Thursday, May 1
Guest conductor Ton Koopman leads the San Francisco Symphony in two concert programs (this week and next) celebrating Bach… And for the concerts that begin with a matinee today, that also includes Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, whose 300th birthday is this year. SFS Cellist Peter Wyrick solos in a C.P.E. concerto (which had a few other incarnations) and the J.S. Bach cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen will spotlight soprano Carolyn Sampson and trumpeter Mark Inouye.
There's more information about the concerts at the San Francisco Symphony website.
Ton Koopman, whose knowledge of Bach is practically encyclopedic, says the concert program for the first of the series ("Bach — For the Soul") came together and evolved over time. Originally he thought to include the Orchestral Suite Number 3, but that changed to the less frequently played Number 4… He had discussed in passing with cellist Peter Wyrick a while ago the possibility of playing a C.P.E. Bach Cello Concerto. The Cello Concerto No. 3, Ton Koopman says, showed up in several other guises: "Carl Philipp was a businessman. A real 'koopman' – By composing a piece where he said… 'O.K., but you could do it on a flute as well, you could do it on a harpsichord as well. So he was changing very little in the accompaniment, but made the solo part completely different. It's interesting if you hear the piece as a flute concerto and as a cello concerto, you would maybe not even recognize the same piece." Once it was decided that the C.P.E. concerto would be on the program, it made sense to include another piece by the famous son of Johann Sebastian. Finally, there's a work that showcases soprano and trumpet soloists, Bach's Cantata 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, with Carolyn Sampson and Mark Inouye.
Next week, Koopman and the Symphony will be joined by soloists and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus for Cantata 207a (Auf, schmetternde Töne der muntern Trompeten) and 'Missa Brevis' – the Kyrie and Gloria from the B Minor Mass.
Friday, May 2
Sonoma State University's Green Music Center has anounced their third season of the Mastercard Performance Series at Weill Hall, with the theme of "Expanding Horizons". It reflects an expansion in the number of concerts, as well as a greater diversity in the programming, something that has been a priority for Co-Executive Director Zahrin Mehta.
There's more information about the season at the Green Music Center's website.
Beginning with an opening Sinatra-themed gala concert with Michael Feinstein, the season continues to draw top names – with Yo-Yo Ma and Gil Shaham presenting solo Bach performances, pianists Murray Perahia, Jeffrey Kahane and (Van Cliburn winner) Nobuyuki Tsujii giving solo recitals. There are duets too, with cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan; the bluegrass-tinged Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile; Stewart Copeland (drummer from The Police) and Jon Kimura Parker; and the comedy team of Igudesman and Joo, who continue the tradition of Victor Borge and others in their piano/violin playing. There's a special trio coming together for a concert as well: violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, pianist Yefim Bronfman, and cellist Lynn Harrell will play the "Archduke" Trio by Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky's Trio in A Minor ("In Memory of a Great Artist")
There's the Emerson String Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Curtis Institute's Curtis Chamber Orchestra will play Mozart, Prokofiev, and a new viola concerto by Jennifer Higdon. The San Francisco Symphony and Santa Rosa Symphony will have a place on the schedule, as will the visiting Orchestre de la Suisse-Romande, under the direction of Charles Dutoit.
With world music, jazz, dance, and early music ensembles, the total offerings of this season's performances is about a third more than this past year. And the long-awaited Schroeder Hall, which will seat about 250, for smaller ensembles, will officially open this August.
Monday, May 5
While we highlight our Carnival of the Instruments this week for our part in the KDFC Instrument Drive, let's take a look at the evolution of Keyboard, from the clavichord to the modern grand piano. As the instruments developed over time, they got bigger, louder, and capable of more nuance.
