Wednesday, September 5

An orchestra can be like a car – an extraordinary and complex machine, according to violinist Pinchas Zukerman, who takes the stage this week with the San Francisco Symphony and guest conductor Semyon Bychkov for Max Bruch's first violin concerto. The program will also include Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 and the overture to Tannhäuser by Wagner. 

There's more information about the concert at the San Francisco Symphony website.

Zukerman, who is both a soloist as well as a conductor (he's led Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra for over a dozen years) says changing between those roles is made easier because "if you know how to drive a car, it shouldn't be too hard to be a passenger."   And as familiarity develops among the musicians and the piece that they're playing (extending the metaphor a bit further) "when you're driving down the road for the first time, you won't necessarily see all the words on the signs… or the view. But by the third, or fourth, or fifth time, suddenly you say 'look at that!' and 'oh, look at this on the left!'"

He says the Bruch violin concerto he'll be playing with the Symphony is just one of the great works by the late Romantic composer of Kol Nidrei and the Scottish Fantasy. And although the concerto is considered a "secondary" work in the violin repertoire, behind Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn, it's not because its music is secondary.

Pinchas Zukerman with KDFC totebag

Thursday, September 6

Classical Revolution built up a fair amount of momentum with its fifth anniversary season, and is starting its sixth with a month-long festival it's calling "Music for the Masses." Violist and Classical Revolution founder Charith Premawardhana says there will be approximately 27 concerts in 23 different venues as part of the festival. All sorts of genres are represented too, not just the chamber music at the roots of the group.  Solo piano, small chamber groups, jazz, folk, Indian classical, even rock, with a benefit concert on the 27th at the Great American Music Hall.

There's full schedule information at Classical Revolution's website. KDFC is the radio sponsor of the festival.

Classical Revolution got its start playing weekly chamber music sessions at Revolution Cafe in the Mission six years ago – and has grown to include a large network of players as well as venues where they perform in various combinations. The Musical Art Quintet is one of the groupsat its heart.(Premawardhana plays viola with them). The "Revolution Chamber Players" will be playing at the DeYoung Museum free concert tomorrow night that starts the festival off: the event begins at 5:00, with music starting at 6:00 or 6:30. 

On Saturday, Lara Downes will give a recital at Salle Pianos on Market Street at 8 pm; Sunday during the day, there's an Inner Sunset Sundays event, and in the evening the Musical Art Quintet and Quartet San Francisco will be performing at Yoshi's.

Premawardhana says as the group has grown, so have their contacts, both with musicians who are coming through the San Francisco area looking for places to play, as well as the venues with whom they've established relationships. So restaurants, museums, theaters, as well as concert halls will sometimes ask Classical Revolution to serve as a musical matchmaker, or fill out a program with players. And 'alumni' from the Bay Area have started many of the loosely affiliated chapters of the organization in other cities.

Friday, September 7

Composer John Cage would have turned 100 this week  – he was born September 5, 1912 – but the argument might be made that he's best known for a piece of music he didn't actually 'write'. The work called 4:33 had its premiere just over 60 years ago, and consists of three movements of silence that add up to four minutes and thirty-three seconds. At the Berkeley Arts Festival this weekend, there's going to be a performance that recreates the marathon concert Cage put on in 1963 of Erik Satie's piece Vexations

The performance at the Berkeley Arts Festival space (2133 University Avenue) will begin at 6 pm on Saturday, and stretch into early Sunday afternoon. Twenty Bay Area pianists will each play for an hour. Sarah Cahill says the original performance that Cage organized took the instructions on Satie's score literally: 'In order to play this 840 times in a row, it will be good to prepare one's self beforehand, and in deepest silence by means of serious stillness.' Whether or not Satie ever intended the piece to actually be performed this way, or this was another example of the strange sensibility that had him give such titles to works as "Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear" or "Dessicated Embryos". 

Erik Satie's Vexations

There have already been several Cage-related works programmed this year (including a selection from the Song books performed by Jessye Norman, Meredith Monk and Joan La Barbara as part of the Mavericks series of the San Francisco Symphony) and more on the way: on Friday the 14th, the Berkeley Art Museum will present a multimedia work called PICO (Performance Indeterminate Cage Opera)  Video artist John Sanborn's audience-participatory work that features dance, recordings, video, and live music, showing Cage's relationship with other avant-garde artists, Marcel Duchamp and Nam June Paik.

And pianist Sarah Cahill returns for a concert of works by Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison and John Cage, that will include Cage's unexpectedly melodic (almost new age-like) work called "In a Landscape", which calls for the performer to hold down both the sustain and soft pedals for the entire duration of the piece.

