Wednesday, July 2

This summer's Opera at the Ballpark on Saturday, July 5th will bring San Francisco Opera's production of La Traviata (starring Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello as Violetta and Alfredo) to an expanded audience at AT&T Park, watching from the outfield and stands. The husband-and-wife leads have also just released a CD called Love Duets.

There's more information about Opera in the Ballpark at the San Francisco Opera website.

Beaming the production to the DiamondVision scoreboard at the park means the opera will be seen by a larger, and in many cases newer audience than at the opera house. Stephen Costello recommends keeping your eyes on the singers. "For a newbie opera person, I would say… forget about the subtitles and just try to see how much you can understand visually. By their interactions, and by the music. Because Verdi does a great job of painting a picture in the music. You can kind of just realize what's going on – maybe not word for word, but you'll get a good understanding of it. And I think you'll walk away enjoying it a lot more."

Pérez and Costello (who have been described as the "Beyoncé and Jay-Z of opera" by Vanity Fair) each have been successful on their own – they both were awarded the Richard Tucker Award, given to promising young artists 'poised on the edge of a major national and international career'. Costello was memorable as Greenhorn in Jake Heggie's Moby Dick, and Pérez has made Violetta one of her signature roles. They've had a chance to play opposite each other in La Traviata several times before. "From the downbeat of act one," Pérez says, "you can hear this strain of tragedy in the violin, in the interludes… Verdi wrote this musical moment where the world stops, right before Alfredo begins his line 'Un dì felice…' This magical moment when he just appears and declares his love. Not only his love. I think that what really transforms this story from any other is that he talks about this universal love: this love that makes even the universe stick together.

Thursday, July 3

The percussion section stretched its definition a bit in 1880… When Pyotr Tchaikovsky decided the best way to commemorate a military victory over the forces of Napoleon would be to use actual cannons to amp up the volume and excitement of battle. And so, in the 1812 Overture, there between the percussion and the string sections, is a part for the Cannon player. Considering its reputation, it's surprising that there are only 16 blasts of the 'instrument' in the entire work.

The score is interesting to look at as well, to see that Tchaikovsky asked for three different dynamics for the 'notes' the cannon is to play. The first five, during the statement of La Marseillaise, France's national anthem (although not in use by Napoleon at the time of the campaign to Moscow) are marked ff – fortissimo.  It's not until the final flurry of the conclusion (when firework shows generally are pulling out all the stops) that he asks the player to play fortissississimo… ffff.

You can see some of the spectacle of the finale in this performance from the Proms at Royal Albert Hall:

Wednesday, July 9

The Mendocino Music Festival celebrates its 28th season this year, with a lineup that includes a healthy dose of classical offerings… plus music from a wide range of other traditions: blues, bluegrass, Celtic, big band, jazz, and even flamenco. There's also a series of events celebrating Bach (and the importance of beer to him and his contemporaries), all under (or near) the big tent overlooking the coast. Festival co-founder and Artistic Director Allan Pollack gives a preview. 

There's more information about the activities at the Mendocino Music Festival website.

Allan Pollack began the festival with his wife, Susan Waterfall (still Associate Artistic Director) and the late Walter Green, who was a longtime principal bassoonist with the San Francisco Symphony. The first season was in 1987, and began solely devoted to classical music. "Since the beginnings as a classical music festival," Pollack says, "we have expanded, and we have all different kinds of music, from blues to bluegrass. We have a big band concert on one of the evenings this summer – we're doing a tribute to Aretha Franklin." That concert will star jazz singer Kim Nalley. Among the classical soloists this season are Bay Area favorite Frederica von Stade and pianist Stephen Prutsman, who'll play both Mozart and Bach concertos; the Calder Quartet and father and son Paul and Stefan Hersh will play chamber music, as will the principals of the Festival Orchestra. And there's also a staged performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni.

The Claire Lynch Band will play bluegrass, April Verch Band brings a Canadian take on Celtic music, and Juncal Street, the Flamenco group of Fanny Ara will give an evening performance in the tent concert hall. Allan Pollack says the diversity of the programming comes from his and his wife's own tastes – classically trained as a conductor and composer, Pollack also was a jazz player for many years in the Bay Area. "We're a bunch of peolple that love every kind of music. I mean, we'll sit down at night and listen to a Mahler symphony, we'll listen to an opera, we'll listen to Aretha Franklin, we'll listen to Michael Brecker. People tend to want to put things in boxes… It's a wonderful festival, and anybody from San Francisco that loves practically any kind of music can come up and hear it.

