Tuesday, March 1

Michael Tilson Thomas
and the San Francisco Symphony have mapped out a big 2016-17 season, which includes tributes to three major contemporary composers – two celebrating big birthdays, and one who would have been turning 100. They’ve also got plans for their eighth Asian tour, for which they’ll be accompanied by Yuja Wang. They’ll also welcome the usual assortment of the finest guest soloists, conductors and ensembles.

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

The season will begin on September 7th, with an opening gala including special guests Renee Fleming and Susan Graham, who will sing a selection of Italian and American songs – but there will also be the beginning of a celebration of Steve Reich’s 80th birthday (a full concert of the composer’s works will be performed a few days later – although still a little earlier than the actual date of his birth). This is also an important year for John Adams, who’ll turn 70 in February, with a performance of his The Gospel According to the Other Mary led by Joana Carneiro in her San Francisco Symphony debut. There’s also the West coast premiere of a piece he wrote for violinist Leila Josefowicz, called Scheherazade.2. The third birthday celebration will come in the summer of 2017, for Lou Harrison’s centennial.

They’ll be touring with frequent collaborator Yuja Wang when they go to the far East, with concerts in South Korea, Taiwain, China, and Japan, playing the first piano concerto by Dmitri Shostakovich. They’ll also be travelling with the overture to the upcoming Bright Sheng opera Dream of the Red Chamber, which San Francisco Opera will be premiering in September. The Symphony will be giving that overture its concert hall debut – and they’ll have the US premiere of Robin Holloway’s work for tuba and orchestra called Europa and the Bull.

In addition to the usual roster of star soloists and guest conductors, they’ll also play host to ensembles like the Los Angeles and Berlin Philharmonic, with Gustavo Dudamel and Sir Simon Rattle – the ‘Great Performers’ recital season is back with stars like Murray Perahia, Anne-Sofie Mutter, Lang Lang, and Itzhak Perlman. And the popular film series returns, with 2001: A Space Odyssey, On the Waterfront, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Casablanca.

Wednesday, March 2

With a program of music by Beethoven played on period instruments, the Musicians from the Valley of the Moon Music Festival play at the Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall this Saturday afternoon. Cellist Tanya Tomkins and fortepianist Eric Zivian, co-artistic directors of the festival, play three of his five cello sonatas.

There’s more information about the concert at the Green Music Center’s website.

The instruments they’ll be playing – a fortepiano and a cello with gut strings – are best suited for the repertoire, since they match the instruments that Beethoven was writing for, so the balance between them correct, as written. “Beethoven orchestrated his piano parts,” Eric Zivian says, “because the piano was quite soft, and he wanted to add notes and add things in order to make the piano sound enough… and then to play that on a modern piano, it’s just all these extra notes in there that he wouldn’t have written in if he’d been writing for a modern piano.” Because, he says, although a grand piano can project more forcefully, it doesn’t have the same clarity when doing so. “On the modern instrument, in order to get the same degree of precision or beginning to the note, you’d have to play much too loud. On this one you can play very soft, but it still has a real definition to each tone, and you can hear the way the harmonies go together much better, I think. It’s much clearer.” And Tanya Tomkins says not having to worry about matching the stronger sound is great: “The Beethoven cello sonatas are maybe like the single best example of using the older instruments, because otherwise the cellist is at such a disadvantage. You have to use so much vibrato and just so much sheer volume to keep up with the big piano… The way that it’s written, it makes perfect sense. You don’t have to push… I don’t have to think at all about projection, which is such a luxury, because then it frees up your mind to have all these wonderful other ideas.”

Thursday, March 3

A very unusual concert kicks off the new series, San Francisco Performances Presents: PIVOT. The JACK Quartet plays a work that was specifically written to be played in complete darkness. The third quartet by Georg Friedrich Haas, subtitled ‘In iij. Noct’ requires the players to be unable to see eachother, their instruments, or the audience, and spread to the corners of the performing space. Violist and executive director of the quartet, John Pickford Richards gives a preview.

