Tuesday, October 1
The Days and Nights Festival returns to Carmel and Big Sur this week, and Artistic Director Philip Glass says it's going to include chamber music from the 19th… and 21st centuries. The programs will have a quintet of returning "festival players" (Maria Bachmann, violin / Jesse Mills, violin / David Harding, viola / Matt Haimovitz, cello / Jon Klibonoff, piano) and singer Tara Hugo. There will also be a screening of Powaqqatsi (the second film in the trilogy that began with Koyaanisqatsi) with Glass and filmmaker Godfrey Reggio both taking questions.
There's more information about events at the Days and Nights Festival website.
Glass says there will be both big pieces from the 19th century, Cesar Franck's Piano Quintet, and also the Schumann Piano Quintet, along with works by contemporary composers: Glass himself, Nico Muhly, and indie-rock guitarist Bryce Dessner. "It's a very good string ensemble that plays the quartet," Glass explains. "They're people who are soloists, and do chamber music, and now that they've been playing together two or three seasons, they have a life as a quartet also." He says the programs that they will be playing will start on the west coast, and move eastward, getting to New York and Holland later this season. The singer Tara Hugo will perform a cycle of Glass's songs, which he wrote for her.
Glass, who just last season was celebrating his 75th birthday says that kind of longevity as a composer gives him a unique perspective: "If you live long enough in this music world that we are in, you see how the historical process works, and you don't know that when you're a kid, when you're starting out. You don't see it. You hear about it, you read about it, but when you actually see that it really comes down to what people listen to, and what they grew up with. What now becomes familiar. How the language has become part of their world." He says the dismay and shock that met his music in the '70s when he was just becoming known now "simply doesn't exist" – and says this era, with his music regularly programmed by performers around the world is "a wonderful time for me to be around, and still alive to be able to hear this stuff.
Wednesday, October 2
Pergolesi's Stabat Mater is the centerpiece of a series of concerts by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra that run from tonight through Sunday. Music Director Nicholas McGegan welcomes countertenor David Daniels and soprano Carolyn Sampson for the work, as well as duets and arias by Handel, and a concerto grosso by Francesco Durante, a teacher of Pergolesi.
There's more information about the concerts in Atherton, in San Francisco at the SFJAZZ Center, and Berkeley at the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra website.
Giovanni Pergolesi was, Nicholas McGegan says, typical of the Neopolitan school of composers – and although he had written sacred works, he was not known for them when he was alive. He was better known for his operas – but died of tuberculosis at the age of 26, with the Stabat Mater his final composition. "The piece didn't really take off immediately," McGegan explains. "One of the things about it… Maybe it's just because he was so near the end of his life – is it's unbelievably heartfelt. And as soon as it did get performed, everybody said 'wow'. And it's with Messiah, probably the first two pieces of music that have been in continuous performance more or less since they were first performed."
David Daniels also has a chance to sing the duet "Caro/Bella" from Handel's Giulio Cesare – he's played Caesar as one of his signature roles, but usually the duet with Cleopatra (the only one in the entire opera) comes at the very end of the evening, not at the beginning of a concert. "This is the scene in which I crown her: queen, empress, or whatever the word is, and we sing this beautiful duet in front of everyone. I'll be much fresher at the beginning of a concert than after a four and a half hour opera!
Thursday, October 3
The season-opening concert of Berkeley Symphony tonight at Zellerbach Hall will include guest conductor Gerard Schwarz, and soloist, Italian pianist Alessio Bax. He'll play the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto, one of the best loved and familiar concertos in the repertory. Also on the program is the world premiere of Edmund Campion's Ossicles, as well as Richard Wagner's Siegfried Idyll.
There's more information about the concert at the Berkeley Symphony website.
Alessio Bax says although the lush, over-the-top concerto features beautiful and memorable melodies, it's what's underneath that makes it really magic. "You can go back and listen over and over, and you hear different things because of these incredible layers," he says. "There was a conductor who once told me that Rachmaninoff is like a perfume… there are so many ingredients, but you're not supposed to know what they are – it's just supposed to smell wonderful!"