Thursday, July 10

On an "A-to-Z" edition of State of the Arts, Anne Akiko Meyers playing Vivaldi on Vieuxtemps' Violin. That is, the "Vieuxtemps" Guarneri del Gesu that was crafted in 1741, the same year that Vivaldi died. It had been stored under a collector's bed in London for fifty years, and Meyers' most recent CD marks the first time it's been recorded. 

There's more information about the recording at Anne Akiko Meyers' website.

Meyers was already playing a 1697 Stradivarius, but It's very rare for such well known instruments to come on the market, and she ended up not being able to pass up the chance to play it. "These kinds of violins always go directly to a museum," she says, "And so, hesitatingly I tried it, and completely was blown away. To smithereens. This violin belonged to Henri Vieuxtemps, in the 18-hundreds, the 19th Century violinist and composer who was the biggest violinist after Paganini. And he loved this violin so much he actually had it carried on a pillow behind his hearse on his funeral day."

The "Vieuxtemps" hadn't been shown that kind of love by its last owner – "It was sitting under a very discriminating bed of the collector in London for the last five decades, so it really hasn't been performed on much. And the violin just craves to be played. And it's just such a joy to perform on it. How could something hot and cold… and the moon, the stars, and the sun all exist in one piece of wood? How is it possible?"

Here's a teaser for the new album that includes the Four Seasons, as well as the Concerto for Three Violins by Vivaldi – all played on the "Vieuxtemps" by Anne Akiko Meyers:

Friday, July 11

The Sphinx Symphony Orchestra will be in residence at Napa Valley's Festival del Sole for its ten day run, made up of talented young black and Latino string players. They've provided both mentorship and accompaniment for the young participants in the annual Sphinx competition. In addition to smaller concerts at the festival's various venues, the full ensemble will play a pair of concerts with Pinchas Zukerman, one at the Lincoln Theater, and the other at the Green Music Center. 

There's more information about the events of the celebration of wine, food and the arts at the Festival del Sole website.

Sphinx Organization Executive and Artistic Director Afa Sadykhly Dworkin says the 60-piece orchestra (and various smaller incarnations, including their Sphinx Virtuosi chamber group) will be playing in many concerts – accompanying Pinchas Zukerman and tenor James Valenti in their major concerts, as well as Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti and the Bouchaine Young Artist concerts. (One of those will feature the winner of the 2014 Sphinx Competition's Senior Division, bassist Xavier Foley.) Leading the Zukerman concerts will be young conductor Alondra de la Parra.

Wednesday, July 16

Tomorrow night the Merola Opera Program class of 2014 gives gives the first of their two Schwabacher Summer Concerts at Everett Auditorium in San Francisco – a program they'll repeat at Yerba Buena Gardens in a free event on Saturday afternoon. Two of the singers, Alexander Everett and Talya Lieberman give a bit of a preview. 

There's more information about the program and events at the Merola website.

The program will include scenes from Amboise Thomas' Mignon, Handel's Semele, Verdi's Luisa Miller, Rossini's Barber of Seville and La Cenerentola, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, and Bizet's Carmen. It's the half-way point in their season, which has included two perfomances of André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire, and in two weeks a staging of Don Giovanni.

The so-called 'Opera bootcamp' gives the singers (as well as the apprentice coaches and stage directors) an opportunity to be immersed in opera training that's tailored to their strengths and needs. "There's a little bit of something for everybody," Alexander Elliott says. "But the nice thing is, no matter what your experience or your age, there's going to be plenty to improve on while you're here. We're working with extremely talented coaches, pianists, conductors, directors." And Talya Lieberman describes it this way: "It's kind of heaven… I mean, we get to work with the best of the best of the best all the time. It can get a little stressful as a young singer, to have a lot of opinions coming at you, but I think that's part of what we're doing now… sifting through what works for us and what doesn't, and finding our own voice.

Thursday, July 17

This marks the fortieth consecutive season of the Midsummer Mozart Festival, which opens with a concert at the Bing Concert Hall this Saturday night – which fittingly includes the 40th Symphony of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (Or, as Music Director George Cleve points out, K. 550). There are concerts at Stanford and Berkeley this weekend and next, and San Francisco on Friday the 25th. 