There’s more information about the concert and the series at the San Francisco Performances Presents: PIVOT website.

The concert has an equally unorthodox starting time, of 11 pm, at the Strand Theater. (Kronos Quartet founder David Harrington will be giving a pre-concert talk that begins at 10, and shortly before the music begins the audience will have a chance to see just how dark the theater will be for the hour duration of the piece.) It’s a work that the young quartet has wanted to play since first encountering it at the Lucerne Festival Academy. They were studying there, and the composer was in residence, working with another ensemble. “We went to a performance of the piece at a museum there, and it was just an incredible moving experience for us,” Richard says. “We didn’t know what to expect. And so immediately, we who… you know, we were bright-eyed and just beginning to even think about being a quartet, we immediately decided to play it.” But aside from having to memorize the piece (and its notation is more like a list of if/then instructions) they also had to learn how to play without being able to see their bows and strings. “It’s actually really hard to get a room dark, we found out. And so we ended up blindfolding ourselves in rehearsal, and sitting with our backs to each other. But it wasn’t until our very first performance that we were… that we actually experienced the dark and the distance that the piece exists in.” He says that playing without the visual information forces both the quartet and the audience to focus their attention on their ears, with very active listening.

Friday, March 4

This weekend, the choir called Sacred & Profane offers two large scale works from England, written 350 years apart: the Mass for Five Voices by William Byrd and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass for Double Choir in G Minor. Director Rebecca Petra Naomi Seeman says you can hear the continuity of approach between the two.

You can find out more about the concerts (Saturday night in Berkeley, and Sunday afternoon in San Francisco) at the Sacred & Profane website.

It’s not entirely clear who might have first performed the Byrd Mass (he actually wrote three, for different forces). “Byrd was a practicing Catholic at a time when it was extremely illegal to be a practicing Catholic in England,” Seeman explains. “But Queen Elizabeth had given him essentially leave to write music as he chose to…  He and Tallis were the only ones allowed to do that, but they were still persecuted and harassed regularly for these pieces, and so certainly they could not write a mass…Were they performed in clandestine Catholic communities in England, or were they performed by English ex-pats living on the continent?”

Vaughan Williams could trace his musical roots back that far, and, as in his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, showed how comfortable he was with the modal harmonies they used in the 16th Century. “He’ll jump from very unrelated chords really suddenly – but he does it so fluidly that it works in the way that it works in Tallis. You know, it sort of takes you by surprise, but then it seems so self-evident at the same time…There really is a continuity of this language, and Vaughan Williams then is going back and really teasing out that polyphony and the points of imitation, and you really do feel that continuity, how they fit together in the canon.”

Monday, March 7

Berkeley Rep
‘s production of Macbeth stars Conleth Hill and Frances McDormand; one of the other actors in the company plays three roles (in addition to doing some swordfighting)… James Carpenter, who is King Duncan, the Porter, and the Doctor who witnesses Lady Macbeth’s famed sleepwalking scene. He’s got a long history with the play, which he describes as “A machine: once you step on stage, you don’t stop.”

There’s more about the production, which runs through April 10th,  at the Berkeley Rep website.

James Carpenter, a very familiar face on Bay Area stages, actually played this same trio of characters at Cal Shakes – so although he had a headstart on the lines, he says he had to work with director Daniel Sullivan to unlearn his previous interpretation. “There’s a certain amount of rewiring that you have to do because it’s not the same production, and you can’t give the same performance – you don’t want to give the same performance. Having those choices already built in and kind of in-body, is kind of hard to unwire them. It’s not like starting from scratch, it’s actually harder in a way.” One of the differences is approaching King Duncan with a bit more cynicism. “When you read the script, Duncan is described as this kindly wonderful old king. And first of all, if you’re in a position of power, nobody gets there by being nice. Nobody does. Now he might be a wonderful kindly king in relation to Macbeth, but maybe in the moment, he’s not so nice.”

Many in the cast are playing multiple roles, including Frances McDormand as both the ambitious Lady Macbeth, and one of the three witches whose prophecies set the action of the play in motion.

