Friday, June 1

The Berkeley Festival and Exhibition (BFX) is going to be kicking off a weeklong series of concerts, activities and events, beginning Sunday, and all having to do with Early Music. In addition to the official festival offerings, presented by the San Francisco Early Music Society, Early Music America, and Cal Performances, there's a long line-up of concerts throughout the day on the Festival's "Fringe."  There's already a large number of musicians in the area playing works from the Renaissance, Baroque and in traditional styles, the Festival will draw participants from around the country and the world. 

There's more information at the Festival's website.  Quick links to the Main Stage Events, Fringe Events, and the Exhibition and Music Marketplace.  The first Main Stage performance is a recital with Nicholas McGegan and soprano Dominique Labelle, Sunday at 8PM at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley.
Nicholas McGegan and Dominique Labelle

Monday, June 4

When we think of sacred music from the Renaissance, it's often as a pure, idealized sound – that is the legacy of the long tradition of choral music in the English churches. Scott Metcalfe, music director of the Early Music choir 'Blue Heron" (who'll be performing at the Berkeley Festival Thursday night) tries with his singers to recapture and connect the music to the living, breathing performers of today.

There's more information about the group at the Blue Heron website, and here's a full listing of the Berkeley Festival performances.

Here's a sample of Blue Heron from their latest CD:

Tuesday, June 5

The Wild Rumpus New Music Collective is a group of musicians who both commission new works and then spend time working with the composers during the creative process. Two of the group's founders, Jen Wang and Dan VanHassel, met when they were grad students in composition at UC Berkeley. With clarinetist Sophie Huet they formed the Collective about a year ago – and are giving their second concert this Friday night at ODC Dance Commons.

There's more information about Friday's concert at the Wild Rumpus website, where you can also hear the works played at their first concert back in December.

The group's core instrumentation is violin, cello, flute, clarinet, piano, harp, electric guitar, and two sopranos – the piece Dan VanHassel has on this week's concert, Revealing, Unraveling is for all of the assembled forces.

Jen Wang says their focus on working with composers along the way makes a big difference in the resulting performance. "When composers meet one-on-one with performers, oftentimes what they're investigating is feasability. Other times, it's just very useful to hear the material played. As composers we can imagine, we have mockups, but in the end, it's speculation until you get in contact with the real person.

Wednesday, June 6

Shining Night is a documentary by director Michael Stillwater exploring the life of choral composer Morten Lauridsen, who divides his time between teaching composition at USC, travelling the world for residencies and appearances with choirs, and in the place where he's most able to compose: surrounded by the stillness and natural beauty of a home he has on an island off the coast of Washington. There will be a screening of Shining Night this Saturday, with Lauridsen, Stillwater, and a performance by the choir Volti, one of the featured ensembles in the documentary.

There's more information about the event on Volti's website, and about the film (which is the first part of a larger series called "In Search of the Great Song") at the filmmaker's website.

Here's the trailer for Shining Night:

Thursday, June 7

The young singers of the San Francisco Girls Chorus have gotten to know the young voice of Joni Mitchell, preparing a set of songs they'll be performing with pianist Christopher O'Riley this weekend. The From the Top host will join them and conductor Brandon Brack for their final two concerts of the season, with arrangements he's made of songs from Mitchell's debut album, Song to a Seagull.

There's more information about the concert at the San Francisco Girls Chorus website, and you can find out more about his earlier transcriptions at Christopher O'Riley's website.

O'Riley first became known for his pop and rock music transcriptions for classical piano when he made arrangements of songs by the band Radiohead that he used as break music between segments of From the Top. He later released a very successful CD of Radiohead covers called True Love Waits; he's since transcribed more of their songs, as well as music by Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, and other bands, most recently teaming with Matt Haimovitz on their CD called Shuffle. Play. Listen.

O'Riley says that the vocal style and phrasing of Joni Mitchell made the notated rhythms look more complicated than they really are – he suggested to conductor Brandon Brack that the girls listen to the original songs, as they appear on Song to a Seagull to get the proper feel.

Friday, June 8

2012 is an anniversary year of many milestones, but for San Francisco Opera, it's the 25th anniversary of the premiere of John Adams' Nixon in China, which gets its first San Francisco staging as part of a trio of operas which will be in rotation for the next month. General Director David Gockley was at Houston Grand Opera for the premiere in 1987, and says at the time the response to the work was largely tepid or negative. As Adams' reputation has grown over time, Nixon in China has been recognized as a landmark in the opera repertoire.

There's more about the entire summer season, with information about Verdi's Attila and Mozart's Magic Flute at the San Francisco Opera website.

Here's a trailer for their production: 

Monday, June 11

Composer and conductor Richard Strauss was born on this day in 1864. But he lived much longer than his contemporaries, Debussy and Mahler. Strauss was the best-known living composer for a good part of the early 20th Century – and although especially some of his early operas were surrounded in scandal and described as very modern, looking back on much of Strauss's music we see the last bloom of the German Romantic tradition.

Even though this video might disprove Strauss' reputation as a fine conductor (he appears rather bored), the quality of the footage, and that it exists at all again points to his longevity. 

