Elektra

Elektra

Sunday, December 31, 2006

What a year it was.

For me personally, that is. Stressful, but good.

So many changes:
Amidst all of this, I am grateful for so many things: my wonderful partner Donna, our home (except for the expensive month of bathroom renovations....); for Janet, Matt, and Alice, for Debbie, Eric, Max, and Tiana; for everybody else at Server Team Tea Time; for many friends on the Well who helped keep me sane; for my many blog buddies.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Technical assistance, anyone?

I was starting to get comment spam, so I disabled Haloscan comments, which turned out to completely disable commenting. I restored Blogger commenting with help from a friend who took a look at the code for a blog where commenting was still enabled.

The question now is whether I can somehow import existing Haloscan comments into Blogger, or whether I need to re-enable Haloscan commenting (oy). Any ideas?

Thanks in advance....

Update: Haloscan comments cannot be imported into Blogger, nor can any other externally-stored comments.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tomassini on The First Emperor

A few paragraphs into his review of Tan Dun's The First Emperor, Anthony Tomassini of the Times says this:
My guess is that a large number of the ticket-holders are opera neophytes attracted by the novelty of this project and hoping for a grand theatrical experience.
I missed that on my first pass through the review; a friend called it to my attention. I think it's one of the stupider things I've read recently, especially coming from the chief music critic of the Times.

To start with, why on earth is he guessing? He has enough pull to phone the Times and ask who is buying the tickets to The First Emperor. (For that matter, I could call the Met press office and they'd tell me.) That kind of information would be both interesting and useful to anyone interested in the future of opera and classical music in general.

Second, I think it's a dumb guess. Maybe he's spending too much time with the famously conservative Met audience, but in my experience, it's the people who've been around for a while and are sick of endless iterations of Boheme, Aida, and Don Giovanni who want something, anything, new. I really don't think St. Francois and Doctor Atomic were sold out primarily to neophytes.

Third, if a significant percentage of sales are to opera newbies - or to people who love or care about new music in general - that's great! An expanding audience is a good thing!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

About Marston

I don't recall whether I have ever discussed Marston Records here. It's Ward Marston's own record label.

Ward is a legendary guy in the world of old recordings - he is a genius at transferring old recordings (pre-1950, generally) to CD. Actually, Ward's first transfers may have been from 78 to LP, but whatever. He does a lot of work for Naxos and VAI; he was responsible for many of the best sets on the now-defunct Romophone label. He is also a genius at FINDING rare recordings and persuading the owners to allow him to release them.

The third area where he's a genius is in figuring out a sustainable model for his own record label. The recording industry is a mess; unlike most people, I blame DVDs, not piracy, but who knows.

Marston Records works on a subscription basis. At the end of every year, Ward announces what he plans to produce in the coming year; if enough people sign up to buy a particular set, it goes through. If a particular set is sold out, arrangements have been made for on-demand production by a third-party company, so you can always get a set you missed. There are also Preferred Customers, meaning Marston Records has your credit card number and sends you EVERYTHING. If you don't want everything, you can be a Piano or Vocal Preferred Customer.

I've been a Preferred Customer for a few years. I'm not equally interested in every release, but I'll take them all, because it's so important to support Ward's work. And there are way, way more hits than misses, in my book: Litvinne, Supervia, Bolet, Vezzani, Gadski, Levy, and on and on and on.

If you're interested in historic recordings, especially acoustic-era vocal recordings, check out Marston Records. And please read the previous posting on this blog.

Mysterious Marston

What on earth could this, found in the end-of-year email from Marston Records, be?

Our Mystery Release

For the past ten years, Marston has produced a few releases that will be remembered for their historical importance: The Edison Trials: Voice Audition Cylinders 1912-1913; In Their Own Voices: The U.S. Presidential Elections of 1908 and 1912; and The Edison Legacy, which, is to be released early in 2007.