The concerto, he says, is "very very beautiful… very intimate, at times very big and intense." With a part that demands both volume and finesse. "It requires so much out fo the pianist, and out of each player in the orchestra, really, that you get sucked into it… Yes, you do use a lot of energy, but it gives you back even more."
Here's Bax playing some solo Rachmaninoff:
Friday, October 4
Cal Performances presents the world premiere of Angel Heart this Sunday afternoon at Hertz Hall at Berkeley… It's described as a 'musical storybook' – with original music by Luna Pearl Woolf, and other composers and arrangers; the story is by acclaimed children's author Cornelia Funke, and musicians include Frederica von Stade, Matt Haimovitz and his all-cello ensemble Uccello, and members of the Children's Choir of St. Martin de Porres in West Oakland.
There's more information about the show at the Cal Performances website.
The work, which was recently released as a CD on the Oxingale label, tells the story of a young heartbroken girl who is healed by an angel. The narration on Sunday's performance will be by actor Malcolm McDowell (on the CD, it's Jeremy Irons). Soprano Lisa Delan and Luna Pearl Woolf were both inspired to come together on the project, wanting to create a work that would be part bedtime story, part passing down various musical traditions. So in addition to traditional works like "O Waly, Waly" (The Water Is Wide) and "Danny Boy", there's also the Beatles' "Mother Nature's Son". All woven through with a story line that follows the progress of the girl Luna and the angel Rahmiel – as they travel to the four compass points to try to heal her broken heart.
"The language – the poetry is absolutely exquisite," says Frederica von Stade. "They're really beautiful words, and beautiful next to each other. It's important to get that kind of language into children's ears, not just 'Old MacDonald had a farm!' – It's getting them to savor the words."
Monday, October 7
Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado is in the midst of a mini-festival with the San Francisco Symphony, celebrating the works of two composers, who although separated in time by more than a hundred years, make an intriguing pairing: Felix Mendelssohn and British contemporary composer Thomas Adès. The festival began with the composers looking backward in music history; this week they focus on Shakespeare and literature.
There's more information about the concerts at the San Francisco Symphony website.
Heras-Casado spotlights the resonances between the two composers – as prodigies, who were conductors and interested in music from earlier times: Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony shows in its finale his fascination with the contrapuntal style of Bach, whose music he helped rescue from obscurity by performing it and re-issuing scores. Adès in his "Three Studies from Couperin" explores the world of the French Baroque composer, and both had deep interests in literature that show in their works.
One of Heras-Casado's early career opportunities was to program a Mendelssohn series with the BBC Symphony, and he's always been a champion for works that extend beyond the narrow selection that are regularly programmed. "At some point I realized that not so many orchestras, no so many conductors were programming Mendelssohn," he says. "And I was shocked. I could not understand why. I would never have thought that I would have this mission of making a defense of Mendelssohn, or showing that Mendelssohn is one of the greatest composers of history."
Here's Pablo Heras-Casado conducting more Mendelssohn, with the Berlin Philharmonic:
Tuesday, October 8
The twentieth season of Smuin Ballet begins with XXTREMES, running now at the Palace of Fine Arts through October 12th. There are three extremely different works on the program, including audience requested returns of Dear Miss Cline and Carmina Burana, and the Bay Area premiere of Return to a Strange Land, choreographed by Jiří Kylián. Company member Jane Rehm, who's dancing in each, gives a preview.
There's more information about the program, and the upcoming season at the Smuin Ballet website.
Return to a Strange Land was a dance that Jiří Kylián made in the 1970s, in honor of the choreographer John Cranko, who died suddenly at 45. It features solo piano music by Leoš Janáček, in part written when he was grieving the death of his daughter. "There's a thrilling technical layer, it's very musical and very intelligent," says Jane Rehm, "and then there's also an underlying emotional texture that is deep, and simple, and beautiful, and … not blaringly obvious, but resonant for everyone involved, hopefully." The founder of the company, choreographer Michael Smuin, also died suddenly, in 2007. His own earthy take on Carl Orff's Carmina Burana will close out the program. "It is quite a bit of a roller coaster from Dear Miss Cline to Return to a Strange Land into Carmina Burana, says Jane Rehm. "It's a lot of different things, but what's great about it is I feel like in the course of an evening I get to access all of these different parts of me, and bring them forth. Each time we come back from an intermission, I'm newly inspired and ready to go."