James Carpenter

Tuesday, March 8

The Cypress String Quartet has, for 17 of its 20 years, presented a ‘Call and Response‘ concert – in which a composer is commissioned to write a piece of music specifically inspired by earlier works. As part of the process, they go into schools around the Bay Area, and present programs to kids, who are then invited for free to the concerts. This season’s, at Herbst Theatre this Friday, will be their final ‘Call and Response’ concert. Cellist Jennifer Kloetzel describes a program of coming full circle.

There’s more information about the concert at the Cypress String Quartet’s website.

The composer whose work will be premiered is Dan Coleman, who was the very first composer commissioned for ‘Call and Response’ – a work that premiered in 2000. He wrote his second quartet for them a few years later, and this is his third, subtitled together, as the river, inspired by a poem by Louise Gluck. The piece shares the program with the first and last quartets by Beethoven, made all the more meaningful when the Cypresses decided that they’d give their final performances together at the end of this season. “It’s kind of beautiful to come full circle,” Jennifer Kloetzel says. The new work tells the story of their quartet musically. “Dan has known us for so long that the piece becomes a very personal piece. He was really looking at our history together, our relationships with eachother, so it begins with a long violin duet – Tom [Stone] and Cecily [Ward] have known each other, they knew each other years before the quartet began. I joined them to start the Cypress Quartet twenty years ago, so I come in next. Ethan [Filner] joins us, but not until 120 bars in. And Ethan was the last of the four of us to join. And then it just really explores all those relationships. It’s 290 bars before the full quartet plays.”

Here’s a video by the Cypress String Quartet with a behind-the-scenes look at their Call and Response project.

Wednesday, March 9

Violinist Sarah Chang makes a return appearance to the Bay Area, to play three recitals through Chamber Music San Francisco this week. Her schedule is usually full of orchestral concert dates, but for these concerts, she’ll be joined on stage by her accompanist Julio Elizalde for music of Bartok, Brahms, Franck, and Ravel.

There’s more information about the concerts, (Saturday at Herbst Theatre, Sunday afternoon in Walnut Creek, and Monday in Palo Alto) at the Chamber Music San Francisco website.

The difference between playing concertos and chamber music is dramatic – Chang estimates 90 to 95 percent of her playing is with orchestras, “…working on the tried and true favorites, Brahms and Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn and Sibelius, and the repertoire that I grew up with and that’s really a part of my blood. We go from Europe to the US to South America, to Asia, and just, you’re bouncing around all over the place, you know, it’s just… Every week it’s a different orchestra, different city, different country, different orchestra, so you really have to sort of be on your toes.”  But solo repertoire requires a different kind of focus – and stamina. “Everything’s much smaller, and much more intimate, and everything’s on a much more detail level, as well as the fact that when you’re doing a concerto, the most anyone expects of you ever is 30 minutes. The orchestra has their overture, the soloists comes out and does their concerto, and then the orchestra does their symphony… But with a recital, you’re up there for almost two solid hours, and that’s a lot of repertoire to go through, so you really get to like dig your teeth in, and explore everything when it comes to rep.”

Thursday, March 10

A chamber music recital called Inspired By Women this Saturday night will include a tribute to a cellist’s legacy, a piano trio by Clara Schumann, and a string quartet by Leos Janacek with the subtitle ‘Intimate Letters’ – inspired by a correspondence with a (mostly unrequited) lover. The concert, organized by cellist Natalie Raney, who will be playing as well as hosting, will benefit the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.

There’s more information at Natalie Raney’s website.
The recital developed from two separate approaches Raney had for a concert: “I had the idea of doing something like this, I was thinking about doing a concert that was inspired by women, but maybe all women composers? I had a good friend that had ovarian cancer, stage 3C ovarian cancer, and so I decided to kind of roll it all into one, and do it… I love chamber music, and this is the best way I knew how to support the people that I love, and so, that’s kind of how it came to be.” So even though there’s only one woman composer represented, the piece that leads off is forever associated with a female performer: “I’m opening up with the Elgar cello concerto, the adagio movement of the cello concerto, and it’s been transcribed for four cellos. And I decided to put it on the program for the performers, celebrating women performers and in celebration of Jacqueline du Pré and her legacy with that piece.” The remaining piece is truly, perhaps obsessively inspired by a woman, named Kamila Stösslová. Janacek based his second quartet on their (one-sided) relationship, and the letters they exchanged. Natalie Raney syas it was the first piece she thought of when programming this concert.