Our May release may be the most important “find” in the history of recording. It is also an anomaly for Marston. First, we are asking you to order this on faith. For a number of reasons, we can’t give a full description, not the least reason being it is of sufficient importance that a full-fledge press campaign is warranted, and we don’t want to spoil the impact of an announcement in our newsletter. Second, it is a multi-disciplinary CD that includes voice, piano, violin, and chamber music. (Because of the multi-disciplinary nature of the compilation, only our All Preferred Customers are scheduled to receive this issue automatically so PLEASE sign up to receive your copy, including our Vocal and Piano Preferred Customers.) Finally, these recordings were made by an individual and not a record company! We guess this may be our best seller ever and we are announcing this as part of our 2007 Season because we want to make sure that you have first crack at one of the relatively few copies that will be pressed.
Either it's material recorded off the air, or they're private recordings made by someone rich or famous enough to persuade important musicians to perform or record privately. No bets here; there were lots of important musicians featured on broadcasts during the 20s and 30s, and some of them could certainly count as great finds. The Chicago Opera broadcast during the late 1920s, for example....but I bet that would not be the "greatest" find.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Uh-oh.

Jonathan Wellsung and Maury D'Annato both walked out of The First Emperor after one act.

"Maybe it got better," I thought to myself last night.

Apparently not: Manuela Holterhoff got out the knives for her review. I especially like this:
Domingo delivered his wan lines with a furrowed brow, burnished tone and increasingly concerned glances at the prompt box. I don't know how he learned as much of the role as he did between evening shows conducting Puccini's ``La Boheme.''

And JSU at An Unamplified Voice was unimpressed as well.

(I admit that I have to quibble with this because, after all, Wagner got away with it:
A lawyer who represents himself, it is said, has a fool for a client. The same ought to be said for the composer who writes his own libretto.
Maybe JSU doesn't like Wagner. If not, I point to Mark Adamo and his superb libretto and music for Lysistrata.)

Update: Tony Tomassini doesn't like it either. And neither did Alex.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Score one for Holland.

I'm known not to be much of a fan of Bernard Holland, but this review is a winner all around. Tip of the hat, also, to the author of that headline, without which I probably would have ignored the review.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

LHL on Bridge

Bridge Records is re-releasing a recording of LHL singing John Harbison's Due Libri dei Mottetti di Montale. $14.99 in the U.S. and Canada, and there's more Harbison on the disk.

(They've also got releases of electronic compositions by Paul Lansky and violin music of Biber in December.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

Two Great Shows

Art shows, in this case.

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz survived the Holocaust in Poland, as a teenager, through her own courage and determination, and brought her younger sister to safety as well. She met her husband in the late 1940s in Belgium, married him, and came to the U.S., where she worked as a seamstress and dressmaker. In old age, she told her story in a beautiful and heartbreaking series of fabric pictures. You can see this remarkable show at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley.

Meanwhile, in the deep south in a hamlet called Gee's Bend, African-American quilters developed their own distinctive style. A magnificent collection of these quilts has been on tour for some time and will be on exhibit at the De Young Museum until December 31. If you think the quilts look good on line, just wait until you see them in person.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More bad news.

This is a companion-piece, of sorts, to the bad news discussed by ACD last week.

The Times reports that EMI has been approached by a potential buyer.

EMI holds one of the world's great catalogues of recorded notational music - not that they have necessarily always been good stewards of it - and how likely is it that new owners, especially if consisting of a couple of American investment banks, would take good care of that catalogue?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Met On Screen

Several Metropolitan Opera productions are going to be broadcast over the next few months to movie theaters around the country. In the Bay Area, that means the Regal Hacienda Crossing in Dublin: this is about a 25 minute drive for me and is very close to where I used to work. From San Francisco, alas, I assume it is a much longer drive. On the other hand, admission is $18, and unless you're traveling to NYC, well....let's just say, I'm springing for a few of the telecasts. They are:
  • The Magic Flute, a short version of Julie Taymoor's production, on December 30

  • I Puritani, January 6

  • The First Emperor, Tan Dun's new opera, starring Placido Domingo, on January 13

  • Eugene Onegin, February 24

  • The Barber of Seville, March 24

  • Il Trittico, April 28
I'm sorry the series doesn't include Jenufa, with Karita, or Simon Boccanegra (still the great unknown Verdi opera), or that tasty-looking Don Carlo, but you can't have everything, and this is definitely a good start.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pinchgut Opera

I got some entertaining email the other day from the intrepid Ken Nielsen, who tells me that he and his wife had "accidentally" set up an opera company. This would be Pinchgut Opera of Sydney, Australia. They're currently working on their fifth production, Idomeneo, and they're blogging the rehearsal process. Take a look! Lots of excellent photos and discussion of what goes into putting on opera - fascinating stuff, all.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bums thrown out.

