by side.

Carmel Bach Festival logo

Wednesday, July 18

Serving up a feast for all the senses – the Festival del Sole in Napa Valley combines food, wine, and performances by an impressive roster of classical artists. Festival co-founder and director Rick Walker says the venues are spread across Napa's theaters and wineries – with restaurants taking part in meals and receptions designed to complement the post-concert natural high felt by audiences.

There's much more information about the schedule at the Festival del Sole website.

Among this year's performers – violinist Joshua Bell, singers Susan Graham, Nathan Gunn and Danielle DeNiese, pianist Hélène Grimaud, plus the "house band" Russian National Orchestra, and members of the Bolshoi Ballet. Festival Director Rick Walker says "we actually have the luxury of a waiting list of artists who have knocked on our door, saying 'when do I get invited to Festival del Sole?'"

Thursday, July 19

>Neither Henry Higgins nor Eliza Doolittle make an appearance in the version of Pygmalion that is going to be presented Friday night. It's a short ballet-opera by French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, from the middle of the 18th Century (and this one is spelled Pigmalion). It will appear along with Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, as part of the masterworks series of the American Bach Soloists' Festival and Academy. Artistic Director of ABS, Jeffrey Thomas says in addition to the Festival's concerts and recitals, there are also lectures and master classes – and the inaugural "Distinguished Artist Series".

There's more information and the full schedule at the American Bach Soloists' website.

The masterclasses that are part of the Academy are free to the public: there's one for Cello/Viola da Gamba and Violone at 3:00 on Thursday afternoon, and one for Brass and Winds on Friday. There are lectures at 5 on Thursday and Friday, and on Saturday at 4:30, Robert Commanday gives a talk charting the rise of the Bay Area as a hub of Early Music interest and scholarship. 

The closing work is Sunday afternoon, with another performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor, featuring the American Bach Soloists' Academy Orchestra, with the American Bach Choir and Festival Chorus.

Friday, July 20

>When singers from Opera San Jose give a preview of their upcoming season in Los Gatos this Sunday, Veronika Agranov-Dafoe will be their one-woman orchestra. The free Music in the Park Concert will feature piano accompaniment – one part of Agranov-Dafoe's duties as head of the music staff for the company. She also coaches singers, getting them familiar with their parts and diction, helping them with pacing and technique, and being a carefully attentive ear as they grow into their roles. All while playing a piano part that was arranged from a full orchestral score.

There's more information about the Music in the Park concert at the Opera San Jose website.

Tuesday, July 24

The man who many would argue was the finest violin player of the 20th Century also once wrote a pop song that Bing Crosby recorded called "When You Make Love to Me (Don't Make Believe)". Jascha Heifetz is the subject of the documentary "God's Fiddler", getting its west-coast premiere in three free matinee showings at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Director Peter Rosen interviewed students and associates, used archival concert performances and with additional footage shot by Heifetz himself (who was an early fan of home movies) tells the story of the violinist's idiosyncracies and genius.

There's more information about the film on the website of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The film will be screened at the Castro Theatre this afternoon at 2:10 p.m., and next Tuesday at the Roda Theatre in Berkeley, with the final showing the following day at CinéArts at Palo Alto Square.

"Heifetz really did not give interviews – he didn't write his memoirs," says the director of the film, Peter Rosen, "He rarely wrote about himself and there were very few pieces about him. He was kind of notoriously shy of reporters. "

Many of the players who studied with Heifetz, particularly the students who had master classes with him, got to see the public and private sides of him in a way that few others ever did. Despite being characterized as icy, or unfeeling when he was playing (one contemporary says all you have to do to disprove that assertion is close your eyes) Rosen points to the flip side of that coin, his alter ego "very flamboyant, and he had a lot of fun at his beach house when his students were there on the weekends.  Some people in the film say he did actually have a sense of humor, behind that poker-face performer.