Here are excerpts from the opening work on the program, Amy Seiwert's Dear Miss Cline:
Wednesday, October 9
Pianist Yuja Wang is no stranger to Davies Symphony Hall – she's played with the Symphony many times over the past decade or so… But she'll be presenting her first solo recital there as part of their 'Great Performers' series next Tuesday, in a program she calls the "Russian Double Decker" – with Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Kapustin… and a composer she doesn't play too frequently in public – yet – Chopin.
There's more information about the concert at the San Francisco Symphony's website.
Yuja Wang says she has always played works of Chopin privately, and has performed his Piano Concerto No. 1, but orchestras aren't given much to do in it, since it's such a piano showpiece. "Chopin is very personal to me," she says. "I learned a lot when I was younger in China, especially his Etudes, Mazurkas, Waltzes… I actually think Chopin is probably technically the most demanding and advanced composer to write for piano. When you play his music, it's just pure perfection and love… and romantic, but in a very noble, poetic way." She'll play his Sonata No. 3, and Ballade No. 3., in between more Russian Flavored works by Prokofiev (another Sonata No. 3) and Stravinsky – (Three Movements from Petrushka).
Her newest CD comes out this month from Deutsche Grammophon, with a pair of Russian concertos recorded live in concert in Caracas with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela… The Rachmaninoff Third, and Prokofiev Second…
Thursday, October 10
Here's a bicentennial birthday inspired quiz – Giuseppe Verdi was born on this day in 1813, and would reign as one of the greatest of operatic composers (along with fellow 200-year old, Richard Wagner). Can you identify the following 'greatest hits' of Verdi, and the works from which they came?
Here are the selections (to see them, click and drag over the space below):
- "La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto (sung by Luciano Pavarotti)
- "Va, pensiero" the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco
- "Caro nome" from Rigoletto (sung by Maria Callas)
- "Anvil Chorus" from Il Trovatore
- La Forza del Destino overture
- "Di quella pira" from Il Trovatore (sung by Salvatore Licitra)
- "Brindisi" from La Traviata
- "Dies Irae" from Verdi's Requiem
- "Sempre Libera" from La Traviata (sung by Beverly Sills)
- Triumphal March from Aida
Friday, October 11
David Stull, the new President of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is excited about the prospect of expanded partnerships with other arts organizations in the neighborhood of the school — the Symphony, Opera, Ballet, SFJAZZ — in keeping with a straightforward plan: "building a school for the 21st Century, one that truly looks ahead and says 'what are the things students must have in their hands… to be successful?'"
There's more information about upcoming concerts and events, including next week's including David Kim, Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's website.
Stull, who is a tuba player (and taught Brass Studies at Oberlin before starting at the SFCM in July), says their aim is to provide their students with an education for life – and as he describes it, to "transform students artistically, intellectually, professionally, and individually." The curriculum is expanding, with a new program in technology coming next year, including scoring for film, video and media, and made up of modular shorter semesters, offering classes to prepare the students better for the real world: "So when they graduate from our institution," Stull says, "they will have had world-class experiences with top artists in great concert halls, they will have had a whole range of courses with incredible scholars from around the globe, taught in context with everything else they've studied. They'll understand excellence, high art, creativity, and they'll know how to launch a business in any given field.
Monday, October 14
The Chiara String Quartet was starting to record the complete quartets of Johannes Brahms when they decided to do something a bit unusual – they discovered they played better as an ensemble without their music stands in the way, and so began to play them by memory, or as they prefer to describe it, "by heart." They were in the Bay Area for a series of concerts playing Brahms.
There's more information about the group at the Chiara Quartet's website.
Violinists Rebecca Fischer and Hyeyung Yoon, violist Jonah Sirota, and cellist Gregory Beaver all agree that they want to continue to approach new repertoire and performances this way – that the process improves their listening and interaction with eachother, and tightness as an ensemble.