My political leanings are not a secret; I spent a couple of years compiling reasons to vote George Bush out of office, after all. You can imagine how I'm feeling today; the sparkling wine at friends' around 11:15 last night could not have tasted better.

We have the Democrats taking back the house and, it looks like, evening up the Senate. Hello, Speaker of the House Pelosi; good-bye, Senators Rick Santorum, Mike DeWine, Conrad Burns, and Lincoln Chafee*. This morning, Donald Rumsfeld resigns. I only wish he'd done it long ago when his incompetence first became obvious.

I love the smell of Schadenfreude in the morning, don't you?

* Chafee is one of the few remaining moderate Republicans, along with Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe; as such, I'm half-sorry to see him go, since he is one of the last vestigates of principle in the party. Still, it's not like they did much to hold back the politicization of everything in the last few years.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What Steve Said.

I'm off to do my civic duty momentarily. Go vote!

And before you do so, read the New York Times on the subject of ballot initiatives. Yes, yes, yes!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Volti: Baltic Traditions Now

A couple of weeks ago in SFCV, I wrote a Listening Ahead recommendation for Volti's program of music from countries bordering the Baltic Sea. I went to the first performance last night, at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco (one of my favorite venues for both singing and listening).

In a word: stunning. There are just a few pieces on the program, by Arvo Pärt, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Pekka Kostianen, Olli Kortekangas, Veljo Tormis, and Per Nørgård. These works are all dense, chewy, and extremely beautiful, with texts from sources such as the Kalavela and from 20th century literature (Rilke, Lorca, Lawrence).

I loved the singing - what a great collection of musicians and voices, and what a performance they gave. Great music, great programming, great conducting. Composer Veljo Tormis himself was present; after his piece was performed, he hugged Robert Geary and kissed the soprano soloist's hand. It was a wonderful piece - so were they all. I would happily have heard the whole program through again.

And I might, because it's being given twice more. You should go!

Sunday, Nov. 5, 4:00 p.m., St. Mark's, Berkeley, 2300 Bancroft Way (Note: FOUR, not four-thirty; I goofed in my original posting.)

Wednesday, Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m., Acalanes H.S., Lafayette, 1200 Pleasant Hill Road.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Matthew Guerrieri and a note about the blogroll

I've added the charminginly-named Soho the Dog, where composer/pianist/conductor Matthew Guerrieri is blogging rather entertainingly. (It was the posting about multi-fingered pianists that got me over there, via, um, Mr. Noise, I think.)

About that blogroll. It seems unlikely that anyone can keep up with either reading or linking to all of the many worthwhile classical music blogs out there. I know I'm missing a ton of good opera blogs, and I hesitate to even try to keep up. And if you look at everyone else's blogrolls, you'll see that we don't overlap. So I suggest cruising every blogroll you can, because there are soooo many goood music blogs, and so little time.

Kenneth Woods

I'm (finally) linking to conductor Kenneth Woods, whose blog, a view from the podium, will give you a fantastic look inside the world of conducting. He writes insightfully about the organizational, musical, and technical issues conductors deal with; give him a look!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reminded.

Steve Smith mentions a happy anniversary, the first birthday of Night After Night, and I am reminded that today vilainefille and Iron Tongue of Midnight both turn two.

Grateful thanks to my readers and my many inspirations in the blogosphere!

Oh, please, oh, please.

Anne Midgette writes in today's Times about a rumor I dearly hope is true:
But the biggest news may have been the company debut of Nicola Luisotti, a fast-rising young conductor whose name the rumor mill is currently linking to the post of music director at the San Francisco Opera. Evaluating him on this performance, an opera house would be lucky to have him. It wasn’t just his passion or his ability to bring out every detail of the score and deal with the singers’ sometimes willful phrasing; it was that he conducted “Tosca” as if it really mattered. Even James Morris, who has sometimes sung Scarpia as a growling caricature, picked up on the excitement and turned in a respectably dark villain.