Friday, March 11

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company presents the West Coast premiere performances this week of Analogy/Dora: Tramontane, a work built from interviews Jones conducted with his mother-in-law Dora Amelan, who survived World War II as a young Jewish woman in France. It runs through Sunday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

There’s more information about the performances at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts website.

The transcripts of the more than 8 hours of conversation were edited down, and are spoken by the dancers during the performance. Bill T. Jones says it was years after he had this oral history before he thought that he should use it in a dance. Dora Amelan was a nurse and social worker who spent the war in France trying to help rescue children. “There are so many stories of the war, Holocaust stories. It is most certainly not the most dramatic, the most gruesome, the most revelatory of a huge canvas, but it’s personal. It’s personal in scale, as my dancers are personal. And that’s, in a way, what the piece is about: how the large canvas of history can be broken or reduced down to very moving small bits.”  This is actually the first work of a planned trilogy; the pairing of the visuals against the spoken text of Dora’s story is just one way that the idea of ‘Analogy’ and connection is explored. “You’re hearing something, which is snatched from life, but you’re seeing a kind of idealized and ritualized dance space. You never forget that that’s what you’re watching. There’s very little illusionism in it. You do the work. And you put together two or more realities, which is what my love is in all art.”

Monday, March 14

Music Director Mitchell Sardou Klein and the Peninsula Symphony welcome an unusual ‘soloist’ for their next concerts this weekend – the four French horns of the ensemble called Quadre. They’ll play the Konzertstucke, or Concert Piece for four horns and orchestra by Robert Schumann on a program called ‘Fantasy Tales.’

There’s more information about the Friday (San Mateo) and Saturday (Cupertino) night concerts at the Peninsula Symphony website.

Quadre usually performs in a chamber music setting – frequently playing works that they’ve commissioned or arranged for their rather unorthodox group, but Robert Schumann’s work is one of the few that allows them to shine with a full orchestra. “Schumann wrote this wonderful thrilling piece for four horns where there’s gorgeous lyrical passages, but also just big flashy technique-laden virtuosic horn playing, and you really have to have four outstanding soloists to do that,” Klein explains. The concert will open with Rossini’s overture to his take on Cinderella (La Cenerentola), and also includes the famed Mussorgsky piece Night on Bald Mountain before finishing with Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919). It’s a piece that Klein says is one of his favorites to work on – so much so that he prefers to conduct it without the score in front of him. “There are certain pieces that just seem to go better that way, and this is one that I really look forward to doing, and generally do from memory, and it’s a breathless experience from beginning to end, so the Firebird is a great way to complete this program.”

Tuesday, March 15

The concert series called Curious Flights presents its second-ever Transatlantic Crossings program this weekend, at the Conservatory of Music. It includes music by young composers from the Bay Area, as well as British composer and special guest Simon Dobson. Artistic Director and clarinetist Brenden Guy wants to showcase local talent, as well as introduce some of his UK colleagues to new audiences.

There’s more information about the concert at the Curious Flights website.

Simon Dobson has had great success in the UK, writing a lot of works for brass and winds – his instrument is the trumpet (see below!), but he also says that given the number of brass bands in England, he’s found it far easier to get compositions played for that instrumentation. On this Saturday’s program, the San Francisco Wind Ensemble will play his Another World’s Hell, which he describes this way: “One of my favorite books from when I was younger was Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and in that book, one of the protagonists has to go to a concert in which one could only imagine he’s listening to this crazy future music. But in the book, Huxley describes it in complete and perfect detail, it’s really amazing. He describes it down to time signature, key signature, instrumentation, orchestration… So I’d never read an account of fictional music before. My first thought was ‘well, I have to write this music.’”