They have the score nearby during rehearsals – to doublecheck marked dynamics, or phrasings. "But sometimes it's just 'Rember that diminuendo there? You know the spot, close to rehearsal two?'" Rebecca Fischer says. "And if we've really studied the score as much as hopefully we have, to be able to record it and play it by heart, then we can kind of figure out what we're talking about." Hyeyung Yoon says memorizing, although challenging, cuts straight to the soul of the music. "Playing by heart… really forces us to learn the music fast. Not in the sense of just notes, but learn the emotional content of it faster. Because if you're trying to remember something, you can remember the emotional content better than just the notes themselves."
Gregory Beaver says it's a more natural way of playing: "It takes out all of the unintuitive things. Because you can't remember something that's unintuitive. And so our phrasing becomes much more natural, much faster." He says that the simple fact of not having a score separating them from the rest of the group heightens their focus – although he says it's a musician's 'sixth sense' rather than visual cues that keeps them together. "When we're most directly glued to someone,looking in the eyes, or watching the fingers, we often don't play quite as together as when we look off to the side…. [Otherwise] we end up being behind what we see."
The group has recorded the Brahms quartets for a future CD release.
Tuesday, October 15
On an "A to Z" edition of The State of the Arts, a look at musical Notation… which, like any writing, allows one person to transmit an idea to another without having to meet in person. A composer today can, it's true, make a recording, or even Skype into a rehearsal and let the players or conductor know how the performance should go… But the system of notation that's developed since the middle ages means that composer should be able to send a score off knowing it will be performed more or less as intended.
The standard of music notation that we use today is efficient – on a conductor's score, each individual line corresponds to an instrument or section of the orchestra; reading from left to right, you're moving forward in time… and at any point along the way, reading the page vertically will give a snapshot of the harmony being played.
The standards of notation have been slowly refined over the years, although some of the principle ideas are very similar to the time of Gregorian Chants – when musical scores began to have an early "staff", and the direction of melodies were determined by the placement of the noteheads. The shapes and groupings of the noteheads indicated their duration, and how the pitch would be approached – connected or detached from the note that came before, or with an ornamental melisma. But the text determined the rhythm and phrasing, and since they were sung in unison, dividing the melodies into measures wasn't necessary.
Here's an example of J.S. Bach's handwritten manuscript, using notation that's much more familiar to anyone who's studied music. The staves are joined into a treble and bass grand staff, which is used for keyboard music, although this looks like one of the many Chorales that Bach wrote or reharmonized – which could be either played or sung. There are barlines separating the measures, and each of the four independent voices has a different rhythmic feeling. The melody in the soprano is slow and even, the bassline "walks" at a steady clip, and the tenor voice has 'dotted' rhythms of long notes followed by short ones, in almost a heartbeat dah – – dit, dah – – dit pattern.
This single measure from Chopin's Nocturne, Opus 2 No.1 trips off the fingers of a well-trained pianist, with a pattern of 22 notes meant to take the same amount of time as the 12 notes in the left hand. By not making the notes line up exactly, he creates a slightly relaxed and rhythmically free feeling (rather than one that tries to exactly work the math out precisely.)
In Charles Ives' Concord Sonata, he does away with the barlines altogether at times; the piece is fiendishly difficult (but fortunately, it's only for one performer, and not an ensemble that has to stay together!)
Wednesday, October 16
Steinway Society the Bay Area presents another in its series of recitals this Sunday afternoon at San Jose's California Theatre, with Jon Nakamatsu playing Schubert, Chopin, and Schumann. The 1997 Van Cliburn Competition gold medalist (and San Jose native) has had an interesting career as as a pianist since leaving his job as a high school German teacher.
There's more information about the concert and the series at the Steinway Society's website.
