Monday, November 3

The Oakland East Bay Symphony starts its season with a brand new piece for jazz ensemble and orchestra that looks to the past. Brothers in Arts: 70 Years of Liberty was written by Chris Brubeck and Guillaume Saint-James, to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day. The West Coast premiere will be at Friday night's concert (which will also be simulcast on the Great Wall of Oakland), sharing the program with Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.

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

The work carries across the generations and the Atlantic Ocean, as Michael Morgan, Music Director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony explains: "Chris Brubeck, Guillaume Saint-James and I were all doing concerts together in France two years ago, and we realized — they realized in the course of conversation, that both of their fathers had been involved in D-Day. And we were at that point coming up on the  70th anniversary of D-Day, so they decided to write a piece together to commemorate the D-Day invasion, and that's really how all of this started."  Brothers in Arts will include both composers in performance – with Brubeck on bass trombone (and piano in one movement) and Saint-James on saxophones – plus bass, accordion, drums, and singers. "It's a jazz quintet, … the three singers are coming from the Oakland School for the Arts, from their group Vocal Motion. They're like the Andrews Sisters. It's that kind of a piece. It's very much nostalgic, of course, because it's about D-Day and the second World War."

The Tchaikovsky symphony usually would finish a concert – but Morgan says programming it along with, and placing it before the new jazz-heavy work was done for a reason. "It just shows our versatility, and also Tchaikovsky is specifically on there because, after all, the Russians were our allies at that point. So I thought it made sense to do a major Russian work…Unusually, we're doing the Tchaikovsky on the first half, because I really think that the big jazz piece can not be followed, even by Tchaikovsky Fifth." The concert, which is at the Paramount Theatre at 8 pm on the 7th, will be hosted by KDFC's own Dianne Nicolini.

Tuesday, November 4

A quorum of America's top classical music critics will be taking part in this week's Rubin Institute for Music Criticism at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, with panels, lectures that connect with performances of some of the Bay Area's top arts organizations. Fellows in the program will have a chance to work directly with the writers panel, and concert audience members will be able to submit their own brief reviews for consideration in a competition called "Everyone's a Critic."

There's more information about the symposium at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's website.

The who's who of writers includes Alex Ross from the New Yorker, Heidi Waleson from the Wall Street Journal, John Rockwell and Anthony Tommasini from the New York Times, Anne Midgette from the Washington Post, and Tim Page, who had that job before her, and now teaches at USC. The San Francisco Chronicle's Joshua Kosman will be acting as host as the 'Critic in Residence'. Most of the critics involved also took part in the first symposium two years ago, when it was held at Oberlin. The Institute's namesake, Steven Rubin, president and publisher at Henry Holt & Co. will also be taking part, as will student 'fellows' from the SF Conservatory of Music, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Oberlin Conservatory, and Yale School of Music. In addition to the activities at the Conservatory, they'll be focusing on four performances: Thursday's San Francisco Symphony concert with soloist Gil Shaham; Philharmonia Baroque with guest conductor Julian Wachner and countertenor Andreas Scholl on Friday;  Tosca at San Francisco Opera on Saturday, and Dvorak's Stabat Mater at Cal Performances on Sunday, with the Czech Philharmonic and Prague Philharmonic Choir.

Tim Page offers some advice for those taking part in the "Everyone's a Critic" competition (open to concert ticket holders, limited to 400 words, and with a 9am the next day deadline): "I have a very simple secret for becoming a much much better writer, which is just to read your work aloud. Listen to it, record it if you can, read it to somebody. You'll catch all sorts of things, such as word repetitions, or boring sentences, or peculiar tics that your language has…Try to explain what you thought about the performance. I'm really not interested in just summary judgments like 'This was good, this was bad.' I'm really interested in how they came to that conclusion, much more than the conclusion itself."  He says he's looking forward to spending time with the other critics, who are all very friendly with eachother: "That's one of the nice things about being with these colleagues. We've disagreed on everything at one point or another. You know, they'll love some artist I wont, they'll love some composer, or I'll love some composer. And the thing about that is you just learn that, 'Well, that's my opinion, that's your opinion,' and it doesn't interfere with our friendship.