Wednesday, September 12

The latest CD by the Alexander String Quartet pairs two kings of the American popular song: George Gershwin and Jerome Kern. A suite of tunes from Porgy and Bess, which began on the operatic stage and were adapted by Jascha Heifetz for violin and piano, underwent one more arrangement (this time by composer Carl Davis) pairing the quartet with their frequent collaborator, clarinetist Joan Enric Lluna. And six familiar songs by Kern from musicals and films get an unfamiliar treatment by the composer himself. 

There's more information about the CD at the Alexander String Quartet's website.

The group of Jerome Kern songs ("Bill," "All the Things You Are," "The Way You Look Tonight," "The Song is You," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," and "Once in a Blue Moon") was a set that was arranged by Kern, and orchestrated by Charles Miller – given to Jacques Gordon, who led a string quartet through the 1940s. The arrangements give "a real sense of Kern's writing style," according to Alexander Quartet violinist Zak Grafilo. "And it's really interesting, because he doesn't grab just the tunes from each of the songs; he actually grabs material from other parts of the musical, or from the movies that he wrote the music for."  So in the introduction to "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," there's an extended statement of the song "Yesterdays," also from the 1933 musical Roberta.

The disc also includes the one piece that George Gershwin wrote for string quartet specifically, "Lullaby" – a deceptively simple work that Grafilo says is often heard played by students, but is really very tricky to play well, because it includes delicate glassy harmonics that have to be just right. Gershwin wrote it when he was studying music theory and composition himself. 

Alexander String Quartet

Zakarias Grafilo, violin 1;  Paul Yarbrough, viola; Sandy Wilson, cello;  Frederick Lifsitz, violin 2

Thursday, September 13

Opera at the Ballpark has proven to be a successful mix in the years that San Francisco Opera has been simulcasting a live performance into AT&T Field… But how about the other way around? What happens when baseball goes to the opera house? The Marx Brothers made Verdi take a left turn into "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in their movie A Night at the Opera… and American composer (and baseball fan) William Schuman adapted the famous poem "Casey at the Bat" for his opera The Mighty Casey.

There are more details about Saturday's free event at San Francisco Opera's website. Hoyt and Dianne will be at the ballpark (and on Diamondvision) hosting the simulcast from War Memorial Opera House to the stadium – which will let fans take to the outfield and seats to watch a performance of Verdi's Rigoletto

William Schuman's The Mighty Casey isn't the only classical work inspired by baseball – Charles Ives was a fan as well as a player, and wrote a series of improvisations for piano that depicted various scenarios on the baseball diamond.

Opera at the Ballpark

Friday, September 14

David Del Tredici, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, got his start as a pianist, and remained one, even as his attention shifted toward the large, neo-Romantic orchestral and vocal scores of works like his In Memory of a Summer Day and Final Alice – which were based on the Alice in Wonderland characters and episodes. He's returning to the keyboard tonight, in a recital at the Old First Church with Marc Peloquin, a pianist who has recently released the first CD of a set of complete solo works of Del Tredici.

There's more information about the concert at the Old First Concerts website.

Peloquin has commissioned work from the composer, and worked with him in preparation for the new Naxos CD. He says Del Tredici's background as a player makes him a particularly effective writer for the instrument: "I learned, and continue to learn the kind of aesthetic and pianism… Because he's a pianist as well, there are some technical things that are trademarks of his passage work. A lot of it is rather virtuosic, and a lot of voicing, and voice leading, and use of register."

Del Tredici points to his piano playing heros – like Rachmaninoff and Horowitz – in helping him develop his style: "I would try to capture in the writing what they would do in improvisation… very free performances, and they had all these voices that seemed to come in and out of nowhere; I wanted to somehow codify that in a more modern idiom, and make it my own."

He says he's been writing more pieces for piano these days in part because of Peloquin's commissioning and interest. "There's nothing like somebody wanting your music."  But one reason he had stayed away from piano for so long was a practical one: "There's so much great music already. And when you write a piece, especially if it's tonal, you really are coming up in competition… not competition, but comparison to all of them. I'd rather write a piece for mandolins, banjo, and accordion, for which there is no precedent."

David Del Tredici and Marc Peloquin

Tuesday, September 18

The 'crunchiness' that a violinist hears when playing is smoothed out by the time the sound travels to the audience… But when performance artist Laurie Anderson brings her show Dirtday! to Cal Performances tonight in Berkeley,  her electric violin uses software that can give the audience a bit of the sensation of having your head against the instrument. It's a mostly spoken-word work, although it had originally been planned to be only music. Anderson says it was inspired in part by the Occupy Movement, but ranges over a variety of subjects, as she acts "as a DJ".

There's more information about tonight's presentation of Dirtday! at the Cal Performances website.

Anderson says the piece explores some of the basic ideas of the Occupy movement: "which are about trying to look at what the real world really is, as opposed to what is sort of presented to us as the so-called real world".  As with her earlier story-driven work, her observations are delivered with a score of sounds (sometimes accompanied by her electric violin, which she says she's using as a computer-assisted hyper instrument) that come from different parts of the world.  Her show has been on tour for several months, and she recently flew from Sweden to Portland, OR. One of the benefits of a show that doesn't feature a back-up band, she says, is not having to coordinate nine people's schedules, and especially convince them that a 20-hour flight is a good idea.

Laurie Anderson

Wednesday, September 19

The gala season-opening concert of the San Francisco Symphony tonight (which we'll be broadcasting live!) features an all-French program, and violinist Joshua Bell as the soloist. He's got a special connection to the French school of violin repertoire – with a direct link via his teacher to the dedicatee and first performer of one of the pieces he'll play tonight.  This is the first concert of the season conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, who's just returned from being on tour with the London Symphony Orchestra.

There's more information about the concert at the San Francisco Symphony's website

Joshua Bell has recently released an album of French works for violin and piano with Jeremy Denk, but he says that changing geographical and stylistic hats from concert to concert is something that he has to deal with all the time: whether it's going from city to city for contrasting concertos, or even playing a single recital concert that includes works by Bach, Prokofiev and Gershwin.

Bell is the musical director of the chamber group the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields now, but says he doesn't plan to lighten his performance load as a soloist. He spent last year visiting the Bay Area many times for "Project San Francisco" – a part of the centennial year celebration of the Symphony that presented recital and chamber music performances as well as appearances with the orchestra.

You can hear tonight's concert on KDFC on the radio, or streaming online – on the program will be selections from  Romeo and Juliet by Hector Berlioz, the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Camille Saint-Säens, Poème by Ernest Chausson, and Ravel's Bolero.

Joshua Bell with a KDFC tote bag

Thursday, September 20

Although they're getting a significant jump on the actual day, the New Century Chamber Orchestra begins to celebrate the centennial of British composer Benjamin Britten with a series of concerts this week. Bay Area soprano Melody Moore joins them for a performance of Les Illuminations, songs setting texts by French poet Arthur Rimbaud, which Moore describes as "pagan, carnal, and ritualistic"

There's more information about the concerts at the New Century Chamber Orchestra website. There's a concert tonight in Berkeley, at Herbst on Saturday, and in San Rafael on Sunday. 

In addition to the songs of Les Illuminations, there's also Britten's Simple Symphony, with movements named Boisterous Bourrée, Playful Pizzicato, Sentimental Saraband, and Frolicsome Finale. Also on the program is Béla Bartók's Divertimento.

Although Benjamin Britten's actual hundredth birthday doesn't arrive until November of 2013, the NCCO isn't alone in beginning the celebrations early. There's a website (beware, Britten's music begins to play automatically!) devoted to the centennial, called Britten100. Organized by the Britten-Pears Foundation, the site points out that performing organizations are including his music in the seasons on either side of the actual date.

Friday, September 21

The modern oboe has come a long way since its earliest ancestors, found in many cultures around the globe. But it still has a very distinctive sound – the result of two very thin reeds vibrating against each other as breath passing through them and hollow tube. A crucial step in the instrument's evolution came during the second half of the 17th Century, during the time of Louis XIV. Baroque oboist Debra Nagy, of the ensemble called Les Délices, says splitting the oboe into three pieces enabled instrument makers to get a much more nuanced sound than the earlier, single-pieced shawm.

There's more information about the three concerts Les Délices will play in the Bay Area at the San Francisco Early Music Society website.

Monday, September 24

Niagara Falling is the name of a world premiere dance piece that is both site specific, and perpendicular to the ground: it will be performed on the side of the Renoir Hotel twice a night from Wednesday to Saturday. Jo Kreiter is the Artistic Director of Flyaway Productions, who along with filmmakers Hi-Jin and David Hodge have created a multimedia work that centers on the idea of 'rescue' – both metaphorical and economic. 

There's more information about Niagara Falling at the Flyaway Productions website

In an extensive series of interviews, the pair of filmmakers documented the fiscal woes of the community of Niagara Falls, NY – and they've done similar interviews with those who live and work on Sixth Street near Market in San Francisco. Film and dance will be integrated on the wall of the hotel. 

Last week, there were rehearsals on the wall (let the video load, and turn down your speakers before playing, the audio is a bit loud!):

Niagara Falling rehearsal

Niagara Falling rehearsal

Niagara Falling rehearsal

Tuesday, September 25

Juliet is supposed to marry Tybalt? The story of Romeo and Juliet that is told in Bellini's The Capulets and the Montagues isn't exactly the way Shakespeare presented it. Bass-baritone Eric Owens describes Capellio (Juliet's father), the character that he plays in the upcoming San Francisco Opera production, as being destroyed by the need to avenge his son, who was killed by Romeo. 

There's more information about the production the San Francisco Opera website.

Although he doesn't get any beautifully lyric arias in this role, Owens says it's not appropriate for the character – he's too busy thinking of vengeance to "wax poetic in an aria-like setting."  He says: "Romeo comes within their midst, disguised as a messenger, to sue for peace. 'There's been enough bloodshed, let's have peace between our houses, and let's have Romeo marry Juliet.'  This just sends him into a sort of a frenzy… But no aria!  A lot of recitatives, and a few ensembles. It's always pretty sad when he's on stage. I don't know whether or not to feel sad for Juliet, or to feel sad for Capellio."

Owens describes himself as "a soup to nuts kind of guy", who has sung repertoire and roles from all kinds of composers and historical periods. He's created roles in works by John Adams, and received special acclaim for his performance as Alberich in Wagner's Das Rheingold at the Metropolitan Opera in 2010.

Wednesday, September 26

Symphony Silicon Valley's season opener features a program that mixes the familiar with works slightly more off the beaten path… Paul Polivnick is looking forward to starting the concert with a Rossini overture that doesn't get played very often, despite his assessment that it's "right up there with the best of them in terms of quality" – and the liveliness of a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody (but not the one you might be thinking of) follows up some Berlioz romance that shares the opening rhythm of of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony… which closes the concert and gets the season underway.

There's more information about the concerts this weekend at the Symphony Silicon Valley website.

The overture to the not overly memorable opera Torvaldo and Dorliska, nonetheless is an example of typically playful Rossini. Polivnick describes it as a "lively, thrilling, certainly very cheerful piece" that he's pleased to be introducing to the SSV audience.  Although the opera wasn't such a big success, the couple from the title end together happily. The same can't be said for Hector Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet… the orchestra will be playing the Love Scene from the grand symphony with voices and soloists that Berlioz considered his own favorite of his works. Polivnick says that Berlioz felt that the Love Scene would best be communicated without words – even Shakespeare's.  The first half ends with a Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt – number 6, known by the title Carnival in Pest.  The entire second half is Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, which Polivnick says is such a cornerstone of the classical music repertoire that every conductor can find a way of personalizing their interpretation… and his has changed over the many years and times he's conducted it, and played it, dating back to when he was a violinist.

Thursday, September 27

This weekend, KDFC will bring you a live broadcast of the inaugural concert taking place at Weill Hall at Sonoma State University's Green Music Center. Pianist Lang Lang will be performing a recital of works by Mozart and Chopin – the first of a series of concerts celebrating the first season of the facility. The Rohnert Park complex is also the long-awaited new home for the Santa Rosa Symphony, which will be performing a concert on Sunday (KDFC will be broadcasting that concert later this fall). Here's a quick survey of Lang Lang's experience giving solo performances on some of the world's finest stages.

You can tune in for the concert live Saturday night at 7, on the radio or streaming here on our website. There's information about the gala concert at the Green Music Center's website.

Lang Lang will be playing three sonatas by Mozart, as well as the four Chopin Ballades:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:    

Piano Sonata No. 5 in G major, KV 283
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, KV 282
Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, KV 310


Frédéric Chopin:

Ballade No. 1 Op 23 in G minor
Ballade No. 2 Op 38 in F Major
Ballade No. 3 Op 47 in A flat
Ballade No. 4 Op 52 in F minor

Lang Lang

Friday, September 28

The San Francisco Symphony will play Mahler's Fifth Symphony this weekend, paired with the West coast premiere of a work called Drift and Providence by Samuel Carl Adams, son of John Adams. During the work, the composer will be using his computer in real time to manipulate the sounds of an already interesting percussion section. Adams, who is also a jazz bass player, includes the sounds of wire-brushes on cymbals and snares generally played by jazz drummers.

There's more information about this weekend's concerts at the San Francsico Symphony's website.

Michael Tilson Thomas performed the piece in April with the New World Symphony. Adams was delighted when MTT decided to program it for San Francisco as well: "It' been incredible working with someone who is able to so immediately intuit what I'm going for, and the sound that I'm going for, and the gestures that I'm going for. He has so much experience, not just working with the traditional repertoire, but also with new music, and he's so quick to understand exactly what it is that should be communicated to the audience."  

Drift and Providence is in several movements, two of them with names inspired by the Bay Area – the opening movement is called "Embarcadero", and the middle movement is "Divisadero" – not with concrete connections to the places bearing those names, but as a metaphorical embarkation point, and a midway point to look back to the beginning. Adams now lives in New York City… He says: "I wrote the piece in many different locations, being a typical 21st Century itinerant musician, going around and performing, and doing this and that. So I wanted the piece very much to have a sense of flow – that it's really going places, some places familiar, some places maybe unfamiliar.