Tuesday, June 12

The Cal Performances-hosted Ojai North! Festival began with an outdoor concert yesterday evening, a performance of Alaskan composer John Luther Adams' work for percussion called Inuksuit. It's an Inuit word that means "to act in the capacity of the human" – and also is the name given for the stone markers or guidposts that keep travellers on the proper path in the vast stretches of snow-covered lands. Festival Music Director, pianist Leif Ove Andsnes has fit a lot of similarly exciting programming into the festival, which runs through Thursday.

There's much more information about the festival at the Cal Performances website.

Inuksuit had its west-coast premiere at the other Ojai festival, last week. Both were led by Steven Schick, of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players; John Luther Adams dedicated the piece to Schick and his wife for their wedding. A performance in New York City actually happened indoors, at the Park Avenue Armory.

Cal Performances' Ojai North! Festival

Along with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, violinist Terje Tonneson, mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotjin, an actor and a 'speaker', one of the featured performers is another pianist, Marc-Andre Hamelin, who in addition to Charles Ives' Concord Sonata, will be playing a four-handed arrangement of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with Andsnes. 

And here's Leif Ove Andsnes with our KDFC Tote!

Leif Ove Andsnes

Wednesday, June 13

On an A-to-Z edition of "The State of the Arts," it's Harmonious music by Handel… The popular theme and variations known as The Harmonious Blacksmith — a nickname Handel never gave it — is the final movement to his Suite No. 5 in E Major for harpsichord.

The name seems to fit, with an insistent pulsed beat that continues throughout, and in at least one of the variations, a note that is struck repeatedly. But the popular story that Handel took shelter from the rain at a Blacksmith's forge, and was inspired by the hammering, or whistling of the proprietor wasn't the case. It wasn't until much later, when an entrepreneurial music publisher who had been born into a family of blacksmiths released the theme and variations as a standalone work that it came to be known by that title.

Thursday, June 14

The San Francisco Symphony launched the first of a series of workshops for amateur chamber musicians earlier this week, through its Community of Music Makers program. Members of the orchestra coached five chamber ensembles in rehearsal all around Davies Symphony Hall, and ended with a performance on stage for their fellow participants.

There's more information about the program, which also includes orchestral and choral coaching, at the San Francisco Symphony website.

It's one of the "Centennial Initiatives" – a program in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the orchestra. The Symphony mentors for the inaugural chamber music workshop were cellists Barbara Bogatin and Amos Yang, violinist Victor Romasevich, bassoonist Rob Weir, and pianist Robin Sutherland. They coached three string quartets, an oboe, bassoon and piano trio, and a piano quartet.

Merle Rabine, viola; Christine Oh, violin; Chris Brann, cello; Robin Sutherland; Bill Rudiak, piano

Merle Rabine, viola; Christine Oh, violin; Chris Brann, cello; Robin Sutherland; Bill Rudiak, piano.

Amos Yang and the Oaks Ensemble

Symphony cellist Amos Yang introducing the Oaks Ensemble (Richard Ruby and Julie Buckley, violins; Julie Hawkes, viola; Bill Schneiderman, cello) to the other workshop participants.

Friday, June 15

Today is the day that the "switch is flipped" on the transmitter that will extend KDFC's broadcast signal into the South Bay… In honor of the occasion, here's a collection of other 'auspicious beginnings' – opening measures of classical favorites (you can see the listing below – click and drag over the white space to reveal the fourteen works.)

  1. Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
  2. Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 
  3. Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 "Classical"
  4. Stravinsky: Petrushka
  5. Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez
  6. Mozart: Marriage of Figaro Overture
  7. Haydn: Symphony 104 (in honor of 104.9)
  8. Bizet: Carmen Overture
  9. Strauss: Die Fledermaus Overture
  10. Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
  11. Dvorak: 'New World' Symphony No. 9
  12. Grieg: Piano Concerto
  13. Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
  14. Respighi: The Pines of Rome

Wednesday, June 20

The world premiere of Harvey Milk: A Cantata by Jack Curtis Dubowsky will take place at the 34th annual Pride Concert this Friday at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco and singers from Lick-Wilmerding High School will present the cantata at 7:00 and 9:00 concerts. Music director William Sauerland was given unlimited access to the San Francisco Public Library's collection of Milk's letters, writings, and speeches, which make up the text of the new work.

There's more information about the concert at the SF Pride 2012 website, and the LGCSF site.

The work was a co-commission between LGCSF and Lick-Wilmerding, where conductor William Sauerland directs the choir program. The two groups will be about evenly split in the Milk Cantata performance. Other groups will join them for the 7:00 and 9:00 programs.

One of the sections of the cantata uses text from Harvey Milk's "Give them Hope" speech, as heard here in the 1984 documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk":

Thursday, June 21

The one-act opera "Bluebeard's Castle" by Bela Bartok retells the folktale of a Duke and his young wife, who persuades her husband to unlock each of the seven locked doors in his castle.  The psychological drama grows with each revelation. The San Francisco Symphony will be including a semi-staging of the opera in three performances starting tonight. When presented with the challenge of creating visuals to accompany the work, London-based visual artist Nick Hillel and his team decided to combine video projection with a large origami-like screen above the stage, which can change shape and open outward, mirroring each door's opening.