There's more information about the festival at the Midsummer Mozart website

George Cleve says the idea for the festival was inspired by a local opera production he was involved with: "Some forty years ago, I was conducting a production of Seraglio with San Francisco Spring Opera, and after the rehearsal, some of the players and I would get together… and the gist of what we were talking about was 'This really is the best music, you know — wouldn't it be fun to actually have a Mozart festival?'". Since that first year, he's been programming works that are both familiar and new. "I've always tried to combine the well-known, I wouldn't say the top ten, but maybe the top 150 with some of the works that have never been performed in the area, and in a couple of cases never been performed!" So for example, this year's first program, along with Mozart's 40th symphony and the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, there are two arias: "Chi sa, chi sa" and "Vado, ma dove" which were written to be inserted into another composer's opera.

The second program, which will also have a San Francisco performance on the 25th at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, will include the San Francisco Boys Chorus for Missa Brevis in C Major (Spatzan Mass) and selections from the Magic Flute, along with Laudate Dominum, a piano concerto with Seymour Lipkin as soloist, and pointing back to the festival's origins, the overture to Abduction from the Seraglio. Cleve describes his love of Mozart this way: "I feel a certain at-homeness with Mozart. I believe it was Artur Schnabel, the great pianist, who once said that 'Mozart is too easy for children, and too difficult for adults.' In answer to people who say 'How come it comes so naturally to you?' I say, 'Well, probably because I've remained a teenager all my life.'" There will be a wind serenade from last season's Midsummer Mozart Festival on this Sunday night's edition of Bay Area Mix.

Friday, July 18

On an "A to Z" edition of The State of the Arts, a look at musical Notation… which, like any writing, allows one person to transmit an idea to another without having to meet in person. A composer today can, it's true, make a recording, or even Skype into a rehearsal and let the players or conductor know how the performance should go… But the system of notation that's developed since the middle ages means that composer should be able to send a score off knowing it will be performed more or less as intended.

The standard of music notation that we use today is efficient – on a conductor's score, each individual line corresponds to an instrument or section of the orchestra; reading from left to right, you're moving forward in time… and at any point along the way, reading the page vertically will give a snapshot of the harmony being played.

Manuscript of Gregorian ChantThe standards of notation have been slowly refined over the years, although some of the principle ideas are very similar to the time of Gregorian Chants – when musical scores began to have an early "staff", and the direction of melodies were determined by the placement of the noteheads.  The shapes and groupings of the noteheads indicated their duration, and how the pitch would be approached – connected or detached from the note that came before, or with an ornamental melisma. But the text determined the rhythm and phrasing, and since they were sung in unison, dividing the melodies into measures wasn't necessary.

Bach ManuscriptHere's an example of J.S. Bach's handwritten manuscript, using notation that's much more familiar to anyone who's studied music. The staves are joined into a treble and bass grand staff, which is used for keyboard music, although this looks like one of the many Chorales that Bach wrote or reharmonized – which could be either played or sung. There are barlines separating the measures, and each of the four independent voices has a different rhythmic feeling. The melody in the soprano is slow and even, the bassline "walks" at a steady clip, and the tenor  voice has 'dotted' rhythms of long notes followed by short ones, in almost a heartbeat dah – – dit, dah – – dit pattern.

Chopin ScoreThis single measure from Chopin's Nocturne, Opus 2 No.1 trips off the fingers of a well-trained pianist, with a pattern of 22 notes meant to take the same amount of time as the 12 notes in the left hand. By not making the notes line up exactly, he creates a slightly relaxed and rhythmically free feeling (rather than one that tries to exactly work the math out precisely.) 

In Charles Ives' Concord Sonata, he does away with the barlines altogether at times; the piece is fiendishly difficult (but fortunately, it's only for one performer, and not an ensemble that has to stay together!)

Wednesday, July 23

The trio Time for Three is made up of a pair of violinists and a double bassist (Zachary DePue, Nicolas Kendall, and Ranaan Meyer) who met when they were studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. What began as a bit of spontaneous 'jamming' in various styles has led to a successful career for the group as artists-in-residence with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and a brand new self-titled CD through Universal. They'll be playing at Yoshi's on the 30th, and then at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in early August.