There are also works by Bay Area composers Noah Luna (with a world premiere), Robert Chastain, Samuel Adams, and Mason Bates. For the Bates piece, Red River, the clarinet, violin, cello and piano are joined by a pre-recorded track of electronica. For the Dobson world premiere, A Modulation on Plymouth Sound, Brenden Guy will be accompanied by a track that the composer assembled and produced using sounds of the waves in the waterways of his hometown of Plymouth.

Wednesday, March 16

Writer, actor, and storyteller Charlie Varon is presenting his tale Second Time Around in a way he had never done before: with an equal musical partner on stage, playing an original score. Cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, who for many years played with Kronos Quartet, has worked with Varon and director David Ford to discover the best pacing and balance of forces for the production, which is running at The Marsh in San Francisco through mid-April.

There’s more information about the show at the website of The Marsh.

Varon had finished the story, in which a 91-year-old is interviewed by a high school student for a history project, at the end of 2014, but wasn’t sure how he was going to make it work for the stage. He happened to hear a bit of music that Joan Jeanrenaud had written and recorded for an audioguide exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and had this reaction: “I’m looking at this sculpture of St. Paul, and here’s this beautiful cello playing in my earbuds, and it becomes some third thing. That is, the sculpture, it’s the music and it’s the combination of the two. And I’m thinking, Mmmmm!”  He was pleased to discover the cellist whose music he’d been so taken with was from San Francisco,  They teamed with director David Ford, who says first they decided what it wouldn’t be. “This is not Peter and the Wolf, this is not l’Histoire du Soldat. I was thinking about all these other attempts to integrate composition and storytelling, narrative, and I very much wanted it to be a duet.” And that’s how they’re billing it, as a ‘Duet for Cello and Storyteller.’

Thursday, March 17

On a concert program with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 and Cherubini’s Requiem, Oakland Symphony presents the world premiere tomorrow night of Concerto for Piccolo and Orchestra by Martin Rokeach. Soloist Amy Likar says the piece shows off the range of the highest instrument in the orchestra, with strong and interesting parts for her fellow musicians.

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

Amy Likar says she first met Martin Rokeach at a recital. “…and he just said, ‘I would love to write a piccolo concerto’ and I was like, ‘I would love to play a piccolo concerto!’ And then later I ended up playing on a concert of one of Marty’s students, and we talked about it again. I approached Michael Morgan about it, and he said ‘Sure!’” There aren’t all that many examples of concerto repertoire for the smallest and highest member of the orchestra, and although she’s premiered other works, It’s the first concerto Likar has premiered. “Early on, before he started composing, he met with me, and we went through the entire range of the instrument. And he decided pretty quickly that he wanted to avoid the highest notes of the instrument… He sent me sketches of the most difficult passages, to see if I could play them, and I said yes to all of them, not having them all in succession at the time, he sent them one at a time, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, whoa, OK, one after the other, ok, all right, here we go, it’s gonna be fun!’”

Friday, March 18

Marc-André Hamelin
is a sought-after piano soloist, appearing in concert halls around the world in recital and concerto performances. But that doesn’t mean that he gets to stop practicing. If you’re someone who remembers minutes or hours of playing tedious scales at the piano while keeping a close eye on the clock, he says it needn’t be that way. Instead he sees practice as ‘self-teaching’ – and a way to learn how to best get inside the workings of a piece.

Marc-André Hamelin‘s schedule doesn’t always allow him as much time to practice as he might like, and he says that he doesn’t really have a regimen: “I  just go to the piano simply because I’m naturally attracted to it, not because I ever feel I have a task to accomplish. Well, I do in a way, but only in the sense that it’s just continuing a journey with a certain piece, or with a number of pieces at the same time.” And the progress that he then makes is two-fold… He builds muscle memory in his fingers while connecting with the composer’s intent. “It’s instilling a growing awareness of what the piece contains and what is needed in order to bring it to life. Either emotionally, or purely physically.”