Wednesday, November 5

Jazz pianist Dan Tepfer never planned to learn Bach's complete Goldberg Variations, but ever since he heard them played by Glenn Gould on his famed 1981 recording, he kept returning to them, both in their original form, and as inspiration for improvisations. This Saturday night at the SFJAZZ center, he'll present the program Goldberg Variations/Variations through San Francisco Performances. It alternates between the Bach and his own responses to each of the 30 variations and the aria that bookends them.

There's more information about the program at the San Francisco Performances website.

His interest in the Goldbergs came about after he was "hooked" by hearing Gould's recording, and he kept coming back to them both as a listener, and eventually a player as well. "I was doing concerts here and there," Tepfer says, "where I would play a selection of them, and usually no more than eight or ten. And I would play really long improvisations off of each one, very kind of stream-of-conscious." In fact, when the recording project began, he hadn't learned the second half of the original variations yet. He realized the large-scale architecture of Bach's work is so important, it would be wrong to not do them all – so he learned the rest of them. That helped him decide to make his improvisations roughly the same length as their inspirations. "One of the biggest challenges for me is to take the long view. When I was first performing this project, I would tend to really rush into wanting to kind of give it all away in the early variations. And I've had to really think like a marathon runner. Part of that is keeping my own improvised variations to a reasonable length, and keeping them really concise and focused." 

There have been jazzy reimaginings of the Goldberg Variations before, but Tepfer's is unique in presenting both the original and his work side by side. And he feels his approach is in keeping with Bach's own habit of rule-breaking. "Bach was an improviser… Bach was mainly known in his time as an improviser, so you have to think it's OK to use the structure, but also break it at times. I feel like like more and more I'm actually taking my cue from Bach in this project, even though I'm always first of all trying to keep my own voice."

Thursday, November 6

Aurora Theatre presents the West Coast premiere of a play that explores the mind of Robert Mugabe, who has ruled in Zimbabwe since 1980, when British rule came to an end. The play, Fraser Grace's Breakfast With Mugabe, stars L. Peter Callender as the despot, who visits a white psychiatrist in an effort to be free of an ngozi, or ghost who is haunting him.

There's more information about the play (which opens tomorrow night, and runs through December 14) at the Aurora Theatre website.

The story, Callender says, about the real-life President Mugabe, was inspired by a news story. "Fraser Grace wrote this wonderful play based on an article he read, that Robert Mugabe was seeing a psychiatrist for a haunting that he was experiencing… Mugabe is hauted, he is angry, he is thoughtful, he is pensive – and lots of things come out in the play about his life, about his former wife, his former comrades, Josiah Tongogara, who he believes is the ngozi that's haunting him."  Mugabe, whose path paralleled Nelson Mandela's up to a point—both were revolutionary freedom fighters working in Southern Africa toward their homeland's independence, and both became national leaders—has been seen as a one-dimensional villain. But Callender says he has to try to get inside Mugabe's head: "I've played Richard the Third, I've played despotic characters in my career, and you've always got to think, 'they can't think of themselves as that way.' Robert Mugabe is a proud, black African who does not wish the country that he was born in, fought for, had comrades die for… go back to colonialist rule. He will not have that. And he is fighting to maintain that by whatever means necessary.

Friday, November 7

The San Francisco Symphony will soon be on the road, on a cross-country tour that will take them to the Midwest, Northeast, and Miami. They'll be bringing with them violinist Gil Shaham, whose history with the orchestra goes back almost 25 years. He'll play concertos by Mozart and Prokofiev, with concert programs that they'll play at Davies Symphony Hall through Sunday.

There's more information about the concerts and their tour at the San Francisco Symphony website.