There's more information about the group at the Time for Three website, and here's where you can learn about their upcoming dates at Yoshi's and the Cabrillo Festival.

Renaan Meyer says that their collaboration was, at first, just a way to play together and let off steam while at music school: "We got a gig to play down in D.C., and we were told we needed to put 25 minutes of music together. We were already jamming, just having a good time after orchestra rehearsals, and we were getting paid a little money, and getting a limo ride down to the gig.. Really we were doing it for all the perks as college kids, because we just wanted to have some fun." But he says the reaction they got made them take things a bit more seriously. "We played, and the audience loved it, and they wanted us to do an encore. We didn't have an encore, and we're shrugging our shoulders thinking, 'Man, this is really going well, maybe we should do this again.' And we did – and we had a similar reaction. So then we thought: 'this started organic, and that's all great, but now let's maybe put some thought and time into this and see what happens.'"

Their career as a trio got a boost when they were named Artists in Residence at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, where Zachary DePue has ben Concertmaster since 2007. They've been in that position for five seasons, curating a "Happy Hour" concert series there that appeals to younger audiences, as well as stretching the boundaries of expectations of Classical Music. Some of the collaborations that they've had over the years are revisited on their new CD – with Alisa Weilerstein, Branford Marsalis, Jake Shimabukuro, and singer songwriter Joshua Radin appearing, with others. "We thought that the most authentic way to put our foot forward," says violinist Nick Kendell, "was to introduce the world to our natural affinity towards collaboration with artists that are as varied and diverse as our own musical tastes as a group."

Thursday, July 24

Music @ Menlo’s theme for their festival this summer is Around Dvorak… But as in past years that had a composer as the focus, the programming isn't limited to his works. In fact, one of this season's special guests (who will be leading an 'Encounters' series presentation tonight) isn't a musician at all – but is historically connected to the works that will be performed on Friday and Saturday nights: William Lobkowicz, whose ancestor, the seventh Prince Lobkowicz was a benefactor and dedicatee of Beethoven, Haydn, and others.

You can find out more about the festival at the Music @ Menlo’s website

William LobkowiczWilliam Lobkowicz came to be invited to take part in this year's festival after forming a friendship several years ago with co-Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han. The musicians were travelling in the Czech Republic, and went into the palace that bears his family name. They asked if they might be introduced to someone from the family (as Finckel says, to express their gratitude for the music the patronage allowed to be written) and hit it off. William Lobkowicz had grown up in the U.S. (his father had come to the States as a refugee from the Nazis, and then the Communists in Czechoslovakia) and only was able to return to reclaim his family's property and belongings after the Velvet Revolution. Miraculously, the collection of 4,500 musical scores, 65,000 books, three to four million documents (including letters from kings and queens, and Beethoven), three castles and a palace weren't destroyed either by the Nazis or Communists. "What we're doing really is trying to take the mantle of this family history, but it's really a world history, and present it for the world… Because none of these things were ever open to the public before," he says. They don't have the benefit of the riches that the Seventh Prince had, despite all the treasure in the collection. Their hope is to create a center for European Cultural Heritage, since the reach of the family goes back far before current geopolitical boundaries existed – through the Austro-Hungarian and Holy Roman Empire, back to when what is now the Czech Republic was just a part of Bohemia.

The music on the program Friday and Saturday nights is Haydn's Quartet in G, Op. 77, no. 1; Beethoven's first Quartet (Op. 18, no.1) as well as the tenth, (Op. 74) known as "Harp", which will be played by the Danish String Quartet. Baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Gilbert Kalish will also play An die ferne Geliebte. Those were just a handful of works that were dedicated to Lobkowicz (as well as the Eroica, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Triple Concerto). William Lobkowicz says his ancestor might not have been fully rational when he decided to spend his fortune that way, but, "What is a patron? A passionate, really crazy person who just said, 'You know, the money is just the money. We have to do this. I have to do this. I have to do these things.

Friday, July 25

ODC/Dance will be presenting three performances next week of their 'Summer Sampler' – the first of which will be a benefit for their musical collaborator, cellist Zöe Keating, whose husband was diagnosed with metastatic cancer earlier this spring. They'll dance to a recording of Keating's original music, which she played live for the premiere of choreographer Brenda Way's Breathing Underwater two years ago. Also on the program is Way's Lifesaving Maneuvers, along with musical guests, the Magik*Magik Orchestra and Pacific Boychoir Academy. Scramble, another work choreographed by KT Nelson will appear on the other two programs, and danced to a recording of another cello work – Bach's unaccompanied suite no. 6.