Hamelin says more important than spending a given amount of time practicing, is making incremental progress: “I just feel my way, I do a little bit each day, and each day my ability to communicate the message of the piece will get more and more fluent… This is really heresy for most piano teachers, but I don’t believe that you should calculate, or you should figure out, or you should go into the practice room saying ‘I’m going to practice so many hours.’ To me, that’s kind of useless. Because what you really should set out to do is better your understanding of the piece, and development of your own equipment, whether artistic or physical.”

Monday, March 21

Johann Sebastian Bach
was born on this day in 1685 — to help get the birthday celebration started, here’s a little quiz. Can you identify these ten of his works?

To see the answers below, click and drag over the white space…

  1. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” (from Cantata BWV 147)
  2. “Aria” from the Goldberg Variations
  3. “Air on the G String” (Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, mvt. 2)
  4. Toccata in D minor (arranged for Brass Quintet)
  5. “Badinerie” (Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, mvt. 7)
  6. “Erbarme dich, mein Gott” (from St. Matthew Passion)
  7. Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major
  8. Minuet in G Major from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach
  9. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, mvt. 1
  10. “Siciliano” (Flute Sonata No. 2 in E flat, mvt. 2)

Tuesday, March 22

Kent Nagano
 returns to the Bay Area this week for two performances. He was the longtime Music Director of Berkeley Symphony, but right now he’s on tour with the ensemble he’s been leading for the past decade, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, as it’s known there). They’ll present concerts at Weill Hall in Rohnert Park and in Berkeley at Zellerbach Hall.

You can find out about the concerts at the Green Music Center and Cal Performances websites, as well as the OSM website.

This is the first time the orchestra has toured the U.S. in about 25 years, with concerts in Washington, DC; New York, Boston, Chicago, and Ann Arbor before a series of California performances that end with these two Bay Area appearances Friday and Saturday. Nagano has gotten to know – and love – his new home, which a lot of people in the US remain a bit foggy about. “It’s a part, we all sort of knew where it was, yes, French-speaking Canada, but what is it exactly? One of the huge sources of inspiration for me, constant inspiration, is to know and to be involved with and participate in this very dynamic and explosive culture called Quebec.” Part of its appeal, he says, is its authentically Old-World roots. “When you fly in from Europe into Quebec, you feel as if you’ve never left Europe, and the other way around: when you fly from Montreal to Paris, to London, you feel that somehow that you’re not crossing a border.”

They’ll be joined, on a program that includes Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Debussy’s Jeux, by pianist Daniil Trifonov, playing Prokofiev. “We’ve performed often together,” says Nagano, “He agreed to tour with us, and we were very excited… And it was his choice to take the Prokofiev 3, which funnily enough fits into around the same time period of Sacre and Jeux, and we felt it was then a very natural and perfect collaboration for this program.”

Wednesday, March 23

They’re usually in the pit while the dancers are getting the attention, but in a special Herbst Theatre concert this Friday, the San Francisco Symphony Ballet Orchestra will be celebrating its 40th season with a music-only performance. Music director and principal conductor Martin West gives a preview.

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

This is a season for celebration for the ensemble – at this year’s Grammy awards, the disc “Ask Your Mama,” which they played on (with George Manahan conducting) was nominated in three categories, and won two. “We thought it was really important to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the orchestra with a concert which was really about them, and for them,” Martin West explains. In the midst of the repertory season, they’ll present the concert with dance-themed music, but no dancers. “I felt it was very important to showcase the orchestra for who we are, and who San Francisco Ballet are… I thought it would be fantastic to include a piece that we recorded last year by Charles ‘Kip’ Winger, who’s a composer we know very well from another ballet that we’ve done [Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts]. He wrote this fantastic piece called ‘Conversations with Nijinsky’ – and I thought it’d be a wonderful opener, it’s a real show-stopper, and really shows off every facet of the orchestra.”  There’s also Chausson’s Poeme, which will allow their new concertmaster, Cordula Merks to shine, Stravinsky’s Firebird (which West joked might go at slightly different tempos without the dancers), and another fiery finale: “A short piece which is ‘Fackeltanz’ by Moszkowsky. It translates as a ‘Dance with Flames.’ I thought rather than having fireworks and candles in the auditorium, we’d provide them from the orchestra. It’s a fantastic way of finishing a concert.”