Nakamatsu says even though he didn't go to a conservatory and had a more "normal" academic path, he always wanted to be a pianist. "When I started piano lessons at six years old, and seven years old, it was from that moment on that I felt my life had been chosen. Or if I didn't choose it, it was chosen for me in some way, in the way music chooses children. I never fought that. I wanted to spend my life in music and with the piano." So he studied privately, for technique, theory and composition. "Fortunately, I had a teacher who taught me my first notes and everything after that," Nakamatsu says, "and really prepared me, I think for the career in many different ways. Especially by getting other people in different disciplines for me to work with, so although I was having somewhat of a regular life in terms of academics and college, I had this rich, almost private conservatory experience."
Here's a sampling of the kind of playing that won him the Van Cliburn:
Thursday, October 17
Pianist Martin Helmchen joins guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier and the San Francisco Symphony for a performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto this week (in an afternoon concert today, and twice over the weekend at Davies Symphony Hall, plus a Friday night performance at the Mondavi Center). It's on a program with Dvorak's Seventh Symphony and the Roman Carnival Overture by Hector Berlioz.
Martin Helmchen made his U.S. premiere playing the Schumann, which he describes as having (perhaps second only to Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto) the "most genius" opening of a concerto ever written. "Most of pianists, probably consciously tell themselves not to come in too early," Helmchen says. "I mean, it must have this effect of being almost too early, but when it's too much of that, everybody can tell you're nervous, which you are. But I think to just take a little bit more time than in the moment you think would be right, and then the timing can be very powerful." He says his interpretation of the piece has changed over the years, but it's the piece with which he has "the longest and most intense relationship of all piano concertos."
He grew up listening to many of the recordings made of Schubert's only completed concerto – and says that many of them take liberties with the tempos and intent of the composer: "The opening becomes so big, and to my taste overly romantic, that the piece could easily be over after the first chords and the theme. But he doesn't write any tempo changes; it should actually be kind of the same tempo from the opening chords until the clarinet comes in with the theme, which is three or four minutes into the first movement, which is quite a long section in the beginning." He feels that taking too slow a tempo with the woodwinds' statement of the opening theme makes it feel more like a slow introduction to the piano line, than the first half of that idea. "There are many things to discover what Schumann might have meant," he says, "and to get a fresh approach from what's hidden in the text."
Here is Martin Helmchen, playing some Franz Liszt as part of the Verbier Festival:
Friday, October 18
KDFC's CD of the Week is Opera Breve, the new collection of aria transcriptions for violin and piano played by Philippe Quint and Lily Maisky. The repertoire includes works from the opera that have a special significance for them – including two that Quint arranged, and a few by Lily Maisky's father, cellist Mischa Maisky.
Quint says for him, the project began with the transcription that he was commissioned by a patron to make of the aria "The Evening Prayer" from Engelbert Humperdinck's opera Hansel and Gretel. "She commissioned it from me without specifying why this particular opera, why this particular aria. And just about when I was about to perform it for her, she unfortunately passed away. So the first time I performed it was for her funeral." He had assumed it was just a work that the woman had grown up with hearing in Germany, until one of her relatives told him at the funeral: "It was essentially a mini-requiem that she commissioned from me. I looked into the words of the aria, which say '14 angels are carrying me to the gates of Heaven…' so naturally this suddenly became unbelieveably personal and meaningful.
Monday, October 21
Bryn Terfel, the bass-baritone currently starring in San Francisco Opera's production of Falstaff, also has recently released a CD called Homeward Bound, on which he's backed up by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He's collaborated with the ensemble a few times before, and says it's always a special thrill to work with them – after having grown up with his parents listening to their recordings on LP.
The Welsh singer says that part of the joy of working with the famed choir is their ability to blend, especially in the acoustically ideal Mormon Tabernacle: "Whichever voice is singing in that choir, sounds like one. They sound sometimes like a quartet. So to stand in front of them, recording for six days… it's not that they were happy to have me there, I was happy to be there singing with this choir. When they go on tour, they sing to twenty thousand people. Which other choir does that?"