These two programs, (with Samuel Adams' Drift and Providence, Daphnis and Chloe by Ravel, and Liszt's Mephisto Waltz), along with the Mahler Seventh Symphony that they played at the end of October and beginning of this month, will be on tour from the 12th to the 22nd. They'll stop in Kansas City, Ann Arbor, Cleveland, Boston, Princeton, New York City at Carnegie Hall, and end in Miami. Gil Shaham, who first played with them 24 years ago, says it's going to be like a family trip. "Some of these people I went to school with, and we've grown up, we've known eachother for 30 years! It should be a lot of fun." His first experience as soloist with the San Francisco Symphony made him very nervous, because it was the first big American orchestra he played with. Peter Pastreich, who was then Executive Director calmed his nerves. "He said: 'You'll enjoy it. This will be fun.' And it's still true today. It's such a pleasure to play with this orchestra."

The Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 belongs to a group of works especially dear to Shaham's heart, which he's spent the last several years performing and drawing attention to. "There was a confluence of great concertos by various composers in the 1930s," he says. "And there really is a spike. Prokofiev and Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg, Paul Hindemith and Roger Sessions, Samuel Barber, Benjamin Britten, William Walton, Darius Milhaud, Karol Szyminowski… I'm leaving out many! Everybody seemed to write a concerto for violin in that decade. And not even in ten years, but in eight years, from 1931-39. Suddenly these amazing treasures for the violin were all created.

Monday, November 10

Claudio Monteverdi's Vespers for the Blessed Virgin has become a signature work for the Cleveland-based early music group Apollo's Fire. The ensemble will be performing it this Thursday night at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley through Cal Performances. Founder and Artistic Director Jeannette Sorrell describes the opening of the landmark work as being "like a supernova."

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

Sorrell, who began Apollo's Fire 23 years ago, says there are competing theories about the origin of the work, but she believes it to have been written for a royal wedding in Mantua in 1608. "There are historical records that a very grand and festive Vespers service with lots of music took place on a certain date during those wedding festivities," she says. It was an important event, both socially and culturally: "If you think of the pomp and circumstance of, say, the wedding of Princess Diana, that's the kind of excitement that I think was around this piece. And I think that's why Monteverdi pulled out all the stops." The Vespers aren't frequently performed live, in part because of just how big a work it is, going from the single voice of a sung plainchant to full orchestra, to solos, duets and intricate choruses. It was written just as the Renaissance was ending: "Monteverdi is sort of a revolutionary, and so he's forging the new Baroque Style as he writes this piece… It's a little bit, I think, like the music of Beethoven. You can hear a sense of struggle in there as he's creating a new style by sheer force of will.

Tuesday, November 11

Cirque du Soleil returns to San Francisco, opening this Friday with Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities. The storyline is a steampunk-inspired visit to the workshop of an inventor and explorer known as 'the Seeker'. Show writer and director, Michel Laprise says they've returned to some of the basics with this production, which will run through January 18th, in the big top near AT&T Park.

There's more information at the Cirque du Soleil website.

Michel Laprise spent four or five years casting shows for Cirque du Soleil, but this is the first bigtop show he's directed. "I learned to just shut up and listen to the artists, look at the artists, and developed a knowledge of what they do." He says that background helped him as he was casting this production, and that shows in each of the performers. "They're glowing… There's a joy on the stage that is genuine. It's not something that you play, it's something you are." The show has a different feel from its predecessors. "It's all in this palette of sepia colors, cause we wanted to have something super human, low-tech as well… and the aesthetic of the show is steampunk… You are in this laboratory/Cabinet of Curiosities of that "Seeker" – he's a scientific man, who traveled the world, and he brought from the four corners of the world some objects that are fascinating for him." It's through these objects that the Seeker (and the audience) are carried to another realm. "The Valley of the Possible Impossibles. This is where all the dreams are waiting before we dream them. And this is also where all the crazy ideas that we have on Earth, and we abandon… When you abandon them, where do they go? They go into that valley."