There's more information about the performance at the ODC Dance website.

Zöe Keating, who has been called an "Avant Cellist", creates her music with a combination of acoustic cello and computer technology. For the premiere of the piece Breathing Underwater, she accompanied the dancers live, playing one part on the cello, and building up an evolving set of musical layers with her computer. "Here I have a phrase," she explained in 2012, "and now I'm going to play another phrase, and another. And those phrases are both melodies and parts of a whole. And it's very organic and incremental in that the phrases have to go together, work vertically and horizontally, and I just really like that process of fitting them together. It's kind of like a game of Tetris." Keating also provided accompaniment for a dance ODC performed this year, called Boulders and Bones, choreographed by Brenda Way and KT Nelson. She said the way she composes is like dance itself, growing out of improvisation. "I've seen dancers work where they have their little phrases that they're working on, and they become enamored with a particular phrase, and then they might build an entire piece around that phrase – and that's how I do it. Since I have to perform all the parts sequentially as I record them, they all have to fit together. I can't have any wasted effort: I can't just go off and do some solo that isn't going to have anything that will fit with anything else later. So it's kind of like this experiment in efficient movement. Also something like dance."

Here's a video showing her process of layering ideas:

Wednesday, July 30

The three-weekend Lake Tahoe Summerfest begins its third season this Friday night, with a program of Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Britten, with guest soloist, tenor Matthew Polenzani. Leading them is Artistic Director Joel Revzen, who conducts at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (where 17 of the 40 orchestra members play). The festival will also feature pianist Simone Dinnerstein during its second week.

There's more information at the Lake Tahoe Summerfest website.

Joel Revzen says the orchestra's players have been so impressed with the experience of the festival that practically all of them have returned each of the three years – and that he's frequently asked by members of the Met orchestra whether there might not be openings for more players. Currently there are about 40 in the ensemble, and they play their concerts in a 500-seat acoustically designed tent and shell. "To hear music played in a really compelling way in a small space, an intimate experience," Revzen says, "I think creates an emotional response that you don't get when you're in a twenty-eight hundred seat hall, and sitting that far away from the music."  

The players, which also include principals from Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle, Dallas, Vancouver, Toronto, and one from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, gather for a concentrated burst of music-making. "We do six orchestra programs in the first three weekends in August, and we do three programs that we call 'Meet the Music, Meet the Musicians,' which is a chamber music format, but we try to create an event around each of these Sunday concerts," Revzen says. Each of them has a unifying theme, and this year, it's a city that has inspired the music on the programs: Vienna, Paris, and London. "We also do children's concerts on Sunday morning (both the second and third Sundays). We've invited  the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, so kids performing for kids. And the third Sunday, we're doing the Britten Oboe Quartet, and Poulenc's L'Histoire du Babar, The Story of Babar, the little elephant."

Thursday, July 31

Guitarist Miloš Karadaglić plays at the Bing Concert Hall for the first time next week, wrapping up the Stanford Live summer concert series with a solo recital. He's also got a recent CD called Aranjuez, with music by two of the great master composers for his instrument: Joaquin Rodrigo and Manuel de Falla. 

There's more information about the concert at the Stanford Live website, and about the disc at Miloš's website.

The importance of Rodrigo to the classical guitar repertoire can't be denied – "He wrote the most recognizable piece of guitar music in the world," Miloš says. "And he wrote a lot of other pieces like the Invocation and Dance (which is on the record), and a lot of other solo pieces and a few other oncertos… But he, with the Concerto put the guitar on the map, and made it stronger, and made it more proud next to other instruments on the international concert platform." The Concierto de Aranjuez, with the rhythmic flourishes of its opening movement, and melancholy adagio are instantly recognizable, and sound like they fit the instrument perfectly. But in fact, Rodrigo was a pianist, and as Karadaglić explains, "that's why he famously writes things which are almost impossible on the guitar. But at the same time, he keeps the sound of the guitar so perfectly, and so naturally that it feels like he was a fluid guitarist himself."