Terfel says as a younger singer, Mozart's Figaro seemed to be his calling card for many years (he debuted with San Francisco Opera in the role in 1997). But as for his title role as the debauched Falstaff, which requires an hour and a half of makeup to get a suitably disheveled look, he says it's got everything. "The fact that you can sing it when you're young, and vocally it's quite challenging, but also the fact that Falstaff becomes like a red wine, much more complex when you're older as well." And despite his character flaws, or maybe because of them, it's an enduring character. "He never gives up, Falstaff," Terfel says. "As fat as he's ever been, he's a liar, he's a thief, he's a cheat, he's a womanizer, he's a glutton, but people seem to love him!"
Tuesday, October 22
This weekend will mark the world premiere of Crissy Broadcast, with three performances of the work in the open space of Crissy Field. Composer Lisa Bielawa was in the process of writing a gigantic work to be played at Berlin's former Tempelhof Airport (now a park), when she realized that her home town had a similarly re-purposed airfield, and decided to write the new piece. Tempelhof Broadcast involved about 250 musicians when it premiered this spring; this weekend's performances are likely to include more than 800 musicians.
There's more information about the project at the Airfield Broadcasts site.
This summer, Bielawa took part in a panel discussion preview with some of the team that's helping to make the performance a reality: her Director for Civic Engagement, Marc Kasky; Adam Fong, co-founder of Center for New Music; Rozella Kennedy, Executive Director of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players; and Livia Camperi, who is a member of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and sang in the Berlin performance. It was clear that mounting a project like this can't be done lightly. "People say to me: 'Wow, there are so many logistics, all the stuff you have to do," Bielawa says. "'You have to get permits, and you have to talk to the rangers, doesn't it drive you crazy, that you can't get to the work?' – That is the work."
She has mapped out the choreography of the musicians, as she did for Tempelhof, using layers of tracing paper over a detailed map of Crissy Field. Each group of musicians (there are lots of school and amateur groups, as well as professional ensembles) will be moving outward from the center of the field, with their progress and cues kept in line with atomic clock-syncronized watches. "There's a lot of erasing involved," she says, "and there's also a lot of going to the field with my stopwatch and walking, and realizing, you know what, that's not going to work, because it's going to take them eight minutes to walk from there to there, so it has to be someone else who does this." She's also taking into account that people will be relying on wind to help carry musical cues – so that also affects who needs to be where. She's also planned one of this weekend's performances to be early enough in the day to (hopefully) have accompaniment from the foghorns nearby – she's written a section of the piece based on the notes they use.
Wednesday, October 23
A premiere tonight at 7 pm at Grace Cathedral transforms the sanctuary into a "sea of sound and color and image." Composer (and former chorister) Paul Haas has written a work for a chamber orchestra, piano, organ, and the choir of men and boys. It's accompanied by the work of year-long artist in residence, designer Anne Patterson, whose installation, "Graced With Light" has twenty miles of ribbons filling the space above the congregation.
There's more information about tonight's concert at the Grace Cathedral website.
The name of the program is "Seeing the Voice: State of Grace" – and it continues the residency of Anne Patterson, who teamed with cellist Joshua Roman for a performance there earlier this year (she also oversaw the projections and designed the San Francisco Symphony's production of Debussy's The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian last year). The transformation of the sanctuary — with 892 strands of ribbon, each 86 feet long, hanging from the ceiling — fills the visual space, while still keeping the iconic architecture visible. "Our goal, when Paul and I started working, was to really create a sea that the audience could dive into. And it's a sea of sound and color and image. And we are hoping that those three things will blend together in such a way that you almost don't even know where the boundary lines are between them. So it's a total fusion of sight and sound."
Paul Haas says it's like coming back home, to write music for Grace Cathedral, where he was a chorister in the early 1980's. "Each instrument can create its own kind of mini-canvas, and each of them weave those canvasses in and amongst eachother to come up with this tapestry of sound that kind of lifts you up off the ground almost, as you're listening to it. So for me, I feel like a kid in a candy shop. This is an unbelievable acoustic." The musicians will be playing from various nooks and crannies – sometimes separated by the entire length of the sanctuary. Haas says the experience of the audience will be different, but there's not a bad seat in the house. "We were thinking about it like a fishbowl, almost," he says. "It's always the same water, the same rocks, the same fish, the same plants. But if you look at it from one angle or another, it's a different world."