There's more information about the performances – which also include pianist Jeremy Denk performing Liszt's first piano concerto – at the San Francisco Symphony's website.

You can see the set under construction at Davies Symphony Hall in this video:

Friday, June 22

Sometimes when you see a need for something, you just have to do it yourself… Ray Furuta and Jasmin Arakawa play chamber music together as a flute-piano duo, but they're wearing different hats for the inaugural season of the Silicon Valley Music Festival, which begins this Monday in San Jose. They're co-Artistic Directors – Arakawa will be giving a noon-time free piano concert in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel on Monday to start it off. Furuta grew up in the San Jose area, and recognizes it as a source of a lot of talent, that's not always accessible to young students.

There's more information about the schedule of events at the Silicon Valley Music Festival's website.

Ray Furuta says he's been playing concerts and giving free master classes in San Jose during summer vacations for the past several years, and in the last four or so that he's been teamed with Jasmin Arakawa they've done a little bit more each season, to the point where they felt they were ready to create an actual festival. That momentum has allowed them to offer in their first year a program that includes a resident musicologist to give pre-concert lectures; a composer-in-residence, Andy Akiho, who's recently had commissions from the New York Philharmonic and the contemporary chamber groups Ethel and Eighth Blackbird; plus an advisory board that includes eminent chamber players like Carol Wincenc, Philip Setzer (from the Emerson String Quartet), and Gilbert Kalish.

Wednesday, June 27

For "Listener Appreciation Day" – a tip of the hat to someone who in his time supported classical music in a very hands-on way. If you're not a student of music history, or a tourist in Vienna, you might not recognize the name Prince Franz Josef Maximilian von Lobkowitz. But he helped to bankroll some of Beethoven's major works, and ended up as the dedicatee to a third of Beethoven's symphonies (the Eroica, Fifth, and Sixth), the "Triple" Concerto, and his first set of String Quartets. Coincidentally, he was also a patron for Haydn, whose final two string quartets (opus 77) bear his name.

Although they did eventually have a falling out over money (Lobkowitz ran out of it, for a variety of reasons) the Prince had given the composer a bit of breathing and thinking room with his support, which included a chance to rehearse and revise the Eroica Symphony before its public premiere, and until he couldn't afford it any more, was helping pay an annuity that provided Beethoven with enough to live in Vienna (and under obligation to stay there composing.)

For many years, my only familiarity with the name Lobkowitz was as part of the buildup to a punchline in this Peanuts cartoon strip. It's true that "Lobkowitz stopped his annuity!" is a funny line to say, but it really did cause Beethoven a great financial and emotional burden as the case dragged on in the courts, trying to recover money that was owed to him by both Prince Lobkowitz, as well as Ferdinand, the 5th Prince Kinsky of Wchinitz and Tettau.

Peanuts cartoon strip

Thursday, June 28

Impressionism – both the visual and musical kind – attempted to capture "Reflections in the Water…" as Claude Debussy did in his Images for solo piano. He also wrote a different work with the same title for orchestra. On this A-to-Z special edition of "The State of the Arts" the "I's" have it… including an impromptu look at the Impromptu.

Originally the term "impressionist" was a criticism of the group of artists that included Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. They didn't conform to the rules of composition, and although they often painted representationally, seemed to be no longer concerned with being "realistic". The language of visual art was changing, and its purpose, as it became possible with photography to capture "perfectly" a moment. Instead, the mixing of colors and visible brush strokes could express something as ephemeral as sun reflecting on the surface of the water, or playing through the leaves of trees. And composers like Claude Debussy attempted to chart the same unfamiliar territory in sound.

The Impromptu, from its first appearance as a title in 1822, in a matter of a few decades went from being a piano piece that sounded "off the cuff" or like a sudden burst of inspiration of the composer, to the kind of knuckle-buster that continues to challenge solists today. Among the wide-ranging group of composers to write works with that title were Schubert, Liszt, Scriabin and Sibelius. Here's one by Chopin, the 'Fantasie-Impromptu':

Friday, June 29

Who needs cannons when you've got singing nuns? The Oakland East Bay Symphony, led by music director Michael Morgan, will be presenting a concert of music accompanied by fireworks in the city of Richmond on Tuesday, July 3rd. It's the Target Independence Day Celebration, which Morgan says is unique for several reasons: unlike many summer concerts, it's played indoors, in the Craneway Pavilion (with a sound system that carries the concert hall experience to the outside for those who'd rather watch without a window between them and the fireworks display. It also will include John Philip Sousa, but no 1812 Overture.

There's more information about the concert at the Oakland East Bay Symphony website.

Morgan is steadfast in his refusal to program the Tchaikovsky chestnut for an American holiday – but instead has opted for something that's proved to be a big crowd pleaser: in addition to Americana, he's also included medleys from Broadway and movie musicals, including The Sound of Music, which ends up involving the audience in a singalong.

Also on the program will be vocalist Christabel Nunoo, as well as pianist Chloe Ma, who was a former junior division winner of the OEBS's Young Artist Competition.