Thursday, March 24

In honor of Spring and KDFC’s ‘Great Outdoors Week’, a sampling of “Birds in the Orchestra” – composers have long been writing instrumental imitations of birds… The cuckoo is probably the easiest to recognize, and it shows up in a variety of works. Since it was first possible to bring recordings into the concert hall, there have also been times when nothing but the actual sound of specific birds will do.

A cuckoo may have a fairly pedestrian birdcall, with only two notes, but Frederick Delius, Beethoven, and Handel all used it memorably (not to mention Laurel and Hardy’s theme music). Ottorino Respighi called for a recording of nightingale songs to be played from the stage in his Pines of Rome, and Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara used field recordings of birds from the region to reflect the vast northern landscape of his Cantus Arcticus.

There are many other examples of composers taking their cues from the feathered set, famously the bird and the duck (flute and oboe, respectively) from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf; the “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks” from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition; Haydn’s Symphony #83 (The Hen); The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Mahler’s first symphony also has cuckoo calls, and Respighi wrote an entire work called “The Birds”. But among the most fervent champions of trying to replicate the sounds of bird songs was French composer Olivier Messaien, with titles like “Oiseaux exotiques” and “Catalogue oiseaux”.

Friday, March 25

Third Coast Percussion
rounds out the first season of San Francisco PerformancesPIVOT, their “New Adventures in the Performing Arts.” They’ll play a work by Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche called Wild Sound, which is described as an audio-video extravaganza. Kotche created a framework for the piece with field recordings he made while on tour, and asks the players to make some of the instruments they’ll play

There’s more information about the performance, Monday night at SFJAZZ Center at the San Francisco Performances website.

There’s a throughline theme of construction in the evening’s performance, with the members of the ensemble, as Dillon explains, “…performing on a number of instruments, some of which are very simple things that we sort of build ourselves on stage during the performance, kind of noise-makers made out of found objects, or simple found objects that have really cool and unique sounds: there’s a whole section performed on flowerpots and pieces of metal that are sort of cut to different sizes.”  The ambient sounds and sound effects that Kotche recorded would make up one strand of the experience, and is accompanied by a few different visuals “There’s a premade video art that sort of goes through these different environments that’s being shown above our heads, and overlayed with that is live video being shot of us doing all the things we’re doing on stage.”  Also on the program is Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood, which is on the ensembles’ most recent all-Reich CD.

Monday, March 28

Violinist Jennifer Koh and her frequent musical partner, pianist Shai Wosner return to San Francisco Performances this week for the third and fourth parts of their Bridge to Beethoven project. She commissioned four composers to write music that would pair with the Beethoven violin sonatas, as a way of widening both the repertoire, and making it a bit more diverse.

There’s more information about the concerts, this Wednesday and Saturday at Herbst Theatre at the San Francisco Performances website.

Part of the inspiration for the project came after Jennifer Koh, who was born and raised in the U.S., went to Korea, where her ancestors were from, hoping that she’d find resonance with musical traditions from that part of the world. “I was in Korea, and I was lucky enough to be allowed into these very private, personal kind of shamanistic rituals, and I remember just thinking “Oh, yeah, this kind of reminds me of Lou Harrison.” And that was the point that I was like, you know, I have no background in this! Through that entire process, I came to the realization that my background and my language is western classical.” Neither she, Wosner, nor 3 of the 4 composers had grown up in musical families, and yet found their way to Beethoven. With younger voices, and different geographical points of reference, she wanted their new works to continue the conversation begun by Beethoven. “So Bridge to Beethoven eventually evolved into a question of where we’re going in Classical music, and the evolution of classical music, and the addition of diversity to this… what was traditionally western, and western European specifically.”