One thing the clavichord is known for is just how quiet it is. It was never meant to be an instrument for performance, beyond a very intimate setting. It was relatively portable, though, and has the distinction of being a keyboard instrument that allows the player to use vibrato – since the "tangent" (the piece of metal attached to the key that makes contact with the string) acts as a finger would on a violin's string, and can be held as the sound fades away, or vibrated. (Although that technique isn't used in this example):
The virginal combines the shape of the clavichord with the "plucking" mechanism that's used by a harpsichord. A "plectrum" (usually a bit of a quill feather) and one string per note, gave it a consistent, but still not so loud sound.
The harpsichord changed the orientation of the strings – rather than running parallel with the keyboard as on the clavichord and virginal, they go perpendicularly. (Some 'bentside spinets' had strings run at an angle somewhere between) On more elaborate harpsichords, there are multiple strings per key, and sometimes multiple banks of keyboards, which can be mechanically ganged together to create a beefier sound.
Bartolomeo Cristofori's invention of the 'Gravicembalo col piano e forte' – which means 'harpsichord with soft and loud' – or piano around 1700 was a breakthrough because it allowed the player to be able to control, note by note while playing, the dynamics of each attack. The mechanism used hammers that would strike the strings and let them ring in a way that previous instruments couldn't. (The music begins :30 into this video):
The fortepianos that were fine for Mozart needed to be stronger to withstand the kind of playing and writing that Beethoven demanded, and the science of piano making and the art of music written for the instrument continued pushing eachother on until the the late 19th Century, with the arrival of the modern, metal-framed grand piano we know today.
Tuesday, May 6
As guitar is the focus of today's Carnival of the Instruments, a look at how one of the top guitarists working today got his start – largely by chance. Miloš Karadaglić didn't come from a particularly musical family, and as a child in Montenegro didn't have musical aspirations – until he heard what Segovia could do.
Miloš, as he is known, has released several CDs now, both playing solo recital repertoire, as well as accompanied by orchestra. But he didn't feel the pull of a musical career early on… and benefitted from an instrument that happened to be at his house. "I didn't fancy to play the violin, or piano, or anything like that. I remembered we had a guitar, I had a good voice. I wanted to sing and play the guitar, strum a couple of chords, and that was it. And that's why I was attracted to the guitar. And I think that's how everybody's attracted to the guitar in the beginning." He says he almost gave up the instrument in the early days of his studies, "…until the time when I heard the guitar played by Segovia, and I wanted to be able to create the music on the guitar which sounded like that."
You can find out more about the KDFC Instrument Drive here.
Wednesday, May 7
As the Carnival of the Instruments rolls along, here's a whirlwind tour of the Wind Instruments, or Woodwinds (even though many of them are no longer made of any wood). Unlike the strings, which as a section have a continuous and uniform sound across their ranges, wind instruments have individual personalities and characteristic sounds that are so distinctive that there are often only two or three oboe players in an orchestra, balancing a few dozen violins.
This isn't by any means an exhaustive list – a number of additional instruments extend the ranges of each example, but these are some of the most frequently found in an orchestra (and the wind instrument players will frequently be asked to "double" on other instruments, so a piccolo part will be played by a member of the flute section, English horn by an oboist, etc.
There's a wonderful series of videos by members of the Philharmonia Orchestra introducing their instruments:
Thursday, May 8
Cypress String Quartet's Salon Series, 'Slavic Soundscapes' wraps up with three more concerts this weekend in intimate venues (the David Brower Center in Berkeley, SFJAZZ's Joe Henderson Lab, and the Palo Alto Women's Club) with music by Haydn, Dvorak, and Erwin Schulhoff.
There's more information about the concerts at the Cypress String Quartet website.
The quartet has been a champion of Schulhoff's music since their early days, making his 'Five Pieces' part of their repertoire. Cellist Jennifer Kloetzel got to know some of his works when she was living in Prague. She says he would likely have become more popular earlier if it hadn't been for the Cold War. As a Jew who was also a Communist, he was sent to a concentration camp during World War II, but much of his music was saved because he sent it to Russia, anticipating that he would go there. "The Eastern Bloc countries didn't want to play his music," says Kloetzel, "because he loved jazz, and a lot of his music is infused with jazz harmonies. And we Westerners didn't want to play the music of a Communist… In about the 1990s, people started noticing that this music was really great, and stands apart from all that other history."