Wednesday, November 12

Benjamin Britten's Curlew River is a work that is part English Mystery Play, and part Noh Theater. This week, a multimedia production that originated at the Barbicon Centre in the UK comes to Cal Performances on Friday and Saturday. Tenor Ian Bostridge leads as the character of the 'Mad Woman' who has lost her son, and is grieving a year later, when the action takes place.

There's more information about Curlew River at the Cal Performances website.

Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director of the Barbicon Centre says that Britten used Curlew River as a real point of departure. "Britten had established himself on the operatic stage, with some of the most successful 20th Century Post-War operas: Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, and so on. And then you sense him wanting to recreate the operatic form in a new way." And so he borrowed from another tradition, and married it with his own. "What gave him the inspiration," Kenyon says, "was his trips to the Far East, and his encounter with Japanese Noh theater. And he came up with this amazing mixture of Noh theater and Mystery Play. Almost more ritual than opera." The story was a traditional Japanese tale (and as per Noh tradition, all the characters are portrayed by males) of a woman who is mad with grief at the loss of her son. The production uses multimedia in a very site-specific way, as director Netia Jones explains:

Thursday, November 13

For her first oratorio, composer Stacy Garrop has chosen no less a subject than the planet Earth.'The Creation of the World' has its premiere this weekend by the San Francisco Choral Society and the Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir. It's the first section of the larger work called Terra Nostra. has its premiere this weekend at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. 

There's more information about the performance at the San Francisco Choral Society website.

She says the idea for the piece came after Music Director Robert Geary asked her a question: "If I were to compose an oratorio, what would it be about? I thought about it for about five minutes, and said 'I want to write about the planet!'" Several years ago, she wrote a work called Gaia for string quartet, but wanted to say more about the topic. She decided to have the first part, which is having its premiere this weekend be about the creation of the world, "The second part is the rise of humanity and all the great innovations we've done, but also what a toll that's taking on the planet, and then the third and final part is called 'Searching for Balance.'" Part two will be performed in the Spring, and the complete work will premiere a year from now, but Garrop has finished the other sections – with the exception of a few measures, she says. 

The text for the choir begins with the King James Version of Genesis. "I thought that would be a great way to have the choir introduce what most of this country knows about, but then start to bring in creation myths from different continents." She then turns to poets Edna St. Vincent Millay, Shelley, and Whitman. "I started with the creation myths, and then I wanted to have some big celebration about the planet, so the next text is called 'God's World' … And it's just this joyous outburst of how lovely the world is. It's followed by the Children's Choir singing a Percy Shelley text about Mother Earth, which seemed very appropriate… And then comes this love song by Walt Whitman, and that's portrayed by the baritone soloist, who's singing directly to the first violinist, the concertmaster, who represents Gaia.

There are four soloists, (Jennifer Paulino, Betany Coffland, Brian Thorsett, and Nikolas Nackley) and the orchestra, the California Chamber Symphony. At a rehearsal this week, Garrop said all the moving parts were coming together: "It's a little hard to believe… It's been in your head so long, and now you're hearing it out of your head. And a lot of it is working right – a couple of little things that need tweaking… but I feel like I'm very happy with what they're doing, and I'm so thrilled that they commissioned me for this.

Friday, November 14

A fundraiser that previously was called the 'Get In Front' Performance now goes by 'DanceFAR' – (For A Reason), and that reason is cancer research and prevention. The event brings together members of the Bay Area Dance community in a one-performance-only "sampler plate" of local talent. Co-founder James Sofranko is a soloist with San Francisco Ballet, and he describes the third annual 'DanceFAR,' which will be next Tuesday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

There's more information about the event at the DanceFAR website.

Sofranko, along with Garen Scribner and Margaret Karl, decided to put on the show after Scribner met Sally Glaser (then CEO of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, as well as a ballet fan) at an event. "We started discussing how can we help," Sofranko says. "How could we do this? And we thought 'Let's do what we do best, which is dance.' We tried to pull together some friends, and all of a sudden the ball started rolling, and we had a big show on our hands before we even threw one year's event." That first year they sold-out Herbst Theatre, and then when they moved to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, they sold that out too. In their first two years, they raised over 300,000 dollars for the Cancer Prevention Institute and other cancer related organizations, including this year the UCSF Melanoma Center. 