Here's a trailer for God's Fiddler:

And a performance of the Bach Chaconne made by Heifetz, late in his career:

Wednesday, July 25

Music @ Menlo artistic directors David Finckel and Wu Han liken figuring out who will be playing what during their chamber music festival to 'matchmaking'. It's actually the last step in the process of planning their various programs, after selecting an overarching theme for the season (this year's is "Resonance" – turning their attention to the way listeners experience music), the music to be played, and the individual lineups for each concert.  There are the featured evening concerts, as well as the ones that come right before, featuring younger performers who are part of their Chamber Music Institute.

There's a complete listing of the concerts and other events at the Music @ Menlo website.

The roster of dozens of featured artists this year includes the Pacifica Quartet, pianist Juho Pohjonen, violinist Benjamin Bielman, clarinetist Anthony McGill, and David Finckel himself, who all played in the first concert of the season, with the evocative name "Sustained: Finding Strength". On the program was the Fantasy for Violin and Piano by Schubert, Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, and Beethoven's Op. 70, no. 2, the follow-up to the "Ghost" Trio.

The students are able to participate in coaching sessions with members of the faculty of Music @ Menlo, and take part in one of ten master classes during the 3-week run of the festival.

Here, a quartet working on Debussy has a coaching session with cellist Dmitri Atapine:

A coaching session with Dmitri Atapine at Music@Menlo

David Finckel and Wu Han:

David Finckel and Wu Han

Thursday, July 26

Taking a Pops Concert program back to its roots… The first of a series of free outdoor concerts by the Symphony Silicon Valley kicks off on Saturday evening, with "A Little Classical Night Music". The Target Summer Pops concerts continue Sunday with a program that starts a little earlier and is geared to a slightly younger audience – "Fiddles and Fables."  Peter Jaffe will be conducting both, and says in past years audiences have loved the combination of lawnchair listening and midsummer weather.

There's more information about both this weekend's concerts at the Symphony Silicon Valley website.

Sunday's performance, which has an ice cream social before the music begins, will include a few standout selections for soloists – Xylophonia, and Tubby the Tuba… the latter a narrated story featuring Rod Matthews on tuba, and which introduces the various instruments of the orchestra. Also on the program, music by Sergei Prokofiev, John Williams and Victor Herbert.

Conductor Peter Jaffe has conducted several of these concerts in the past few years, and in addition to these two weekend concerts, he'll conclude the series on August 5th with an Americana program called "Strike Up the Band". In between, there will be a concert by the Paquito D'Rivera Quintet (Friday, Aug. 3rd) and a tribute to the songs of Harold Arlen and the team of Rodgers and Hart (Saturday, Aug. 4) featuring singers Christine Andreas and Paul Schoeffler.

Here's a "highlights reel" of last year's Symphony Silicon Valley Target Summer Pops Concerts:

Friday, July 27

Guitarist Miloš Karadglić said it was an easy choice to turn to the works of Latin American composers for his second CD, Pasión. His debut album, Mediteraneo had featured Spanish, Italian and Greek composers (closer to his Adriatic home of Montenegro). But, he says, some of the most important repertoire for the instrument, especially in the 20th Century, comes from the countries represented here: Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba. 

This is the second of his discs to be a KDFC CD of the Week. There's much more information at Miloš's website

He says one of the goals of this CD was to show the cultural breadth and diversity of Latin American countries: "From the street music, and the most simplpe dance music like the tango and samba… down to the most high art. With this CD, I wanted to show how weak those boundaries between genres are, and how music is one universal thing… and how it's all just music."  There are several tangos, including Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango" with orchestral accompaniment, and the prototypical "La cumparsita" by Gerardo Matos Rodriguez.

Miloš is already planning his next disc: "I'm going to think about where I want to go… and not necessarily geographically. Things like the guitar concertos, of course, the music that I want to have written and commissioned for me as well, and some things I'm already working on. So I have many ideas, and I look forward to sharing them."