Schulhoff's early promise led his parents to have him play for Antonin Dvorak, who recognized his talent – he won the Mendelssohn Prize as a pianist, studied with Max Reger, and Claude Debussy, but Kloetzel notes: "Debussy was really a disappointing teacher to Schulhoff, because Debussy told him that he had to learn all the rules before he could break them. Part of the reason Schulhoff liked Debussy's music is becuase he was breaking all the rules." (A few years later the young composer would win another Mendelssohn Prize, this time for composition.)
Friday, May 9
18-year-old French horn player Avery Roth-Hawthorne will be headed to Juilliard in the fall, but he's already been a 2014 National YoungArts Foundation finalist, and this weekend he'll appear on the show From the Top, playing Schumann accompanied by host Christopher O'Riley. Roth-Hawthorne lives in Oakland and attends the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, as well as playing in the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.
You can find out more about the show at the From the Top website.
Avery Roth-Hawthorne got an early start in music – but first with singing. His father sang, and his mother, who's a first grade teacher also conducts a children's choir. He then took up the trumpet, which taught him the proper embouchure, before switching to French horn. "I think I first picked the horn because it was unique, and it was shiny… And now I've stuck with it because of the sound," he jokes. The horn requires both a good ear and endurance – demanding the coordination of lips, lungs, and both hands (the valves that the player presses to change the length of tubing the air is passing through can come close to the proper notes, but slight adjustments in pitch can be made with the other hand cupped near and in the bell of the instrument. "What it takes to create just one note on the horn is… Every instrument has its challenges for sure, but for the horn, one of the biggest challenges is just creating the note."
Here's Roth-Hawthorne playing chamber music from Brahms' Horn Trio, with other YoungArts finalists in Miami; this was one of the performances that got the attention of the producers of From the Top:
Monday, May 12
A sneak peek at this weekend's edition of Bay Area Mix – which will include a Peninsula Symphony performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, with jazz piano soloist Taylor Eigsti. It was recorded live in concert in January, and Music Director Mitchell Sardou-Klein explains the way a soloist with an improvisatory style affects the way they listen in performance.
Peninsula Symphony has concerts this weekend of Johannes Brahms' Fourth Symphony, and the Violin Concerto of Tchaikovsky, with soloist Youjin Lee.
Sunday evening's program (airing at 8:00 on KDFC) will also have a St. Lawrence String Quartet performance of a quartet by Haydn, plus concert recordings of Voices of Music, and Cappella SF.
Mitchell Sardou-Klein says that Eigsti's approach to the solo parts of Rhapsody in Blue is very true to the original Gershwin premiere: "He does it in a way that I think Gershwin would have understood and probably liked a lot, because when Gershwin played this piece for the first time, it was mostly improvised on the keyboard." That loosesness and freedom isn't something all classically trained performers are comfortable with, but the Peninsula Symphony has a lot of experience with jazz-tinged works. "We have to listen in a different way, because he will break out into a solo 32-bar riff, and somehow we have to keep the thread of that and lead it back to where it's going. That jazz-symphony intersection … starting with Rhapsody in Blue, it started to have a real place in American music.
Tuesday, May 13
The "Big Picnic" that marks the opening of the Stern Grove Festival season is still more than a month away – but that doesn't mean they're not keeping busy. This weekend there's another 'Grove on the Road' event, at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in the Excelsior District. This is the first season in their 77-year history that they've presented performances outside of their Stern Grove home.
There's more information about the series at the Stern Grove Festival website.
Executive Director Steven Haynes says it's something he's wanted to do for several years, and it's an extension of their original purpose: "…Not dissimilar from how Stern Grove Festival was formed 77 years ago, when Rosalie Meyer Stern decided to put a musical performing arts center in the middle of a park. It's really about reimagining cultural space. So we can pull up into a parking lot, or a playground, or a park, or close off a street, and presto, we have instant pop-up mini-festival of Grove on the Road."
There have already been two of them, in China Basin Park and at Bryant Elementary School in the Mission. "Coming up Saturday, May 17th, we will be at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in the Excelsior District," Haynes says, "with great performances by Chelle! and Friends, Dholrhythms Dance Company, as well as Magik*Magik Orchestra. And then on Sunday, June 1st, we'll be at the Noe Valley Town Square." That performance will have East Bay band Tumbledown House, and Meklit Hadero, who's already performed on the Stern Grove Festival mainstage. "We want to go out to neighborhoods where we've never been, introduce people to art, culture, music, dance, and Stern Grove Festival itself. And then, hopefully, they'll come on out and join the ten-thousand-plus other people on those wonderful Sundays.
Wednesday, May 14
Between the slowest (lento) and the fastest (presto) of the frequently used tempo markings in classical music, there are three that happen to all start with the same letter… Here's an "A-to-Z" look at adagio, andante, and allegro.
Working through the trio from slowest to fastest, Adagio comes first – meaning 'at ease' or 'leisurely'. With the Albinoni (attributed to Albinoni anyway) Adagio, Barber's Adagio for Strings, and the Adagio from Spartacus by Khatchaturian as memorable examples, Adagio was once a catch-all term for the slowest movements. (As the spectrum of tempo markings grew a little more specific, Largo and Lento came to fill that area on the extreme slow end.) Adagios tend to have an emotional deliberateness that calls to mind great depth of feeling. But as with all of these tempo markings, the definitions are open to personal interpretation – everyone will have a slightly different take on what speed and manner of playing feels appropriate.
Andante, or 'walking pace' falls in the middle, but again, a middle that stretches in both directions depending on the composer and performer. In the days of the Classical era (for example in Mozart's symphonies and concertos), many times it's the second movement that's an andante, with a chance for the audience and performers to catch their breath, with a singable melody at a relaxed pace that nonetheless moves forward.
Allegro really means 'cheerful', or 'lively' – rather than a specific speed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music says "some time-words (like adagio and allegro) describe mood directly, tempo indirectly" and others, like lento (slow) or presto (fast) do the reverse, implying the mood, but stating the tempo. It's clearly not an exact science, because even with the advent of metronomes that (one would think) could allow a composer to settle what the "proper" tempo is for a piece, there are still any number of valid approaches, and as many interpretations as there are conductors or players.
Thursday, May 15
Christian Tetzlaff is soloist with the San Francisco Symphony this week… He has two more performnances of the Bartok Violin Concerto No. 2 on Friday and Saturday. It's a work he describes as one of the great concerti of all the centuries, and one of the ones he loves to play the most. He also tells of his unorthodox method of practicing.
There's more information about the concert at the San Francisco Symphony website.
The second Bartok concerto doesn't get played as frequently as many others (Tetzlaff actually gave the last San Francisco Symphony performances of it a dozen years ago under Herbert Blomstedt), but Tetzlaff describes it as "the one with the most amazing violin part, written by a piano player who seems to have dreamt himself into the violin." Bartok wrote the piece in the years leading up to World War II, and had originally envisioned a concerto in the form of variations. The soloist wanted a more traditional structure, and so instead he used that as the basis for the slow middle movement. Keeping up the reverie metaphor, Tetzlaff says it's a movement "of such tenderness and fragility that one wants to dream in it."
When he's not playing with orchestras, or with other chamber musicians, or as he did this past Sunday, giving solo recitals, he's found a convenient way of killing two birds with one stone: practicing the violin while on an exercise bike. "Exercising on the bike while playing keeps the blood circulating, and keeps the fingers moist… Whenever you read about neuroscience, they say if your body is in motion, you think better, you learn better, you enjoy it more. Just by having more oxygen in the brain. So it really makes the process of practicing much easier." And, he adds, "I would never step on a bike for the sake of exercising."
Here is Tetzlaff rehearsing with the Symphony earlier this week:
Friday, May 16
The contemporary choral ensemble Volti will premiere Sound From the Bench by composer Ted Hearne this weekend, with performances in San Francisco and Berkeley, led by conductor Robert Geary. It uses as text poems by Jena Osman, who in turn used actual snippets from the oral arguments in the Supreme Court case known as Citizens United.
There's more information about the concert at Volti's website.
The concerts, which have the name (Ch)oral Argument will be at St. Mark's Lutheran Church on Saturday night, and The Marsh Berkeley on Sunday afternoon. Unusual for Volti, which usually performs a cappella, they'll be accompanied by musicians Hearne frequently works with in New York: electric guitarists Taylor Levine and James Moore, and percussionist Ron Wiltrout. Ted Hearne (who will be the "New Voices Composer", writing for the New World and San Francisco Symphony next year) says he met poet Jena Osman while at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, and read some of the poems that became her recently published book Corporate Relations. "She was extracting oral arguments from the Supreme Court," Hearne says. "She was appropriating phrases, really amazing phrases from Supreme Court oral arguments from cases surrounding the issue of corporate personhood. A lot of what she gets at in her text is this idea of 'if a corporation is a person, then what is a person?' Where is the line that separates a human from non-human, and what are the effects of awarding human properties to non-human entities?"
Sound From the Bench is a co-commission of Volti and The Crossing; also on the program will be the world premiere of Melissa Dunphy's The Oath of Allegiance, and two works by Kirke Mechem: Winging Wildly and We Can Sing That.
Monday, May 19
The summer season of San Francisco Opera begins on the first of June with a bit of a change of pace: the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical Show Boat, which is a co-production with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera and Houston Grand Opera. David Gockley says it's the first 'really orthodox musical' that they've done. The other productions are more mainstream, La Traviata and Madame Butterfly.
There's more information about the season at the San Francisco Opera website.
Opera purists may not be sure of the choice of Show Boat, but David Gockley says he's looking forward to it, as the production comes to San Francisco after being received well in the other co-producing cities. "It will be an exciting litmus test as to whether we can open our repertory periodically to one of these operatic musicals." (The company will be performing Sweeney Todd in the 2015-16 season). Director Francesca Zambello says Show Boat explores deep issues… so deep that it would be hard to sell it as a musical if it didn't have almost 80 years of history behind it. "If you brought it to producers, they would say 'there's no way I'm going to do a depressing story about race, a single mother, a guy with a gambling addiction, mixed marriages.' I mean, there's just no way you would ever get it on the stage now!"
The other productions, La Traviata (beginning on June 11) and Madame Butterfly (June 15th) are bound to appeal to those purists, but those who want a slightly unorthodox opera experience can attend the July 5th "Opera at the Ballpark" simulcast of Traviata, and those who were intrigued by the visual style of last season's Magic Flute can see Jun Kaneko's unique design for Butterfly. Patricia Racette will star in the new production.
Tuesday, May 20
The CD 'Some Other Time' by pianist Lara Downes and cellist Zuill Bailey brings together music by a closely-knit group of American composers from the 20th Century: Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss, and Aaron Copland. Downes says she first played with Bailey in a concert commemorating Barber's centennial, and in the years since, he has become her best musical friend.
There's more information about the disc at Lara Downes' website.
The first work they played together, Samuel Barber cello sonata, appears on the new disc, which gradually grew as they thought what might make good pairings and groupings. "After we played the Barber," Bailey says, "one of the questions posed was 'what other American pieces of that time period do you know?' And I said, 'Well, I only know actually one…' And that was the Lukas Foss Capriccio. She said there are lots of other beautiful pieces that could be magnetized to work with Foss and Barber. And she brought up Bernstein and Copland. And obviously we started talking about the capacities of what a cello and piano could do, which of course translates beautifully to songs." There are well-known song arrangements, Barber's 'Sure On This Shining Night' and two by Copland: 'Simple Gifts' and 'Long Time Ago'. There are also musical tributes that Leonard Bernstein made for Copland and Foss (and Foss's reciprocation), as well as the three Bernstein songs that open the disc. "One of them is from On the Town," Downes explains, "One is from a sort of ill-fated production of Peter Pan that he put together, and this one little song, 'In Our Time' was never used for anything. They're just so gorgeous and so hopeful and fresh."
Wednesday, May 21
On an A-to-Z edition of The State of the Arts, it's Edward Elgar's Enigma… The set of variations he composed, each depicting one of his friends. But it's no mystery who is represented in each section. It's the elusive theme that Elgar said was not stated, but implied throughout all of the variations.
There are many theories about what the "hidden" theme is: Mozart's "Prague" Symphony, God Save the Queen, Auld Lang Syne, even the mathematical constant pi (3.1415 rounded up to 3.142, which corresponds to the opening four notes of the theme). This would-be sleuth thinks the answer is "Ein feste Burg" (A Mighty Fortress is Our God).
Another theory ties in with the "Nimrod" variation… Elgar said that when he wrote it, he was remembering a conversation that he had had with his friend and publisher Augustus Jaeger. Elgar had been depressed with the circumstances of his life, and Jaeger sang the theme to the slow movement of Beethoven's "Pathetique" sonata, which the opening of "Nimrod" hints at.
The other mystery that remains unsolved is the "Dorabella Cipher" – this note that Elgar wrote to his friend, Dora Penny in 1897. Although some claim to have broken the code, the arguments are a little dubious, and impossible to prove: Elgar didn't tell, and although he assumed Dorabella would be able to make sense of it, she never could.
Thursday, May 22
Cellist Lynn Harrell is in demand as a soloist for concertos, recitals, as a chamber musician as well as a teacher. So when does he find the time to warm up and practice? He explains his routine in this State of the Arts "Practicing Musicians" feature.
There's more information about him at Lynn Harrell's website.
Here's a sample of the fruits of his practicing labors – a performance with pianist Yuja Wang of the third movement of Brahms' Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Major, his Op. 99:
Friday, May 23
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':
Tuesday, May 27
The Berkeley Festival and Exhibition brings fans and performers of Early Music to the East Bay every two years. Artistic Director Robert Cole says this year's runs from June 1st to the 8th, with 20 mainstage performances presented by the co-presenters San Francisco Early Music Society and Early Music America, as well as about sixty solo and ensemble Fringe performances.
There's more information about the week's activities at the Berkeley Festival website.
Robert Cole came to the Bay Area as Artistic Director of Cal Performances, but has always had a special interest in early music. "We started this festival in 1986 with the idea of being a counterpart to the major early music festival which had been formed in Boston in the early '80s. The festival in Boston was every other year in odd-numbered years. And I thought it would be great to have one in the other coast, the West coast, in Berkeley in even-numbered years.
Among the soloists and ensembles that will be taking part this year, the celebrated keyboardist Kristian Bezuidenhout, who will play fortepiano with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and also a solo harpsichord recital; lutenist Hopkinson Smith; the fifteenth Century wind ensemble Ciaramella; the Choir of Trinity Wall Street in their West Coast debut; Belgian ensemble Vox Luminis, and several ensembles of young performers in performances presented by Early Music America… plus for the first time, a group of high school players, from Davis, CA who have a Baroque Ensemble. "We've gone from not having any university participation in previous years," Cole says, "to now having not only university participation from all over the country, but now we have a high school group which is at the level where we can actually invite them to a festival of this kind, and hear them perform!