Sofranko lists the lineup: "This year we'll have Smuin Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Ballet San Jose… ODC Dance, Post:Ballet, SF Dance Works (which is a new company), Tiny Pistol, and Alonzo Kings Lines… And then also we have a tapper, a tap dance artist named Joe Orrach, who's going to be really great." In addition to those Bay Area groups, they have two more companies represented from farther afield: artists from the Netherlands Dans Theater (where Garen Scribner danced after leaving San Francisco Ballet) and also Chicago's Hubbard Street Dance Company."

This video highlights some of the past performances from their first two years:

Monday, November 17

For their inaugural concert at the Lincoln Theater Sunday afternoon, the Symphony Napa Valley Chamber Orchestra, with their new music director (as both conductor and soloist) Michael Guttman will play a program called 'From Bach to Glass and Back…' which will, as advertised, take the audience on a music historical round-trip of more than 300 years.

There's more information about the concert at the Lincoln Theater website.

Michael Guttman says the programming was chosen for several reasons – one of which is that it will allow him to show the audience what the musicians in the SNV Chamber Orchestra are capable of, in a variety of styles, and to have the opportunity to work with them covering those differing historical periods. "This is something that I'm very attached to: bringing the style of each composer forth, and playing each composer in its own style, in its own way. As I begin a relationship with the orchestra, it's important for me to share with them the different ways of playing in different styles, the same instrument." The program will be a bit of a sampler plate, as Guttman lists: "Bach's A minor Concerto, a Mozart Divertimento, Mendelssohn 'Intermezzo' from the String Quartet in A Minor, Britten's 'Simple Symphony', Fratres by Arvo Part, reaching finally Philip Glass. Again, an excerpt of the Mishima String Quartet, and going back to Bach with the first movement of the E Major Violin Concerto."

Robert Cole, Artistic Director at the Lincoln Theater says Guttman is bringing a new approach, as well as serving in a number of roles: "Michael plays violin, in these Bach concerti and so on, and then he conducts, sometimes with the violin. But the fact is he can do both, and he brings such a variety of music in one evening. The normal symphony concert is an overture, a concerto and a symphony. And this is a totally different concept." The next concert that the SNV Chamber Orchestra will give in the Spring continues the adventurous programming, with operatic selections, and another of Guttman's musical loves, Argentinean tango.

Tuesday, November 18

It's a trio of C's on this edition of State of the Arts "A to Z" – Crescendo, Celesta, and C Major.  

A crescendo is  the entire process of getting louder – moving from one dynamic to another over time, not just the final destination. It's something that can happen within a single measure, or sometimes, like in the case of Maurice Ravel's Bolero, or the final movement of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite can last the entire duration of the piece. The celesta looks like a scaled-down piano, but instead of strings, tuned pieces of metal are struck over resonators. And C Major… just gets no respect.

Here's Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony playing the ending to the Firebird Suite. The crescendo lasts pretty much the length of the movement. But at the very end, in the final three measures, there's another fast crescendo, starting at a soft pianissimo (pp) and increasing to a super-loud sforzando (sfff)!

And here's Sergiu Celibidache, conducting the longest and slowest Bolero possible – (the section featuring parallel piccolos, horn and celesta is at 9:08):

Wednesday, November 19

The tale of life among poverty-stricken artists of Paris, the perennial favorite by Puccini, La Bohème is back at San Francisco Opera, with a run through December 7th. Tenor Michael Fabiano is singing Rodolofo, a role he says he loves – describing it as "a breath of fresh air – wonderful music that's tightly packed with really wonderful moments." 

There's more about the production at the San Francisco Opera website. There will also be two "family" performances, on the Saturday afternoon performances on November 22 and 29th.

Fabiano says La Bohème has lasting popularity for the same reason that hit musicals do. "It's a very tightly built opera, where there are just wonderful numbers back to back to back, and it just flows from the beginning to the end, with music that people will definitely leave the theater humming." But, he adds, there's a whole lot more. "It's one of the operas that really identifies and encapsulates life at its best and its worst. Sheer joy, and sheer poverty, and sheer loss… I love to sing Rodolfo because for me, it's a fun sing. I get to be fun with people on stage in addition to having these moments of destitute sadness." 

Michael Fabiano has had a very successful 2014, with the twin wins of the Beverly Sills Artist Award, and the Richard Tucker Award – two of the biggest prizes and honors in the opera world for a young singer. (Past winners are a who's who in the opera world today). "I did not expect those prizes to happen, either of them," says Fabiano. "And when one came, people around me said 'oh well, you're going to have to wait a few years for the other one.' I said 'OK, that's the nature of the game.' And then here we are, both of them happen… It's exciting, it puts a larger responsibility on me to deliver to the public, and remember that my voice is for all to enjoy, it's not for me to enjoy. I don't believe in singing for myself for sheer satisfaction. I can do that in the shower!"

Thursday, November 20

Tonight in Palo Alto, pianist Jeffrey Siegel returns for another of his "Keyboard Conversations" – this time, shining a spotlight on the music of Mozart. He'll play complete pieces, introducing each informally from the stage with a bit of context and things to listen for. Siegel has been doing programs like this around the country on a variety of musical topics for decades – he'll return to the area in January to present a program on Liszt.

There's more about the performance at the Oshman Family JCC website

Jeffrey Siegel says the title for the evening, 'The Miracle of Mozart' was easy enough to come up with… "What's miraculous about Mozart is that he's miraculous! No one like him!" The program will include several of Mozart's well-known works, as well as others that marked milestone moments in the composer's life. There's the Minuet that he wrote when he was five years old (K.1) as well as his Sonata in A minor (K.310), which Siegel describes as "the big, powerful sonata that Mozart wrote when he was in Paris after his mother died, and he was having no success in Paris whatsoever, either as a composer or a performer. And for the first time in his life, Mozart found himself totally alone and facing the bitter realities of life."

There are two other introspective works that Siegel has included on the program: "The great Adagio in B minor, and the Fantasy in D minor, where you can really swear that this is not music he wrote for the public… That we are privileged to eavesdrop, to listen in on these very personal pieces of music where Mozart is using the piano as his confidante. To share with his piano, privately, his innermost thoughts and feelings… This is a composer who wrote music as deep, and as profound and as emotionally moving as any of the great Romantics that followed him."

Friday, November 21

Music Director Donato Cabrera and the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra open their season this Sunday afternoon with a program that includes the Ruslan and Ludmila Overture, Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz, and the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3, with last year's concerto competition winner, soloist Agata Sorotokin. The 17-year-old is in the 12th grade at San Jose's Harker School, and has been playing with the Youth Orchestra for a year and a half.  

You can find out more about the program at the SFS Youth Orchestra website.

Sorotokin played the Prokofiev to win the competition, but could have selected another concerto for this concert. She chose to stick with it. "In part because it's one of my favorite pieces," she says, "and also because not every youth orchestra can manage to play that piece, because it's a beast for both the piano solo part and the orchestra in general. So I wanted to use this wonderful opportunity." Her musical interests aren't just limited to the piano: "I'm a beginning composer as well, and I started taking conducting lessons with MTT's musical assistant…and I love chamber music. I just love collaborating with other musicians in general. And I'm also in my school choir, and I conduct there."  Even though the pianist in an orchestra is tucked away with the percussion section, Sorotokin says she likes that unique role. "Of course, with this concerto I do get to shine, which is great, but I also like just being a part of the orchestra, because a lot of pianists don't get that experience of playing with a hundred other people. And I really wanted to observe how the orchestra really works. Since I'm interested in conducting, it's fantastic."