Tuesday, March 29

The new SF Opera Lab is about to launch its second production, a chamber opera for six unaccompanied women’s voices called Svadba – Wedding, by the Serbian born composer Ana Sokolovic. The performances will be in on the fourth floor of the Veteran’s Building, upstairs from Herbst Theatre, in the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera. Director Michael Cavanagh says the Taube Atrium Theater is an ideal match for the work.

You can find out more about the performances, which run through April 10th at the San Francisco Opera website.

“It’s not a linear narrative, we’re not telling a story with a beginning and middle and end,” says Michael Cavanagh. “It’s episodic. It’s a group of six friends, and it’s the night before one of them is going off to be married. They recreate and abstract episodes from their youth, and ceremonies and formalities that prepare the bride for her transition into this new world, and by doing so, they all undergo transitions and transformations.” The simplicity of the forces involved allows the action to take place throughout the theater. “We never have to worry about the sound balance being orchestra heavy, or worry about sight-lines and things, because we’re performing and producing this in the round… Not even in the… It’s more than in the round. It’s in the round and in the corners. It’s in the square and in the round. And it’s a completely immersive experience, which you can only do with what is virtually an a cappella opera.”


Wednesday, March 30

Pianist Inon Barnatan will be joining Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony for a series of concerts starting tonight, and will also be with them when they make their East Coast tour in a few weeks. He’s playing the rarely-heard Aaron Copland Piano Concerto, a compact two-movement piece that sounds more like Gershwin and the jazz inspired French composers of the 20s than the Copland we would later come to know.

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

Barnatan was only recently introduced to the piece himself: “I played it for the first time at the beginning of the season, so last year in September, I think, with St. Louis. That was my first encounter with the piece. And I was surprised, actually because I think it’s a wonderful piece, and I don’t know why it doesn’t get played almost ever.” The program will also include two other works by Copland, Orchestral Variations and Inscape, along with Schumann’s Second Symphony. The concerto was written in 1926, at a time when Copland hadn’t yet found his iconic voice. “What’s interesting, I think, about Copland,” Barnatan says, “is that he had almost the opposite trajectory of most composers, where most composers start off by writing very accessible music, and go more modernist as they go along.   He was trying to have the American sound at that time through jazz, and then eventually he discovered a different way of the Americana expression.”

The Symphony’s East Coast tour (which will include this as well as a Mahler and Schumann program) is in the middle of April. Barnatan says he always enjoys touring with orchestras, although this one will be slightly unusual for him: “Both concerts are in New York, where I live, New York and New Jersey. So I basically am going home… We’re going to Carnegie Hall and to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.” That does mean, though, that as they prepare for the tour, in addition to the performances tonight through Saturday, there will be another on Friday, April 8th.

Thursday, March 31

This weekend, Bing Concert Hall’s stage will be filled with local dancers premiering a work called Bolero Silicon Valley. It’s a commission by Stanford Live, and one of a series of works that choreographer Larry Keigwin has created around the country, using members of the community dancing to music of Maurice Ravel. The performances will be Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, along with other works by the New York-based Keigwin + Company.

There’s more information about the performances at the Stanford Live website.

Larry Keigwin initially thought of the Ravel for a piece, but then the idea of an outreach into the community (in this case New York City, back in 2007) occurred to him.”I just wanted to use the music, this iconic score, but it’s so big, it just keeps accumulating. And so I decided well, let’s get a lot of people on stage. Well, if we’re going to make a dance about New York, let’s get real people on stage, and not dancers.” Like the ever-growing music that accompanies it, that idea has turned into more than ten different productions, including ones in Denver, Florida, and Akron, Ohio. “It’s pretty magical, actually, to take a blank canvas, and then within two weeks have a 15 minute theatrical event. And I think it’s really fun for the participants to go from zero to 100,” Keigwin says. “With regard to everyone’s ability, I’ve always thought that it’s the choreographer’s job to make everybody look good, and also to make everyone feel good. So we work at the ability at which they are, you know, I don’t want to ask a senior citizen to do the splits, necessarily, unless they can.”

Here’s a video of some of the “casting call” for the project: