Tuesday, October 17, 2017

More Schubert Blasts from the Past

Those who follow this site regularly are probably well aware of my enthusiasm for the recent release on the Profil label of Franz Schubert’s music played by pianist Sviatoslav Richter between 1949 and 1964. That enthusiasm has been further stoked by yet another recording produced by Praga Classics, which will be released this coming Friday. This also involves a pianist from the past, Mieczysław Horszowski; but the performers that dominate the entire album are the members of the Budapest String Quartet. The earliest recording was made in 1934, and all other selections fit into the same time frame of the Richter collection. As is probably expected, this recording is currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com.

The Budapest String Quartet was formed in 1917, the product of four Hungarian musicians who had lost their jobs as a result of World War I. By 1934 through group had already experienced several personnel changes; and it consisted of first violinist Josef Roisman (previously second violinist), second violinist Alexander Schneider, violist István Ipolyi, and cellist Misha Schneider. The one piece recorded at that time (at the Abbey Road Studio in London) was Schubert’s D. 703 in C minor, a single Allegro assai movement known most frequently at the “Quartettsatz” (piece for quartet).

The heart of the two-CD album, however, consists of Schubert’s last three quartets taken from concert recordings made in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress at three concerts in May of 1953. By that time Jac Gorodetzky had become second violin, and Boris Kroyt was playing viola. These quartets were written between February of 1824 and June of 1826, meaning that none of them are “final year” compositions. Nevertheless there is no shortage of strikingly mature imagination in any of them. The most recent of the recordings is the one in which Horszowski participates. This is a 1962 studio recording of the D. 667 (“Trout”) quintet in A major, which also includes Julius Levine on bass.

There is no end to the delights offered up by these recordings. One could not ask for the Library of Congress performances to be more vivid. Yet that sense of urgent immediacy is just as present in the studio recordings. Furthermore, it is perfectly clear that Horszowski fit into the setting of playing with the Budapest as well as a hand fits into a well-tailored glove. D. 667 is at its most delightful in the many different combinations of exchanges that take place among all the players; and, on this recording, the attentive listener can savor every one of those exchanges. The vintage of these recordings may reach back into the better part of the last century; but there is no doubting the freshness that will draw that attentive listener into every well-shaped phrase in all five of the Schubert chamber music selections that have been recorded.

Rust was at Her Best in Her Duo with Edelmann

As was announced about a week ago, members of the San Francisco Munich Trio performed in this afternoon’s installment of the Noontime Concerts series (“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break”). Cellist Rebecca Rust performed a suite in G minor for cello and bassoon by Jean-Baptiste Loeillet, joined by bassoonist Friedrich Edelmann. The remainder of the program was then devoted by Edvard Grieg’s Opus 36 cello sonata in A minor, which Rust performed with pianist Laura Magnani.

Loeillet’s suite presented itself as an excellent example of the compatibility of low-register instruments at its best. From a technical point of view, Rust took the “melody” line, while Edelmann’s bassoon work provided the continuo. However, Loeillet’s techniques for blending these two lines gave the impression of an intimate conversation between equals; and both Rust and Edelmann could not have been more attentive to keeping that blend properly balanced. Thus, while each of the four dance movements was relatively brief, there was no denying that each one had its own characteristic approach to establishing musical impact.

Sadly, the attempt to perform the Grieg sonata was far more unfortunate. To be fair, Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the venue for Noontime Concerts, is not consistently amenable to the piano when it is performing with one or more other instruments. Looking back on the many chamber music concerts I have attended there, I would say that the number of duo performances that have floundered on acoustical grounds is about equal to the number that have succeeded.

I would conjecture that success is often due to a familiarity with the idiosyncrasies of both the space and the instrument. Thus, the simplest explanation is that Rust and Magnani never had enough time to work out how Rust could balance with the piano as effectively as she had with the bassoon. To be fair, however, Grieg himself may have been an issue.

After all, his “strong suit” was clearly the piano; and much of the sonata sounded as if he was revisiting thematic material from his first set of his “lyric” pieces (Opus 12) while trying out material for subsequent collections in that series. (The second set was published as Opus 38.) It was hard to resist the impression that the composer had not quite gotten his head around the conventions for sonata form, but it is unclear how much of that was his fault and how much resided with the performers not coming to terms with what Grieg did write.

Finally, there was a problem with “audience relations.” The performance of the entire sonata was punctuated by a trickle of audience exists, which, fortunately, tended to be restricted to the pauses between the movements of the Grieg sonata. Since this concert is a “lunch break,” there seems to be a consensus that things will be done by 1:15 p.m., allowing time for audience members to get back to work. Grieg may have not had very much to say, but he certainly took a lot of time to say it. The concert did not conclude until around 1:30 p.m. To be fair, however, today’s Mass was led by a priest who rarely “goes by the clock;” so things may well have gotten off to a late start. It is hard to plan a program that will satisfy the necessary constraints when the boundaries of those constraints may get moved with out any advance notice.

Choices for October 26, 2017

As we brace ourselves for the next upcoming busy weekend, it is necessary to note it will be preceded by the next busy weekday of choices on October 26. One of the alternatives has already been discussed, which is the return of Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä to the podium of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and the SFS debut of violinist Baiba Skride, who will be performing Jean Sibelius’ Opus 47 violin concerto. The good news, for those worrying about conflicts, is that this performance will be at 2 p.m. in Davies Symphony Hall, while the other alternatives for the day will be in the evening. In addition the SFS program will also be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 27, and Saturday, 28 (thus contributing to that forthcoming busy weekend). So those who have now braced themselves for the many choices arising this coming weekend can also start to prepare for choosing between two evening events the following Thursday, October 26, both of which will begin at 7:30 p.m.:

Herbst Theatre: The second program in the San Francisco Performances (SFP) Vocal Series will feature soprano Dawn Upshaw, accompanied at the piano by Gilbert Kalish. She will perform two relatively recent song cycles, both based on American songs of war, peace, hope, death, night, and the sea and one receiving its Bay Area premiere. The latter is Caroline Shaw’s Narrow Sea, which draws upon sources from colonial America, African-American spirituals, and others. Those who had an opportunity to listen to excepts from Shaw’s earlier collection By and By, performed at last week’s installment of PBO SESSIONS, will have had a taste of how she has approached such material in the past.

However, Narrow Sea was actually written as a response to Upshaw’s other selection, George Crumb’s Winds of Destiny, which is the fourth volume in his six-volume American Songbook series. Crumb scored all of the pieces in this collection for accompaniment by both piano and percussion quartet. Thus, for this performance, Upshaw and Kalish will be join by the four members of So Percussion, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, and Eric Cha-Beach. This group will be making its SFP debut. The program will begin with Bryce Dessner’s 2013 “Music for Wood and Strings,” which was given its world premiere in Carnegie Hall by So Percussion.

The entrance to Herbst is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. Tickets prices are $65 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $55 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $40 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page.

Red Poppy Art House: As fate would have it, a “completely different” approach to American songs will be taking place at exactly the same time in another part of town. The vocalist will be Iranian-American Adrienne Shamszad, who was born in Oakland. Shamszad accompanies herself on guitar and has a solid command of American sources in both folk and soul. She has also traveled extensively throughout Asia, India, and the Middle East; and her approach to traditional Persian songs, particularly those inspired by the mystic poets of Iran, is equally well-grounded. For this performance she will be accompanied by Schuyler Karr on bass and a percussionist, who has not yet been announced.

The Red Poppy is located in the Mission at 2698 Folsom Street. Doors will open at 7 p.m. Because the Poppy is a small space, it is almost always a good idea to be there when the doors open. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Bleeding Edge: 10/16/2017

Given that this is the week of the busiest weekend of the month (at least thus far), it stands to reason that most of the adventurous activities of this week have already been taken into account. That even goes for a generous number of gigs that will take place prior to that weekend, several of which are taking place on weekdays already singled out as being busy. As always, this article will begin with a list of those events already discussed, which will return to its usual format of chronological order:
October 16: Elliott Sharp at the Canessa Gallery
October 17: Sounding Limits at the Center for New Music (C4NM)
October 18: Skeleton Flower at the Red Poppy Art House (also October 19) and Gordon Grdina’s visit to C4NM
October 19: This week’s gig at the Luggage Store Gallery
October 20: The second concert of the month at Adobe Books
The rest of the weekend: San Francisco Contemporary Music Players begins season; the Bottesini Project at C4NM; Dohee Lee and Raphael Radna at the Poppy; the latest SIMM Series gig from Outsound Presents
With so many choices, it is likely that many will be relieved that there are only a few events to add as follows:

Tuesday, October 17, 8 p.m., El Rio: The latest adventurous programming at El Rio will involve a one-of-a-kind night of three sets of roving, ravishing, electric music. Each set will be a duo performance. EFFT consists of Sarah Palmer and Noah Phillips. Grex is the duo of Karl Evangelista and Rei Scampavia. Finally, For Now is the duo of Zeina Nasr and Alex Vittum.

El Rio is a bar, community space, and garden. The address is 3158 Mission Street near the southwest corner of Cesar Chavez Street. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $5 and $10. Doors will open at 7 p.m.

Tuesday, October 17, 8 p.m., The Hotel Utah Saloon: At exactly the same time in another part of town, a similarly adventurous program will be taking place at the Utah. This one will offer five sets performed by, respectively, The Golden Path, Silk Mother, Tainted Pussy, Brand New Heartache, and Wobbly. The Utah is located in SoMa at 500 Fourth Street on the corner of Bryant Street. Only those aged 21 or older will be admitted. Admission will be $10. There is a hyperlink for advance purchase through Ticketfly; but, as of this writing, it is not working.

Thursday, October 19, 6:45 p.m., Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM): The next concert to be given in conjunction with the current The 613 exhibition will be given by students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Selections will include Steve Reich’s “New York Counterpoint” and Philip Glass’ “Music in Similar Motion.” Other selections have not yet been announced.

The CJM is located in SoMa at 736 Mission Street, just north of Yerba Buena Gardens. The performance is expected to last about one hour. General admission will be $10, with a $5 rate for CJM members. Advance tickets will be required for seating. These may be purchased online through an Eventbrite event page.

Clarinetist Tom Rose Brings a New Trio to O1C

Local clarinetist Tom Rose has been giving chamber music recitals in San Francisco for as long as I have been writing about chamber music (and probably longer than that). He usually performs with pianist Miles Graber, and I have heard him give several trio recitals with a number of different cellists. His latest trio is called The Berkeley Trio; and the cellist is Krisanthy Desby, noted on this site as the founder for Strobe, which adds an oboe to the usual string quartet resources. (The group’s name is a mash-up of the nouns “strings” and “oboe.”) Yesterday afternoon The Berkeley Trio gave a recital in the Old First Concerts (O1C) series at Old First Presbyterian Church.

The program spanned from the late eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth, consisting of four compositions played in chronological order. The earliest of these was also one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s early chamber compositions, his Opus 11 trio in B-flat major, composed in 1797. Beethoven was probably thinking in terms of advancing his career, since the use of woodwinds in chamber music was still regarded as a novelty (probably known best thanks to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart); and, as a result, such music tended to draw audiences.

Like Mozart, Beethoven appreciated the wide range of expressiveness the clarinet could achieve through different registers. He also recognized that, through its sonorities, the instrument could be very assertive, a quality that could be put to use in the service of that exercise of wit that Beethoven had picked up from his teacher, Joseph Haydn. Opus 11 is thus a sunny piece, even in its middle Adagio movement; and that quality was clearly evident in yesterday’s performance.

Nevertheless, the modern clarinet has a tendency to assert itself far more strongly than its eighteenth-century ancestors. As was recently observed, the instruments frequency spectrum has “an edge sharp enough to cut through almost anything.” Fortunately, Rose knew how to keep his sonorities under control and blended excellently with Graber’s short-stick playing. On the other hand Desby does not yet seem to have summoned up sufficient moxie to meet these two players on their agreed-upon levels of dynamics. Given that some of Beethoven’s best writing in this trio was for the cello, the result was a disappointing account, even if it was clearly seeking out its own individual approach to Beethoven’s imaginative rhetoric.

Even so, the Beethoven performance emerged as the high point of the afternoon. His trio was followed by a D minor trio that composer Mikhail Glinka called “Trio Pathètique.” This was scored for clarinet, piano, and either bassoon or cello. The trio was composed in 1832 during the time Glinka spent at the Milan Conservatory studying composition. Milan, of course, is the home of La Scala; so it should be no surprise that Glinka was subjected to generous exposure to the operas of Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti. (To set some historical context, 1831 was the year in which Norma was premiered at La Scala.)

It would probably be unfair to call “Trio Pathètique” a “bel canto” trio; but the clarinet line does an impressive job of capturing vocal qualities. On the other hand it is clear that engaging tunes take priority over the sorts of thematic development that the listener had just encountered in music written when Beethoven was still at journeyman level. As a result the trio is in four relatively short movements, each of which does very little more than just state its themes and then move on to the next movement. The result is somewhat like an opera with all the mood and none of the narrative; but, considering the durations of most of those bel canto operas, Glinka’s brevity can definitely be taken as a virtue.

The intermission was followed by Paul Juon’s four-movement Trio Miniatures suite. Each movement is an arrangement of an earlier solo piano composition, three from the Opus 18 set and the last from the Opus 24 set. Juon scored the arrangements for piano trio but allowed for the replacement of the violin with a clarinet and the replacement of the cello with a viola.

If Glinka’s brevity tended to feel short-sighted, Juon’s was right on the money. His sources dated from the early twentieth century; but, because he had been born in Russia (albeit to Swiss parents), there was a uniqueness to his rhetoric that led Sergei Rachmaninoff to describe him as “the Russian Brahms.” Through yesterday’s performance the attentive listener could appreciate the traditions into which Juon had been born and his own efforts to find his own unique voice within those traditions.

More disappointing was the final selection, Robert Muczynski’s Opus 26 “Fantasy” trio. Each of the four movements was given a highly expressive tempo marking, but the music itself came off feeling as if it was doing little more than ambling. Muczynski was clearly trying to do far more than bring bel canto to chamber music, but his results never really rose to the level of his ambitions. However, if the conclusion of the program was disappointing, one could still leave with some satisfying memories of the efforts of at least two of the previous composers.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

SFGC Begins 2017–2018 Season This Month


In ten days time the 2017–2018 season of the San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) will get under way. That season will consist of four programs at different venues in San Francisco, along with a collaboration with Opera Parallèle for the three performances of their season-opening production of Rachel Portman’s two-act opera The Little Prince. Two of the programs have been designed to celebrate the 80th birthday of Philip Glass, which took place this past January 31; and the second of those programs will also be performed in Carnegie Hall. Since currently available information about The Little Prince has already been presented on this site, this article will focus on the content of the four remaining programs.

Wednesday, October 25, 7 p.m., Herbst Theatre: The title of the opening concert of the season will be Philip Glass and the Class of ’37; and guest artists will be members of the Philip Glass Ensemble (PGE), Music Director and keyboardist Michael Riesman and wind player (flutes and saxophones) Andrew Sterman. The program will include selections from three of Glass’ theater pieces, Einstein on the Beach, The Photographer, and Hydrogen Jukebox, as well as the “Vessels” section from his score for the film Koyaanisqatsi. The remainder of the program will be devoted to the “class of ’37,” other composers born in the 37th year of their respective centuries. These will be Dietrich Buxtehude (1637), Michael Haydn (1737), and Mily Balakirev (1837).

Monday, December 18, 7 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: This will be SFGC’s annual contribution to the series of holiday-themed programs organized by the San Francisco Symphony. The program will include Christmas music from Mexico, Germany, and Ireland, seasonal music from India, Haiti, and Russia, Ladino songs, and the usual sing-along of traditional carols. The program will also include Gustav Holst’s setting of the Ave Maria prayer and Eric Banks’ cycle The Syrian Seasons.

Tuesday, February 20, 7:30 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: SFGC will join forces with PGE for a performance of one of Glass’ earliest pioneering compositions, Music with Changing Parts, which will be presented in conjunction with the Hear Now and Then Series being offered this season by San Francisco Performances (SFP).

Sunday, April 22, 4 p.m., Yerba Buena Center for the Arts: The title of the program will be Strings Attached; and the strings will be provided by Colin Jacobsen, who will be playing both violin and ukulele. There will be a world premiere performance of the chamber version of Jacobsen’s “If I Were Not Me.” In addition Artistic Director Lisa Bielawa has programmed the “Opening: Forest” section from her television opera Vireo. Other composers on the program will include Theo Bleckmann, André Caplet, Gabriel Kahane, Carla Kihlstedt, Meredith Monk, and Aleksandra Vrebalov.

City Box Office has created a single event page for the sale of both subscriptions and single tickets. The subscription package covers all of the above dates except for the Music with Changing Parts concert, for which tickets will be handled by SFP. Single tickets range in price from $26 to $60 with a discounted rate of $18 for students. City Box Office computes the price of the subscription on the basis of seats selected for each of the three concerts in their respective venues. Those wishing further information may call 415-392-4400.

C4NM Plays with Music and Food

Last night the Center for New Music (C4NM) presented a program entitled The Voice and The Machine, jointly curated by soprano Amy Foote and composers Aaron Gervais and Dennis Aman. All five of the selections were vocal works composed by Laura Steenberge and Isaac Schankler, as well as Gervais and Aman. The vocalists were Foote, mezzo Melinda Becker, tenor David Katz, and bass Sidney Chen, as well as Helen Newby, who sang in one selection and played cello in two others. Gervais also contributed live electronics and conducted one of his own pieces.

The program’s title referred to how each of the pieces performed explored some aspect of how a lifeworld that has become so heavily dominated by technology encroaches upon primal aspects of humanity, such as personal expression through the voice. The world premiere selection on the program provided the most elaborate account of this dialectical opposition and managed to have an inordinate amount of fun in doing so. Aman’s Jelly Choruses is a collection of four four-part settings of poems by Martin Azevedo sung with an obbligato cello part. However, each vocalist is also required to play two Jellyphones, handmade instruments that Aman himself designed and built.

The Jellyphone may be the ne plus ultra instrument for musicians who like to play with their food. The instrument was inspired by an electronic memory game that required repeating longer and longer patterns by tapping on colored buttons on a single surface. As in the game, the buttons light up. However, each triggers a MIDI signal; and colors are provided by placing individual chunks of Jell-O on each button. The performer creates patterns of sound by slapping the different chunks, meaning that each vocalist is responsible for choreographing the patterns for playing two of these instruments through hands getting increasingly messy.

Azevedo’s texts offer a blithely witty account of the erosion of human qualities in an age of technology. Foote served as the protagonist in this account, while the other three vocalists and all eight of the Jellyphone’s emerged as some kind of primal oracle. As the one performer of a “human” instrument, Newby eventually left her post to wander among the vocalists while nibbling at the Jello-O pieces they had been slapping. Whether the protagonist recovered her humanity by the end of the cycle of choruses is left for the listener/viewer to decide. (I have now reached an age at which I associate Jell-O only with hospital procedures.)

Wit pervaded much of the other four selections on the program. It was probably most evident in Schankler’s “Mouthfeel,” a setting of a marketing pitch for Doritos Locos Tacos for tenor solo with the voice processed by electronics. Schankler’s setting alternated between the words themselves and their phonemic elements, the latter summoning up some of the musical qualities of Kurt Schwitter’s “Ursonate.” Similarly, his approach to repetition and permutation of a few key words recalled the poetry of Gertrude Stein.

If Schankler was actually working from a transcript, then his choice was a fortuitious one. It required him to set the couplet:
people knew this idea
was going to be huge
These days, it is almost impossible to hear the adjective “huge” without thinking of Donald Trump. Thus, what probably began as a study in the absurdity of marketing techniques took on a much sharper edge in the context of our immediate present.

Gervais conducted his four-voice setting of a poem by Guillaume de Machaut, “Longuement me suit tenus” (a long time have I held myself back). Curiously, Machaut had his own interests in permutation, evident in this case in his final stanza. However, here, again, Gervais was more occupied with phonemic elements with particular attention to the distinctive pronunciation of French in the fourteenth century. Through the echoing effects of his electronics, Gervais created a sonorous cloud in which the more distinctive shapes of words would come and go. Nevertheless, his overall score was guided by an understanding of the poem that determined how structure would be defined through moments of climax.

“Louis CK am Spinnrade” was Gervais’ weaker contribution to the program. This amounted to a mashup of a song text that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote for the first part of his Faust drama and a recording of a monologue by Louis C.K. about texting while driving. Individual Goethe lines were pulled out of context to fit the monologue and set as a duo for mezzo and cello. While both Becker and Newby rose to the demands of the score, one came away with the feeling that the piece did not have very much to say beyond the oddity of its juxtaposition of sources.

The most fascinating (and probably most serious) work on the program was the first piece, “Lucretius, my Lucretius.” Steenberge set six excerpts from De rerum natura (on the nature of things). This is probably the most forward-looking of the major ancient Roman texts, since it deals with concepts such as the atomic nature of matter, human consciousness, and even the idea of infinity. Indeed, one of the passages that Steenberge set could have been written by Douglas Adams:
With infinite matter available, infinite space, and infinite lack of interference things certainly ought to happen.
“Lucretius, my Lucretius” is an a cappella setting for three female voices. (This was when Newby performed as vocalist.) Steenberge’s score explores an elaborate rhetoric of coming together and coming apart among these three voices. To some extent her composition constitutes a “musical cosmology” that reflects upon Lucretius’ worldview, rather than simply relating it. The composition was not so much a confrontation with the opposition of machine and humanity as much as it was a setting of one of the earliest documents of the human mind at its most systematic (but far from mechanistic).

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Left Edge Percussion will Visit C4NM

The final program to be presented at the Center for New Music (C4NM) this month will be Drumming at the Edge. The performers will be the members of Left Edge Percussion. This ensemble is led by Artistic Director Terry Longshore and currently has a residency at the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University. The concert will be curated by Jim Santi Owen, who will join the group as a special guest.

The program to be performed is impressive for its historical and stylistic breadth. The past will be represented by both the third of John Cage’s “Construction” compositions and Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood.” Much more recent will be “Green Yellow Green Red.” Scored for vibraphones and scratched records and accompanied by a video collage, this piece was composed by Nick Zammuto, who plays with the genre-defying band The Books. Longshore will perform Mark Applebaum’s “Aphasia,” which involves gestures and pre-recorded sounds. Longshore’s own composition will be “Kangaroopak Sardha,” to be played by a hand drum ensemble, which, on this occasion, will include Owen. Similarly, Eugene Novotney composed “Alone or Together” to be played by any number of drummers. Julia Wolfe’s “Dark Full Ride” will also be performed; and the program will conclude with Erik Griswold’s “Strings Attached” for six snare drummers attached to each other and a 10-foot pole in the center of stage by ropes, creating a kinetic sculpture akin to seeing sine-waves shooting from the performers’ sticks.

courtesy of the Center for New Music

This concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 24. C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, about half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. General admission for this concert will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members. Tickets may be purchased in advance through a Vendini event page.

JACK Quartet and Joshua Roman: Pleasures and Difficulties

Last night this season’s Shenson Chamber Series, presented by San Francisco Performances, got under way in Herbst Theatre with the combined forces of cellist Joshua Roman and the JACK Quartet, whose members are violinists Christopher Otto and Austin Wulliman, violist John Pickford Richards, and cellist Jay Campbell. Over the course of the program, Otto and Wulliman shared responsibility for leadership. The entire program was thoroughly contemporary, albeit with one modernist reflection on the seventeenth century. All but one of the selections took advantage of the availability of two cellos.

Indeed, the high point of the evening probably came with John Zorn’s “Ouroboros,” composed for Campbell and scored for only two cellos. As its Wikipedia entry explains, the ouroboros is “an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail.” It is easy to imagine such a symbol appealing to Zorn for both its historical roots and its uniqueness of structure. For over 30 years Zorn has worked with a diversity of genres, often involving repetitive structures. In addition, he frequently calls attention to his own short attention span, creating works that unfold as a series of fragments.

In “Ouroboros” Zorn draws upon the two cellos to explore echoing repetition; but his preference for fragments is also evident. Most important is his delight in a rhetoric that comes off as cartoon-like fury, intensely energetic but always with comic undertones. When writing for strings, Zorn emphasizes his intensity through nonstandard techniques, such as bowing practically on top of the bridge (or bowing surfaces that are not supposed to be bowed). Last night Campbell partnered with Roman to give a thoroughly engaging account of Zorn’s fast-and-furious score; and it was probably the most memorable event of the evening.

One reason why some of the other compositions did not register as enduringly, however, may have been due to inadequate materials in the program book. The first two compositions were replete with an abundance of extra-musical references. Ari Streisfeld’s notes for his five-part arrangements of three of the madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo made it clear that, while he could not capture the sonorities of five singers, he could still give an account of what they were singing. Anyone wishing to take him at his word, however, would have to had known the madrigal texts from memory, since they were not included as part of the program book. Similarly, Amy Williams’ “Richter Textures,” the only piece for string quartet on the program, consisted of seven short movements, each “inspired by a different painting by German artist Gerhard Richter” (from Williams’ program note). Since the paintings were neither named nor reproduced, it was difficult to establish whether Williams had done justice to her inspiration.

In fairness, however, each of these opening selections on the program was given a reading that both seized and held the attentive listener. Execution involved a judicious combination of traditional technical skills and unique sonorities. Because both pieces were based on building blocks of relatively short duration, none of this music overstayed its welcome. Instead, the attentive listener could enjoy them simply as new approaches to imaginative sonorities for a cello quintet.

More disappointing were the quintets by Jefferson Friedman and Roman himself. Friedman’s program notes described his piece, called simply “Quintet,” as “a deeply personal work,” after which he related it to the grieving process. Sadly, the music was about as clichéd as his lexicon. One could be impressed with the technique displayed by the five players, but beyond those impressions there was little to hold attention.

Roman, on the other hand, tried to take a narrative approach in “Tornado,” which was being given its Bay Area premiere. The narrative is basically a before-during-after account of the attack of a tornado in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, Roman seems to have turned to music such as Aaron Copland’s score for the dance “Appalachian Spring” for his narrative style; and the result never really captured any solid emotional grounding for the narrative.

Thinking of Copland, I was reminded of a couplet (words by Ira Gershwin) from one of his choral pieces:
We’re the younger generation
and the future of the nation.
In the context of the song (written for the film The North Star), those words are being sung by some very obstreperous, if not downright disagreeable, children. Last night left me wondering why the music could not have been more obstreperous. While the execution was consistently satisfying, the pieces being played, for the most part, never really seemed to gel around any strong commitment to music-making.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Even More Choices for the Third Weekend of the Month

Those agonizing over the choices that need to be made for this weekend had better brace themselves for the following weekend! Each of next weekend’s three days will required choosing from a larger number of options. [added 10/16, 4:35 p.m.: Two more options have been added to the list. Fortunately, both of them take place earlier in their respective days.] [added 10/17, 10:40 a.m.: In addition I realized that I should remind readers of my previously reported announcement of the next gig at Adobe Books on Friday, October 20.] Furthermore, that will be a weekend in which six concert series are being launched. Fasten your seat belts:

[added 10/16, 4:35 p.m.:

Friday, October 20, 12:30 p.m., Cadillac Hotel: The next Concerts at the Cadillac will be another classical music offering. The title of the program will be Song and Dance: Music from South America. The selections will be by composers from South America or heavily influences by visits to South American countries. The music will be performed by cellist Jorge Maresch and pianist Lisa Maresch.

Like all Concerts at the Cadillac events, this recital will begin at 12:30 p.m. and will take place on Friday, September 15. The Cadillac Hotel is located at 380 Eddy Street, on the northeast corner of Leavenworth Street. All Concerts at the Cadillac events are presented without charge. The purpose of the series is to provide high-quality music to the residents of the hotel and the Tenderloin District; but all are invited to visit the venue that calls itself “The House of Welcome Since 1907.”]

Friday, October 20, 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: This will be the first concert in the annual Guitar Series that San Francisco Performances (SFP) presents in partnership with the Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. Guitarist Jason Vieaux will give his debut recital for SFP. He will be joined by Julien Labro alternating between bandoneon and accordion. Labro will also be making his SFP debut.

As might be guessed, the entire program will involve arrangements with different levels of creative contributions. The performance of Astor Piazzolla’s “Esucalo” is the result of a collaborative arrangement by both players. Their duo performance of Pat Metheny’s “Antonia” was arranged by Vieaux, while Labro has prepared arrangements of Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” and the four movements of Radamés Gnattali’s Suite Retratos. They will also play a prelude and a scherzo, which Rossen Balkanski scored for guitar and piano; and Labro will play the piano part on bandoneon.

The entrance to Herbst is the main entrance to the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, located on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The venue is excellent for public transportation, since that corner has Muni bus stops for both north-south and east-west travel. Tickets prices are $55 for premium seating in the Orchestra and the front and center of the Dress Circle, $45 for the Side Boxes, the center rear of the Dress Circle, and the remainder of the Orchestra, and $35 for the remainder of the Dress Circle and the Balcony. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page.

Because this is the first concert of a series, subscriptions are still available for $250, $220, and $150. Subscriptions may be purchased online in advance through a City Box Office event page. Orders may also be placed by calling the SFP subscriber hotline at 415-677-0325, which is open for receiving calls between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Friday, October 20, 7:30 p.m., Red Poppy Art House: As is the case tonight, the SFP recital will coincide with a gig at the Poppy, which will also involve a guitarist. Gabriel Pirard plays guitar for the French Oak Gypsy Band. He also adds harmony to the melody lines sung by Stella Heath. This quartet will be filled out by Jimmy Inciardi on saxophone and a bass player not yet announced. The group has a repertoire of songs in French, Spanish, Roma, Catalan, Portuguese, Russian, and English; but their primary focus is French music and the French relationship to American jazz.

The Red Poppy is located in the Mission at 2698 Folsom Street. Doors will open at 7 p.m. Because the Poppy is a small space, it is almost always a good idea to be there when the doors open. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Friday, October 20, 8 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: The California Bach Society will begin its 47th season with a program devoted entirely to (who else?) Johann Sebastian Bach. Artistic Director Paul Flight will lead the 30-voice chorus in performances of the BWV 235 Mass setting in G minor and the BWV 21 cantata Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (I had much grief). Instrumental support will be provided by a Baroque orchestra whose string section will be supplemented by oboe, bassoon, trumpet, and timpani.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church is located at 1111 O'Farrell Street, just west of the corner of Franklin Street. Tickets are $35 with discounts for advance purchase, seniors, students, and those under the age of thirty. Tickets may be purchased online through a Web page on the California Bach Society Web site.

Because this will be the first of the four concerts of the 2017–2018 season, subscriptions are still on sale. All concerts will take place on Fridays at 8 p.m. in St. Mark’s. The dates and titles for the remaining concerts are as follows:
  • December 1: Christmas in Poland and the Baltic Countries
  • March 2: German Romantics
  • April 20: Handel in Rome
Summaries for the music to be performed at each of these concerts can be found of the season summary, currently on the group’s home page. Tickets for the entire season will be $95 with a $75 rate for seniors and $35 for students and patrons under the age of 30. Subscriptions may be ordered from the same Web page that supports single ticket orders. Those wishing further information may call 650-485-1097.

Friday, October 20, 8 p.m., Star of the Sea Church: Another genre of choral music will be available at the same time in another part of town. This month the Slavyanka Russian Chorus is giving its second Festival of Russian Choral Music led by Artistic Director Irina Shachneva. This will be the first of two performances in San Francisco, and Slavyanka will be joined by three other choral resources from the Bay Area:
  1. Burlingame: Church of All Russian Saints Choir, Music Director Andrei Roudenko
  2. San Francisco: Holy Virgin Cathedral Pontifical Choir, Music Director Vladimir Krassovsky
  3. Santa Cruz: The Choir of St. Lawrence Orthodox Christian Church, Music Directors Anne Schoepp and Alice Hughes
The program itself will be a broad survey of Russian sacred music from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Star of the Sea Church is located in the Richmond district at 4420 Geary Boulevard. General admission is priced at $20 with discounted $15 tickets available for students with valid identification. Children under the age of twelve will be admitted at no charge. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a Brown Paper Tickets event page.

The title of the second performance in San Francisco will be Russia’s Bach. That title refers to Sergei Taneyev, whose music will account for most of the program. Slavyanka will be joined by the Russian Festival Chorus & Orchestra led by Irina Shachneva and guest conductor Eric Kujawski. Vocal soloists will be soprano Elena Stepanova-Gurevich and countertenor Andrej Nemzer. Donna Stoering will provide piano accompaniment.

This concert will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, October 22. The venue will be the Mission Dolores Basilica at 3321 16th Street, on the southwest corner of Dolores Street. Ticket prices will be the same, and a separate Brown Paper Tickets event page has been created for advance purchase.

Friday, October 20, 8 p.m., Community Music Center (CMC): In a completely different vein, CMC will host the next installment of Jazz in the Neighborhood. The program has been arranged jointly by bassist Marcus Shelby, who is Director of the CMC Teen Jazz Orchestra, and saxophonist Charlie Gurke, who is Director of the CMC Jazz Ensemble. They will be joined by Max Miller-Loren (a member of the CMC Jazz Improvisation faculty) on trumpet and Adam Shulman on piano.

This performance will be held in the CMC Concert Hall. CMC is located in the Mission at 544 Capp Street, between Mission Street and South Van Ness Avenue and between 20th Street and 21st Street. Tickets will be sold at the door at prices of $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. Those wishing further information may call 415-826-2765.

Saturday, October 21, 7 p.m., Center for New Music (C4NM): C4NM will host a visit from the Bottesini Project, a free improvisation ensemble based in Denver. The group was founded by saxophonist Glen Whitehead. The rest of his lineup will consist of Glen Whitehead on trumpet and a rhythm section of Scott Walton on bass, Mark Clifford on vibraphone, and Scott Amendola on drums.

C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, about half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. General admission for this concert will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members. Tickets may be purchased in advance through a Vendini event page.

Saturday, October 21, 7:30 p.m., Taube Atrium Theater: San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) will kick off its 47th season with two premiere performances. Nicole Mitchell’s “Procession Time” will be given its world premiere by Tod Brody on alto flute, Jeff Anderle on bass clarinet, Stephen Harrison on cello, and Kate Campbell on piano. This will be preceded by the West Coast premiere of “Postlude à l’Épais” by Philippe Leroux. Performers will include Brody (this time on flute), Harrison, and Campbell, as well as Peter Josheff on clarinet and Hrabba Atladottir on violin. The final work on the program will be “Schnee,” scored for a moderately large chamber ensemble by Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen.

As usual, background information will be provided by a series of free events earlier in the day. There will be an open dress rehearsal of “Procession Time” at 4 p.m. This will be followed by the next installment in How Music is Made, facilitated by Artistic Director Steven Schick. Schick will engage in conversation with Mitchell for about 50 minutes. Finally, ticket holders will be able to attend a pre-concert discussion between Schick and the SFCMP performers, which will begin at 6:30 p.m.

The Taube Atrium Theater is part of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, which is located on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building at the southwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. General admission will be $35, with a $15 rate for students. In addition, SFCMP members will be able to purchase additional tickets at the discounted rate of $28. Tickets may be purchased in advance online from an Eventbrite event page.

This will be the first of the five 2017–18 season concerts that will be led by Schick. Four of those concerts will be presented as a group beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 23, and concluding at 11 p.m. on Saturday, March 24. All events will take place in Z Space, located in NEMIZ (NorthEast Mission Industrial Zone) at 450 Florida Street. The remaining concert will be the next installment of the in the LABORATORY series. It will run from 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m in the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, located at 50 Oak Street, near the Van Ness Muni station.

Subscriptions for the entire season are still on sale for $170 for general admission and $85 for students. Subscription may be purchased online through a separate Eventbrite event page. SFCMP has created a Web page describe the full scope of subscriber benefits.

Saturday, October 21, 7:30 p.m., Red Poppy Art House: Korean percussionist and vocalist Dohee Lee will give a duo performance with multi-instrumentalist Raphael Radna. They will present a seamless integration of sound, dance, singing, and percussion work, which integrates the influences of both Korean roots and postmodern performance styles. As on Friday, doors will open at 7 p.m.; and it is again a good idea to be there when the doors open. Admission will again be on a sliding scale between $15 and $20, and tickets will be sold only at the door.

Saturday October 21, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, October 22, 2 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM): This will be the performance by the Conservatory Orchestra, whose details were provided in the summary of October activities at SFCM.

[added 10/16, 4:40 p.m.:

Sunday, October 22, 10 a.m., Episcopal Church of the Incarnation: This will mark the beginning of San Francisco Renaissance Voices serving as Artists-in-Residence. They will provide the music for a service celebrating the visit of the Bishop of California, The Right Reverend Marc Handley Andrus. The musical offering will include works composed by Hildegard of Bingen, William Byrd, and Claudio Monteverdi, as well as other selections appropriate for the service itself.

The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation is located at 1750 29th Avenue, about halfway between Moraga Street and Noriega Street. This will be the Sunday morning service. Admission will not be charged. However, contributing the the collection will be appreciated as a sign of respect.]

Sunday, October 22, 2 p.m., Red Poppy Art House: This will be the October installment of the free Monthly Community Rumba, described on this site about a month ago.

Sunday, October 22, 3 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall: This will be the first solo organ recital of the season hosted by the San Francisco Symphony. The organist will be Nathan Laube, and he has prepared a program of diverse selections. Bach will be represented with the familiar BWV 582 passacaglia in C minor. Other selections will include a pastorale by Jean Roger-Ducasse, a suite by Maurice Duruflé, and the “Eroïca” sonata by Joseph Jongen. In addition, Laube will play his own transcription of one of Felix Mendelssohn’s most ambitious works for solo piano, his Opus 54 “Variations sérieuses.”

Tickets for this concert will be $28 for the Front Orchestra and Upper Orchestra and the Rear Box and the $38 for the rest of the Orchestra, the Side Boxes, and the Loge. All other sections will be closed. Tickets may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Box Office in Davies Symphony Hall, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. It will also open two hours before the performance begins.

Sunday, October 22, 4 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church: The San Francisco Early Music Society will begin its 2017–18 concert season with a recital by The Aulos Ensemble. Members are Christopher Krueger (flauto traverso and recorder), Marc Schachman (baroque oboe), Linda Quan (baroque violin), Myron Lutzke (baroque cello), and Arthur Haas (harpsichord). The title of their program will be Handel and His World. George Frideric Handel will be the featured composer; and his “world” will consist of selections by Henry Purcell and Georg Philipp Telemann.

Ticket prices range from $50 down to $15. Tickets may be ordered by calling 510-528-1725. They may also be ordered online through an event page that allows selection from a seating chart. Discounts of up to 25% are applicable for memberships and subscriptions for three or more concerts.

San Francisco dates (all on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., except for the final concert on Friday at 8 p.m), ensembles, and program titles for the remainder of the season are as follows:
  • November 19, Ciaramella: 1517—German Music Before and After the Reformation
  • January 7, Vajra Voices with Shira Kammen and Kit Higginson: Annus Novus: One Yeare Begins—Medieval Poetry, Music & Magic to Ring in the New Year
  • February 4, Agave Baroque: Peace in our Time—Music of the Thirty Years War
  • March 4, Les Délices: Age of Indulgence
  • April 8, Wildcat Viols: The Magnifick Consort of Four Parts—Fantasies, Suites and Sonatas for viol quartet
  • May 4, Hana Blažíková and Bruce Dickey: Breathtaking—A Cornetto and a Voice Entwined
All concerts will take place at St. Mark's except for those in February and March. Those will be held at the Church of the Advent of Christ the King at 261 Fell Street. A Web page has been created that summarizes all subscription options and enables online purchase. The full subscription consists of the first six events of the season, and Breathtaking can be added at a reduced rate as a special event.

Sunday, October 22, 4 p.m., Noe Valley Ministry: At exactly the same time, Noe Valley Chamber Music will launch its 25th anniversary (silver) season. The season will begin with a duo recital that brings cellist Angela Lee together with guitarist Marc Teicholz. The major work on the program will be Franz Schubert’s D. 821 “Arpeggione” sonata in A minor. The arpeggione was basically a bowed guitar, and that part will be played by Lee. Göran Söllscher transcribed the piano accompaniment for guitar, and that will probably account for Teicholz’ accompaniment. They will also play an arrangement of the first movement from the fifth of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras compositions. Other composers on the program will include Gnattali, Christoph Schaffarath, and Antônio Carlos Jobim.

The Noe Valley Ministry is located in Noe Valley at 1021 Sanchez Street. Tickets are $30 at the door with a $25 rate for seniors and a $15 rate for students aged thirteen or older. (Those over the age of eighteen will be required to show valid identification as confirmation of full-time status.) Children younger than thirteen will be admitted for free. If purchased in advance through a Brown Paper Tickets event page, general admission will be discounted to $25. Tickets may also be purchased in advance by calling NVCM at 415-648-5236.

All of the season concerts will take place on Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. Dates and performers are as follows:
  • November 19: Lazuli String Quartet
  • January 21: The Joshua Trio
  • February 15: Brian Thorsett & Friends
  • March 18: Chamber Music Society of San Francisco
  • May 20: Telegraph String Quartet
In addition, the annual benefit concert, featuring the return of Jake Heggie performing with his close friends, will begin at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 22. Another Brown Paper Tickets event page has been created to handle all subscription options. Tickets for the benefit will be $100, and further information will be forthcoming.

Sunday, October 22, 7:30 p.m., Musicians Union Hall: The next concert to be offered by Outsound Presents in the Static Illusion Methodical Madness (SIMM) Series will consist of two sets of inventive composition work. The first set will present Joseph’s Bones, a large instrumental ensemble that specializes in “avant dub.” They will be followed by the Trouble Ensemble, consisting of vocalist Ernest Larkins performing with Mia Bella D’Augelli on violin, Rent Romus and Joshua Marshall on saxophones, Jakob Pek on guitar, Andrew Jamieson on piano, and Tim DeCillis on drums. The Musicians Union Hall, which is located at 116 9th Street, near the corner of Mission Street. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $10 and $15.

Ondine’s Release of Elliott Carter’s “Late” Works

For many (most?) listeners, American composer Elliott Carter is probably better known for his longevity than for his music. Born on December 11, 1908, he died on November 5, 2012, a little over a month before his 104th birthday. Age seemed to have had no effect on his productivity, and over twenty of his compositions were completed after his 100th birthday.

The other attribute that is almost always associated with Carter is complexity. He is often associated with efforts towards using the modulation of rhythmic patterns as a structural marker similar to harmonic modulation in tonal music. Carter’s efforts basically involved polyrhythms that would enable a gradual shift in tempo. This device is not particularly easy for the ear to follow and may be even more difficult should one turn to the published score for guidance.

Nevertheless, he has had several champions among conductors, many of whom have been capable of bringing clarity to concert performances without drowning attentive listeners in technical details. This is probably because, while Carter could develop both logic and syntax to a painstaking level of detail, he never downplayed the extent to which rhetoric would seize and hold the attention of the listener, regardless of how well the listener was aware of those details.

courtesy of Naxos of America

This past August Ondine released an album of Carter’s music entitled simply Late Works, whose cover is shown above. The selections include the premiere recording of “Epigrams,” the composer’s final piece. Scored for piano trio, the work consists of twelve movements, each with a brevity that would resonate well with those listeners who enjoy the music of Anton Webern. The trio performers for this recording are pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, violinist Isabelle Faust, and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras. Like the best Webern interpreters, they are probably well guided by an understanding of the underlying structural details; but their interpretation is all about an intense rhetoric that urges the attentive listener from one gestural piece to the next.

Four other compositions also received premiere recordings on this album. The oldest of these is “Soundings,” completed in 2005 for a commission from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In chronological order the next is “Interventions,” completed in 2007 and scored for piano and orchestra. “Dialogues II” was completed in 2010. Written for piano and chamber orchestra, it was composed to honor Daniel Barenboim’s 70th birthday. Finally, Two Controversies and a Conversation achieved its final form in 2011 in response to suggestions from conductor Oliver Knussen. It is scored for piano, percussion, and chamber orchestra. The remaining selections on the album are the 2003 “Dialogues,” also for piano and chamber orchestra, and “Instances,” completed in 2012 for chamber orchestra.

Knussen is the conductor for all of these works except for the “Epigrams” trio. He leads the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the selections for full orchestra, and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group is his chamber orchestra. Like the members of the trio, he has a clear understanding of the extent to which rhetoric is the key driver behind any act of serious listening; but he always knows how to shape his rhetoric around his own attentiveness to Carter’s wealth of technical details.

It is therefore to Knussen’s credit that any newcomer to Carter’s music may first be attracted by the almost uncanny diversity of sonorities. So much attention has been paid to the logic behind Carter’s approach to the notation of pitch and rhythm that his approach to instrumentation is often all but entirely overlooked. The fact is that, when Carter engages titles like “Dialogues,” “Interventions,” or “Controversies,” he has very specific ideas about human interaction in mind; and, more often than not, those ideas are realized through the ways in which his instruments assert their individuality and those individualities then confront one another. Far from abstract, this is highly dramatic music, even if the nature of the narrative being dramatized is not always crystal clear.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Violin Sonatas of “Bach-the-Son”

Towards the end of last July, Resonus Classics released a two-CD album containing the complete works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach scored for keyboard and violin. The performances are by the Amsterdam-based Duo Belder Kimura, whose members are keyboardist Pieter-Jan Belder and violinist Rie Kimura.

Rie Kimura and Piere-Jan Beld on the cover of their recent duo album (from Amazon.com)

Both are playing historical instruments, and Belder alternates between harpsichord and fortepiano. Belder’s name is likely to be familiar to those who have been following this site, since I have been tracking his project to record all 297 compositions collected in The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book for Brilliant Classics, whose first release appeared in March of 2012 and is still going strong.

In this context this “Bach-the-son” project is far more modest. The two CDs account for only ten compositions, whose entries in Albert Wotquenne’s catalog are numbered from 71 to 80. (For those interested in how Wotquenne organized his catalog, these mark the beginning of the chamber music section, following the keyboard music section.) The first eight entries are sonatas, all of which have three movements, except for the first, which has four. The last two entries are a set of variations on an “Arioso” and a fantasia in F-sharp minor.

Those who have followed my writing for some time probably know that my enjoyment of Bach’s music borders on the rabid. When his 300th birthday on March 8, 2014 was being celebrated, there was a delightful abundance of both performances and recordings; and I was as happy as a pig in you-know-what. Sadly, once the festivities were forgotten, so were the delights of his music. In many respects we are now most aware of Bach’s significance because of his impact of Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Indeed, when listening to this chamber music, one encounters one of Bach’s favorite rhetorical devices. This usually takes place in a rapid-tempo movement; and it involves breaking an almost rampant flow of energy with a sustained interval of total silence. After that interruption, the energy continues merrily on its way as if nothing had happened. It is hard to imagine that Haydn was not influenced by this particular rhetorical turn, since he not only engaged it but thought up other devices in a similar vein.

From this point of view, what is important is that neither of the Duo Belder Kimura players tries to overwork Bach’s capacity for provocative rhetoric. Instead, they give it just the right account it deserves, rather than trying to force the effect on the listener. The result is that the listener is easily lulled into a sense of familiarity and is all the more aware when that sense is jolted.

During the birthday festivities, most of my time (and writing) were directed towards solo keyboard music, concertos, and Bach’s pioneering efforts towards the symphonic form that would occupy so much of the creative efforts of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Thus, unless I am mistaken, this has been my first serious encounter with Bach’s chamber music; and it did not take much to get me back into happy-pig mode!

Choices for October 18, 2017

It should be clear to those who follow this site regularly that October has emerged as an extremely busy month, not only on the weekends but also on specific weekdays. It has already been observed that the events on this coming Tuesday will not overlap, but conditions will not be so fortuitous the following evening. Furthermore, that date will mark the beginning of one of the San Francisco Performances (SFP) concert series; so many readers will probably be thinking about long-term plans as well as more immediate ones. The specifics for that Wednesday, October 17 are as follows:

6:30 P.M., Hotel Rex: SFP will lead the way with the launch of its annual Salon series of one-hour recitals on Wednesday evenings in the casual and intimate setting of the Hotel Rex. These are structured in such a way that the performance of the music is followed by a Q&A session with the audience. This season the series will begin with the return of jazz pianist Adam Shulman. Shulman will be familiar to those who have attended this series regularly, since he has provided rhythm for several previous Salon performances by jazz artists. This time he will lead a trio, whose other members will be Lyle Link on alto saxophone and John Wiitala on bass. Specific programming has not yet been announced and will probably be announced from the stage, but it is expected that Shulman will draw upon the Great American Songbook for his selections. Remaining concerts between now and the end of January are as follows:
  • November 1: Every season SFP presents one of the Adler Fellows of the San Francisco Opera (SFO) for one of the Salon offerings. This season that featured vocalist will be soprano Toni Marie Palmertree. Palmertree sang the role of Liù in the six SFO performances of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot last month. Her recital accompanist will be pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg. The title of their program will be Dramatic Tales, and it will feature narrative songs by Kurt Weill, William Bolcom, Jake Heggie, and others.
  • November 15: Last year’s Salon series was launched by cellist Jennifer Kloetzel, who has been pursuing a solo career since the Cypress String Quartet disbanded. Last year she was accompanied by pianist Robert Koenig, but this year she will give a solo recital entitled Bach & Beyond. She will begin by drawing upon the the solo cello suites of Johann Sebastian Bach and work her way up to the immediate present.
  • January 31: Like Shulman and Kloetzel, the Alexander String Quartet will be returning to the Hotel Rex. They will use the Salon series to introduce the Meraki String Quartet. The four Alexander musicians have been mentoring the members of this new ensemble, all of whom are students at the Crowden School in Berkeley. Program specifics have not yet been announced.
Each concert takes place from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The Hotel Rex is located at 562 Sutter Street, between Powell Street and Mason Street. Tickets are $25 for each of the concerts; and subscriptions for all four performances are being sold for $80. City Box Office has created an event page for processing a full subscription. There is also an event page for next week’s opening concert, and hyperlinks to event pages for the remaining events are given above on the dates for which tickets may be purchased in advance online. Any additional information may be obtained by calling San Francisco Performances at 415-392-2545.

7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre: The Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts will launch the 37th season of its Dynamite Guitars concert series with a return visit by Brazilian guitar virtuoso Yamandu Costa. Costa is best known for playing an instrument with seven nylon strings. He uses the additional string to extend his instrument’s lower register, which is particularly valuable in his approach to Brazilian choro compositions. He is also interested in the “gaucho” style of the indigenous music from both southern Brazil and northern Argentina.

The entrance to Herbst Theatre is on the ground floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Tickets are being sold for $35, $45, and $55. They may be purchased in advance online from a City Box Office event page. Because this is the beginning of the 2017–2018 season, subscription packages are still available by calling 415-242-4500. The price of the full series of ten concerts provides a 20% discount over the purchase of ten individual tickets. There is also the Create-Your-Own option. The subscriber can create his/her own package of four or more concerts and receive a 14% discount.

8 p.m., Center for New Music (C4NM): Costa’s recital will be the first of three plucked string concerts taking place at the same time. The second will be a visit to C4NM by Gordon Grdina, who plays both guitar and oud. His program will be in two sets. In the first set he will use both instruments to explore the connection between the melodic modal style of Arabic maqam and free improvisation. In the second set he will explore a different approach to improvisation in a duo performance with drummer Kjell Nordeson.

C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, about half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. General admission for this concert will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members. Tickets may be purchased in advance through a Vendini event page.

8 p.m., Red Poppy Art House: The final plucked string option will also be the most unconventional. The Degenerate Art Ensemble, which brings Joshua Kohl on both guitar and electronics together with vocalist Haruko Crow Nishimura, who also dances, will visit the Poppy for two successive nights. They will present Skeleton Flower, a full-evening immersive performance that combines rich imagery, live music and song, visceral solo dance, and storytelling ritual. The second performance will take place the following evening, beginning again at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 19.

The Red Poppy is located in the Mission at 2698 Folsom Street. Doors will open at 7:30 p.m. Because the Red Poppy is a small space, it is almost always a good idea to be there when the doors open. Admission will be on a sliding scale between $20 and $25. However, there will also be limited pre-sales handled through a Brown Paper Tickets event page. The advance purchase price is $20; and the event page has a pull-down menu for selecting the date for which the tickets will apply.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Summer Night in Vienna with Eschenbach and Fleming

This past May the annual Summer Night Concert presented by the Vienna Philharmonic was held fir the first time directly in front of Vienna’s imperial Schönbrunn Palace. Christoph Eschenbach conducted, and the featured soloist was soprano Renée Fleming. Fleming’s selections included opera arias by Antonín Dvořák and art songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff. With the exception of the “Song to the Moon” from Dvořák’s Opus 114 opera Rusalka, there were unfamiliar selections. However, Eschenbach saw to the audience’s comfort zone with excerpts from the scores for two ballets, The Sleeping Beauty (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky) and “The Firebird” (Igor Stravinsky). The prelude to Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel was complemented by Dvořák’s concert overture “Carnival;” and the “Dance of the Comedians” from Bedřich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride was thrown in as an encore; and popular tastes were satisfied with “Hedwig’s Theme” from the music that John Williams composed for the Harry Potter films.

To be fair, this was a festive evening, rather than a musical one. However, by the end of this past June, Sony Classics was ready to release it in CD form. The concert was also captured on video and broadcast on PBS last August 18. Nevertheless, even if the music itself was not the highest priority, many will feel that the encounters with less-performed selections by Dvořák and Rachmaninoff will be “worth the price of admission.” I am inclined to agree, although the Williams selection was so far removed from the context of the rest of the program that it bordered on cringe-inducing!

Choices for October 17, 2017

Tuesday of next week will be the next date on which multiple concerts of interest will occur. The good news is that they will not coincide. One will take place around noon, while the other will be given in the evening. Here are the specifics for Tuesday, October 17:

12:30 p.m., Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Prior to the full recital they have prepared for the Chamber/Ensemble Series presented by Sunset Music | Arts, two of the members of the San Francisco Munich Trio, bassoonist Friedrich Edelmann and cellist Rebecca Rust, will present a one-hour program for the Noontime Concerts series (“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break”). The duo will play Jean-Baptiste Loeillet’s G minor suite for cello and bassoon. Rust will then play Edvard Grieg’s Opus 36 sonata in A minor with Laura Magnani at the piano. Old St. Mary’s is located at 660 California Street, on the northeast corner of Grant Street. There is no charge for admission, but this concert series relies heavily on donations to continue offering its weekly programs.

7:30 p.m., Center for New Music (C4NM): The duo of violinist Silvia Tarozzi and cellist Deborah Walker will give a performance of Sounding Limits, a series of microtonal compositions by Pascale Criton. For these pieces Criton has divided the semitone into four equally spaced micro-intervals, meaning that the sixteenth-tone is now the finest resolution. Sounding Limits is the result of a close collaboration between the composer and these two string players, and this recital will constitute its first performance in the United States.

C4NM is located at 55 Taylor Street, about half a block north of the Golden Gate Theater, where Golden Gate Avenue meets Market Street. General admission for this concert will be $15 with a $10 rate for C4NM members. Tickets may be purchased in advance through a Vendini event page.

PBO SESSIONS Examines Female Composers

Last night in Nourse Theater the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) & Chorale presented the latest installment of PBO SESSIONS, produced jointly with Classical KDFC. The title of the offering was Female Composers & the Women Who Bring Their Music to Life, serving as a follow-up to the United States premiere of Sally Beamish’s full-length oratorio The Judas Passion, performed this past Friday evening. Beamish was one of two composers on hand to address the evening’s topic, and she was joined by composer Caroline Shaw. The discussion was moderated by KQED journalist Rachael Myrow and hosted by KDFC’s Dianne Nicolini.

PBO Waverley Fund Music Director Nicholas McGegan prepared a program that included music by both of these composers. However, he chose to begin that program by reaching back to the seventeenth century for one of the earliest instances of a trio sonata. The composer was Isabella Leonarda; and McGegan’s claim that her efforts were as worthy as those of her contemporaries (and my editorializing that some of those contemporaries’ successors could be added to that group) was delightfully substantiated. Leonarda clearly had a keen sense of the possibilities for interplay among two violins (Lisa Weiss and Noah Strick) and a cello (William Skeen); and lutenist Adam Cockerham and organist Hanneke van Proosdij provided the solid support of continuo playing.

However, the focal points of the evening were Beamish and Shaw; and, for the most part, the music spoke far more convincingly than any of the words that were dispensed. Where the latter was concerned, it seemed as if neither Myrow nor Nicolini were particularly prepared. There was even an embarrassing exchange about radio work between these two women while the two composers sat between them in perplexed silence. Fortunately, the music offered more than enough insight regarding the composers’ creative efforts.

All of the performances were vocal, and both composers had been represented in previous PBO offerings. Shaw coupled settings of texts by two poets, Robert Burns (“Red, Red Rose”) and Jacob Polley (“The Rose i”), both sung by contralto Avery Amereau. PBO had given the world premiere of “Red, Red Rose” in May of 2016 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles; and “The Rose i” was sung by Dominique Labelle at this year’s Winter Gala. Both musical settings appeared to involve indeterminacy; and “The Rose i” involved fragmentation of George Frideric Handel’s aria “Lascia ch'io pianga,” whose thematic material was used in several of the composers’ operas. Amereau’s diction went a long way towards establishing the significant relationships between text and music in both of these settings.

Shaw then sang two gospel songs from her own By and By collection, accompanied by a string quartet of Weiss, Strick, Skeen, and violist Ellie Nishi. The accompaniment offered a rich variety of performing techniques for the string players, and it was not hard to enjoy the positive energy they exuded. Shaw’s delivery as a vocalist, alas, lacked Amereau’s qualities of diction. Indeed, she seemed more interested in the visual affectations one finds on the television voice competitions than in the clarity of the text she had chosen to set.

Beamish’s work was quite another matter. In writing for historical instruments, Shaw’s scores always seemed to be grounded in a solid understanding of intonation techniques, which meant that she knew how to make basic tonality go a long way. The Beamish selections from The Judas Passion, on the other hand, were rife with minor seconds. Furthermore, her dissonances were clearly there for a very contemporary take on dramatic tension, rather than as functions of transition or ambiguity that one would have encountered in the pre-Classical periods. Thus, while the vocal lines were delivered with intense clarity by soprano Mary Bevan, tenor Brenden Gunnell, and baritone Roderick Williams, there always seemed to be an environment of somewhat confused uncertainty on the instrumental side. Far more effective was Beamish’s Christmas carol “In the Stillness,” which brought together all four vocalists delivering impeccably clear a cappella singing that reflected as much on Claudio Monteverdi as it did on contemporary rhetoric.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Profil Compiles Schubert Performances by Sviatoslav Richter

 courtesy of Naxos of America

This past July the Profil label from Edition Günter Hänssler released a ten-CD album entitled Sviatoslav Richter Plays Schubert – Live in Moscow. For those interested in building up a comprehensive library of Richter recordings, that has to be a tempting title. The problem is that the compilation of useful metadata for Richter recordings is not always of the highest order, even when major record labels are involved. When we have collections compiled by third-party sources, we can easily establish what Richter was playing; but both where and when can be open to question, especially when different sources answer the question in different ways.

For this particular case, I came to these recordings through a download site that did not include the booklet that was supposed to accompany the CDs; and efforts to locate that booklet through Google were pretty much in vain. Nevertheless, Discogs provided a Web page that accounted for most of the information I required; and the rest I was able to obtain through Naxos of America, which is distributing this collection in the United States. Most importantly, Discogs managed to compile an itemization of which tracks were recorded when and where; and, since their Web page also notes the presence of a booklet in both German and English, I am willing to hypothesize that their track information came from that booklet.

On the basis of that information, I can then assert that “Live in Moscow” is wrong on both counts. Yes, it is true that Richter felt very negative about studio work, meaning that, given a recording with no background information, it would be reasonable to hypothesize that it was made at a concert performance. Nevertheless, thanks to the list on the Discogs page, I feel justified in claiming that eighteen of the tracks were recorded in a studio; and, to put a cherry on top of it, that studio was in Paris. The recordings there were made in both October of 1961 and the first half of 1963.

Furthermore, the recording on the last CD of the D. 813 set of variations in A-flat major for four hands on one keyboard was made at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1963. More specifically, it was recorded in the Aldeburgh Parish Church on June 20, 1964; and the other two hands were those of Benjamin Britten. This claim can be validated, because the same recording can be found on CD 14 of Decca’s “complete” collection, Britten The Performer. In fact the entire Decca CD is devoted to Richter and Britten playing D. 813 and two other Schubert four-hand compositions, the D. 940 fantasia in F minor and the D. 812 “Grand Duo” sonata in C major!

Having gotten all of that off of my chest, I can now set aside the Diogenes lamp I used in search of an honest account of the contents of the Profil collection. Far more important is the content itself. Some of Franz Schubert’s most adventurous work can be found in his compositions for solo piano, not only during the astonishing final year of his life but also in the preceding years. The recordings in this collection were made between December of 1949 and that 1964 visit to Aldeburgh; and, across all ten of these CDs, the attentive listener can relish the consistency of Richter’s clarity of execution. Thus, whether the music is the D. 145 collection of twelve waltzes or that monumental final piano sonata. D. 960 in B-flat major, represented by concert performances in both Moscow and Kiev, it is clear that the music itself and how it may be most effectively expressed are foremost in Richter’s mind.

However, beyond such “adulation by generalization,” I feel it worth pointing out a few factors that make this particular collection unique. Most interesting are the two different recordings of the first of the three D. 946 piano pieces (the impromptus that are not called impromptus). As it appears in the 1888 Breitkopf & Härtel collection of Schubert’s music (the one reproduced by Dover Publications), this is a ternary-form composition, whose outer section moves from E-flat minor to E-flat major and whose inner section is in B major. However, the first publication of this piece was in 1868. It was edited anonymously by Johannes Brahms, and it includes a second inner section in A-flat major. (In other words, the overall structure is ABACA.) Otto Erich Deutsch’s catalog provides the incipits for both of these inner sections; but the second is almost never performed. In this Richter collection, however, the listener has the opportunity to consider both versions and make up his/her own mind where preference is concerned!

The collection also includes seven of Schubert’s songs with mezzo Nina Dorliak as vocalist. Richter first accompanied one of Dorliak’s recitals in 1945, and they became close companions for the rest of his life, although they never married. These tracks provide a window on Richter’s talents as a pianist that are not easily encountered elsewhere. Once one adjusts to listening to Dorliak sing in Russian, they can be appreciated as gems in this overall collection.

Finally, just to be clear, this is in no way a “complete” or “comprehensive” collection. Both the D. 894 sonata in G major and the D. 959 sonata in A major are missing. Nevertheless, this is a compilation that deserves to be enjoyed for what it includes, rather than condemned for what it lacks.