The Prokofiev Third has been one of her favorites for a long time. "The whole piece is just great and thrilling to play. I personally love how the piece shifts in color, pretty much all the time…There's such a wide range of characters that Prokofiev includes in this concerto, and I always look froward to this culminating point in the third movement, where the strings and I go into this dreamy state, and then everything kind of opens up. And I just imagine a field, or the ocean, something really vast, and the music is just filling all that space." She says she's enjoyed making the journey from audience member to soloist. "I've been going to Davies Symphony Hall since I was three years old, and watching MTT and incredible soloists and incredible orchestras here, and it's just fantastic that I kind of am in their shoes now!"

Monday, November 24

You can make your choices for KDFC's Classical All-Stars up until December 15th… But with so many to choose from (the full ballot is here, and you can write-in works if your favorites are missing) maybe this little montage might remind you of a title or two you've forgotten. 

Here's a list of the pieces in the montage (click and scroll over the space below to reveal the names):

  1. Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring (Simple Gifts)
  2. Aram Khachaturian:  Adagio from Spartacus
  3. Leo Delibes: Lakme “Flower Duet”
  4. Edvard Grieg: “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from the Peer Gynt Suite
  5. Antonin Dvorak: Cello Concerto
  6. Georges Bizet: “Seguidilla” from Carmen
  7. Franz Schubert: “Trout” Quintet (mvt. 4: Theme and Variations)
  8. Giacomo Puccini: “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot
  9. Sergei Prokofiev: “Dance of the Knights” from Romeo and Juliet
  10. Bedrich Smetana: “The Moldau” from Ma Vlast
  11. George Frideric Handel: “Largo” from Xerxes
  12. Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Guitar in D Major
  13. Hector Berlioz:  “Un Bal” from Symphonie Fantastique
  14. George Gershwin: An American in Paris
  15. Gustav Holst: “Jupiter” from The Planets

Tuesday, November 25

Kathleen Turner makes her Berkeley Rep debut in Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, playing the feisty liberal columnist and author in a play by sisters Margaret and Allison Engel. Turner, who as a longtime board member of People for the American Way, is similarly plain-spoken about her left-leaning political beliefs, and describes the play as inherently optimistic about our ability as citizens to be involved politically.

There's more about the production at the Berkeley Rep website.

Turner says she's not doing an impersonation of Ivins – but plays her as a character, based on the writing that appeared in her columns, and her books. Ivins called it like she saw it (one of her books was titled Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?) and had already been following the career of George W. Bush closely by the time he rose to national prominence (with books about him called Shrub and Bushwhacked!) She grew up with a conservative father who was an oil executive. "She and her father were at loggerheads her whole adult life," Turner explains. "She says 'I hate his world, he hates mine.' – And that's how it was. She never wrote about him, in all the years of columns, and now, when this piece starts, she's writing a column, finally, on her father."

Red Hot Patriot had its beginnings in Philadelphia, before they took it to L.A., and then had a successful (and timely) run in Washington, DC. "We took it to the Arena Stage in Washington, August, right up to the election, November in 2012. Boy, I'll tell you – people were just… We couldn't put enough seats in the theater…They were so hungry, you know, for this kind of optimism and activism." And she says the time is right for this run of the show as well. "Because one of the things about this piece is it's so inherently optimistic about our ability as American citizens to be involved, to make change, to participate in our government, that I think we really need this right now."

Wednesday, November 26

Another kind of Thanksgiving, to get us in the mood for the holiday: the beautiful middle movement of Beethoven's String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132, which he indicated in the score as "Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit" or "A Convalescent's Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity". It was one of the late quartets, written after he had finished his symphonies, and after he was totally deaf; it was a grateful response to recovering from what he must have assumed was going to be a fatal illness.

The slow sections of this movement, which are like prayerful chorales (and in the Lydian mode – F to F on the white keys of a keyboard, so without the B-flat that one would normally get in an F Major scale) alternate with more lively, dance-like sections in D Major, that are described in the score as "Feeling new strength". It's a look back to the past, in using older forms and scales – and the gratitude that Beethoven is expressing is rolled into an awareness of his mortality – which was all the more acute after recovering from his illness.