Here's a rendering to give a bit of a preview of the way the projection will be used:
Thursday, October 24
Archetti Baroque String Ensemble presents a series of concerts (November 1-3) which shows the fascination that English audiences had with the Italian style of concerto grosso that Arcangelo Corelli made famous. The eight-member group will play works by Corelli himself, his student, Geminiani, Handel, Hellendaal and Avison in a program called "Masters of the Italian Concerto — in England."
There's more information about the concert at the San Francisco Early Music Society's website.
Carla Moore and John Dornenburg co-founded the ensemble in 2010. He says: "We've always had this dream of having a small chamber group that could do sort of mainstream Baroque orchestral (what we call orchestral) repertory, but without a conductor, and with a lot of rehearsal time so that all the musicians can have their say. Because we have this tremendous community in the Bay Area of very well-trained and experienced people."
The repertoire is all pointing back to Corelli, and his style of composition that became all the rage in both Italy and England. There will be two works by Handel on the program: the Concerto Grosso in B-flat Major, Op. 6, no. 7, and "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale" – his Concerto in F for Organ and Strings, with Davitt Moroney as the soloist. The lone (originally) English composer on the concert, Charles Avison is represented on the program with a Concerto Grosso in A Major, after Domenico Scarlatti Essercizi. Pieter Hellendaal was a Dutch-born composer who knew Handel in London, and those two composers will be paired on the first CD by Archetti coming out on the Centaur label later this year.
Friday, October 25
The music of Bach, and poetry written by an award-winning novelist served as inspiration for choreographer Alonzo King, whose LINES Ballet opens its "Fall Home Season" tonight at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Writing Ground is having its company premiere – it was a commission from the Monte Carlo Ballet in 2010. And the other half of the program is a world premiere, set to Bach's iconic "Double" Concerto for two violins.
There's more information about the performances, which run through November 3rd, at the LINES Ballet website.
When King got the commission to choreograph the work for the Monte Carlo Ballet, he wanted to work with Irish novelist and short story writer Colum McCann (author of, most recently, TransAtlantic, but also the National Book Award winning Let the Great World Spin, and Dancer, which was a fictionalized account of the life of Rudolf Nureyev.) "At first he wanted to literally re-enact his works on stage, and I was like, 'Colum, that's not going to happen!' And so I asked him to do poetry, and he wrote the most beautiful poetry, and from the moment I had that, I could begin the work." It was well received in Monte Carlo, but this is the first time his company here has performed it. The texts got King to think about some universal truths: "People want to either alleviate suffering," he says, "or to find some kind of joy that nevergoes stale. Everyone has that in common… and so that brought me to liturgical music from several different cultures because of the aspiration and the longing in those kinds of chants."
The other half of the program is devoted to Bach's Double Concerto – which King says is a combination of mathematics and inspiration. "It's feeling and logic at their highest – and that's what human beings and dancers are working on all the time, to find that balance." He describes the common theme of the two halves this way: "The idea of aspiring, and the combination of logic connected to the dream. There's a thing called common sense, which is really not very common, but which is basically intuition. It's the smartest kind of knowing."
Monday, October 28
Mona Golabek takes on the role of her mother, Lisa Jura in the one-woman show The Pianist of Willesden Lane at Berkeley Rep. It tells the story, accompanied by piano, of Jura's experience as part of the Kindertransport, the attempt to rescue Jewish children during the Holocaust by taking them to the (comparative) safety of England. The show is produced by Hershey Felder, who earlier this year starred in George Gershwin Alone.
There's more information about the show at the Berkeley Rep website.
Mona Golabek's show is based on the book of the same title that she wrote, which researched and fleshed out the cryptic anecdotes her mother used to tell her during piano lessons. "She always told me that each piece of music tells a story," Golabek says. "We'd be in a Beethoven sonata, out of nowhere, as she was explaining to me about fortissimo and pianissimo, she would say, 'Well, did I ever tell you the time that Johnny King Kong read poetry to me at nighttime when the bombs came down?' And I thought, who is Johnny King Kong? Before I got an answer, we'd go right back into another passage, maybe we would switch to a Chopin Nocturne, and out of nowhere, she would say, 'well, what about when Aaron whistled the Grieg Piano Concerto to me?'"