Wednesday, May 28
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival returns again this Thursday through Sunday at the Castro Theatre, with highlights that include a recently-discovered (thanks to some trans-Atlantic sleuthing) alternate version of a 1922 Buster Keaton short, a newly-restored Douglas Fairbanks western, the film that put Rudolph Valentino on the map, and a wide range of films from around the world.
There's more information and a full schedule at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website.
Anita Monga, Artistic Director for the Festival, says she's especially pleased about the 'new' Buster Keaton, which will be the center of the program they're calling 'Serge Bromberg's Treasure Trove'. "Fernando Pena in Buenos Aires found an alternate version of Buster Keaton's The Blacksmith, which was extraordinary. Why Argentina? Why Buenos Aires? There were a lot of film collectors in Argentina in the silent era, and things keep showing up. Fernando's the person who found the complete version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis." But that discovery led to another one, when Pena tried to restore the film. "It's not completely clear why there was this unseen cut," Monga says, "but the print had French subtitles on it, so he called up Serge in Paris. Serge went looking for a 35-millimeter version so they could do the restoration, and he found it in his own archive… and it had even more footage!" Keaton fans will also be able to see The Navigator, which closes the Festival on Sunday night.
The opening night has Rudolph Valentino's star-making role in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which launched the Hollywood archetype of the Latin lover – and Saturday morning's The Good Bad Man is the world premiere of a new restoration of a 1916 western starring Douglas Fairbanks. There are films from China and Japan, Britain, Sweden, Weimar Germany, and two from the Soviet Union. "I'm particularly excited about the Soviet titles, because I love the Soviet silent era," Monga says. "We're doing two wonderful examples of lighthearted Soviet… The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, and Cosmic Voyage." The latter was a late silent, made in 1936, mostly so it could play in the provinces where sound film hadn't yet reached. It tells of a journey to the moon, grounded in science, that the Soviets would make… in 1946.
Thursday, May 29
The piano four-hands duet called ZOFO releases another CD this week, this time with a celestial theme: it's called ZOFORBIT: A Space Odyssey, and includes works by David Lang, George Crumb, Estonian composer Urmas Sisask, and at its center, their own arrangement of Gustav Holst's The Planets.
There's more information about the disc on ZOFO's website.
The team of Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi have now made three CDs as ZOFO (which is a shorthand for '20 Finger Orchestra'). Their first, called 'Mind Meld' was nominated for a Grammy award. On this new disc, they wanted to tackle the suite The Planets, which Holst scored for full orchestra plus female chorus. "There are arrangements for two pianos, and also one-piano four-hands. And since there are many differences, we went through all that, and we made our own arrangement," Nakagoshi says. But being true to the original score meant for some cramped moments at the keyboard. "Mercury," Zimmermann says, "there is this whole section that moves up and down in the interval of a ninth. And there were only three hands in the arrangement we had, but we found out there are actually four voices playing together, so we added the fourth hand inside." She says that until they played it together, she couldn't be sure she had her part down. "The angle of my playing is just totally vertical… We have two hands playing on top of each other. In order to reach the keys, I just have to play vertical, and he's horizontal. It's a technique you never learn when you go to the conservatory!"
Here they are playing a movement called "Beta Cygni" from George Crumb's Celestial Mechanics.
Friday, May 30
Getting a headstart on composer Richard Strauss's 150th birthday on June 11th, the San Francisco Opera broadcast on KDFC this Sunday night will be an archival recording of a performance of Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow) from October of 1976, starring Leonie Rysanek, Matti Kastu, Walter Berry, Ursula Schröder-Feinen,and Ruth Hesse. It was conducted by Karl Böhm, making his first appearance with the company.
Having Karl Böhm conduct Die Frau ohne Schatten was a coup for San Francisco Opera – he was a great champion of the works of Richard Strauss, having conducted the premieres of the late operas Die Schweigsame Frau ("The Silent Woman") and Daphne, but other than his frequent appearances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, he didn't conduct in the US. He was particularly associated with this work, which had its world premiere in Vienna in 1919, and its US premiere forty years later… in San Francisco.