It was while she was on a book tour, which often included performances of some of the works that are mentioned in the stories, that the idea of staging a show that would dramatize them. In the years since the book's publication, Golabek has been active in working with schools that read the book, and then see the staged performance, showing how music both saved her mother's life, and helped others. The role individual pieces played in her life are depicted in the play. "Clair de Lune played in her heart and soul as she was on the Kindertransport, the rescue train that brought her [from Vienna] to England. And she would describe to me in the piano lessons how she saw the moonlight coming through the turning of the windmills."
Tuesday, October 29
This week, ODC Theater presents Rosanna Gamson/World Wide's Layla Means Night – a fusion of dance, poetry and storytelling with live music – that takes as its inspiration the story of Scheherazade. The production will take place in several different rooms of the theater, with audience members having a different experience of the work as it unfolds.
There's more information about the performances, which run from Wednesday through Sunday at the ODC Theater website.
Rosanna Gamson knew she wanted to work with the musicians who will be accompanying the dance, Pirayeh Pourafar and Houman Pourmehdi, when she saw them playing as part of a production of Medea starring Anette Bening several years ago. They both play traditional Persian music, and will be responding directly to the dancers as they play the score they've composed. Pourafar plays the Tar, a lute-like stringed instrument; Pourmehdi has a variety of frame drums, and other percussion instruments, including the Daf, which combines a drum surface with rings around the frame that can create cross-rhythms when played for Sufi trance dances.
Rosanna Gamson says she sees the Scheherazade story of storytelling as a means of survival as similar to the artist's relationship with an audience – "I always felt as an artist that I want to be entertaining, and if I stop doing the right thing, the audience will kill me. You have to transform your audience, and in some way inform them, or change them, or move them to be more human, and to spare your life."
Wednesday, October 30
This week, in the spirit of Halloween and all things scary, the San Francisco Symphony will be presenting films of Alfred Hitchcock with live accompaniment – Psycho tonight, the world premiere full performance of Vertigo with orchestra on Friday, and a 'Greatest Hits' program on Saturday, all conducted by Joshua Gersen. On Halloween itself, there will be a screening of The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog – one of Hitchcock's silents, with Todd Wilson accompanying on the organ.
There's more information about Hitchcock Week at the San Francisco Symphony website.
Psycho and Vertigo are two of the best known scores Bernard Herrmann wrote for Hitchcock – with the iconic shower scene accompanied by the slicing glissandos of violins (there are only strings in the orchestral soundtrack) and a protracted sequence in Vertigo during which Jimmy Stewart drives around San Francisco, with no dialogue – just unsettling accompaniment. Music critic Alex Ross describes Vertigo as "a symphony for film and orchestra."
Conductor Joshua Gersen tells how the scene that encapsulates the horror of Psycho almost didn't have any score at all: "Hitchcock wanted it without muisic initially. Hitchcock went on vacation, Herrmann knew that he wouldn't be able to convince him to let him writ it, so… just wrote it, recorded it, and showed it to him when he got back. Of course, Hitchcock agreed that it was definitely appropriate for the scene. But you can imagine that initially that was supposed to be a silent scene, and now it's the most iconic film music probably we know."
Thursday, October 31
The Dies Irae chant – part of the Requiem Mass for the dead – is a seemingly innocent melody, but it has a long history of being used to remind people of death, destruction, and the 'Day of Wrath'. The tune was so well known, and everything that it implied, that composers would use it almost as a musical shorthand any time they wanted to convey a sense of dread or despair.
Among the many who used the chant to great effect were Franz Liszt, Eugene Ysaye, Hector Berlioz, and (frequently) Sergei Rachmaninoff. The text of the chant goes on at length about the fate that awaits mankind – and especially sinners, which might account for the unease with which congregations and concert audiences alike heard that melody.
The tune is played by the low brass at 3:16 in this performance of the fifth movment of Symphonie Fantastique…