“Tosca” seemed vital again. And in this venerable, twice-told production, that is news indeed.
He was brilliant in last year's Forza, so, MY fingers and toes are all crossed.

Blognoggle

I've known about Blognoggle for months, but, as usual, I am way behind in talking about it here. It's a Web site that aggregates about a hundred classical music blogs - you will generally see the last posting or so for each. Sometimes I turn up there. :-)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Character tenor.

I hope not to be punished for having a case of Schadenfreude, but I find that Wolfgang Schmidt, whose singing made SFO's 1998 Tristan and 1999 Ring such a trial, is on his way to being a character tenor, the last refuge of aging Heldentenors. Yes, there's that single Fidelio in his upcoming engagements, and some Eriks in Fliegende Hollander, but otherwise, lots of Herods, Mimes, and Aegithuses. I don't know Tiefland, though, so maybe that's a leading role.

(Yes, yes, of course I'd rather have an aging Heldentenor as Mime or Loge than a whining character tenor who talks his way through the role.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

SFS: Abbado/Midori

I caught the SFS concert last night with my friend Mike; a program of Petrassi's Concerto for Orchestra No. 2, Britten's violin concerto, and the Schumann Fourth.

The Petrassi is competently written, but meandering; there are real compositional possibilities in the repeated rhythmic phrases and orchestration with which, sadly, he does nothing much. There was a moment when I thought "Wow, sounds vaguely like the score to a Hitchcock film...Bernard-Hermannish..." and when I mentioned this to Mike he finished the thought with "...but Hermann was a much better composer." Right-o.

The Britten...an astonishing piece. He does plenty with repeated rhythmic phrases, and the orchestration is original, arresting, and full of glories. That passage at the end of the first movement, with the cymbals, harp, solo violin, and...a horn? a trombone? The passage elswhere with the tuba and two piccolos (!!). The muted brass sonorities at the end. The incredible scherzo. Midori was magnificent; at the intermission, I said to Mike "Never mind the Schumann. Couldn't they just play that again???"

Maybe that would have been a mistake, maybe a second reading wouldn't have had the magic of the first. And the Schumann was first-class, an excellent performance of a work that I think is somewhat underrated. They played the heck out of it. And Peter Wyrick, one of my barometers, smiled a lot. I hope the musicians enjoyed the concert, the conductor, and the soloist as much as I did.

More new.

Added: Civic Center and A Singer's Life.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

New addition

Celeste's Scramblings, the mostly-musical blog of alto Celeste Winant, with whom I sing in The Haydn Singers.

Update, Saturday, Oct. 28: Celeste is linking back here; I blush at her kind words. She is a terrific singer!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Some (good) news.

Back in September, I mentioned that I was off-balance about various things in my life. This is, I guess, an update.

My mom came out here for a couple of weeks starting in late September, and found a place in Oakland that she will be moving to, presumably when her house closes, though maybe sooner. That's definitely good, and a huge relief to me.

Unless something goes very wrong, I'm also going to be starting a new technical writing job on November 13, at a company whose software you may have used. That's what I was spinning about. Yes, I am a little surprised by this, mostly because I like my current job and especially the people I work with. It was a hard decision to make; as recently as September I was saying wild horses couldn't drag me away from Documentum. But it's a great opportunity at a great place, one I thought I would just never have, because my new company is notoriously tough in its hiring process and requirements. Yes, the commute is worse than my current commute, but there is a shuttle, and there will be plenty of professional and other compensations.

I expect to still be blogging, writing, and singing. The multiple trips to New Jersey have delayed the dojo - there's no way you can run a school if you might have to go out of town for indefinite periods, unless you have black belt backup - and I expect to pick up that project some time early next year.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Iphigénie en Tauride

Anthony Tommasini reviews the current show at Lyric Opera of Chicago. This is the production (and part of the cast) that will be at San Francisco Opera next summer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tristan, Second Time

To Tristan again last night; once again, miracles in the orchestra, and some on-stage problems are more obvious.

Brewer occasionally sharped in the first act in both performances, and I will have to concede Joshua Kosman's point that occasionally and unpredictably, a note would drop out or simply sound as if it wasn't properly embedded in the phrase. I'm not conceding anything else, however, and I think those problems were entirely in Act I. In acts II and III, she was magnificent. None of her singing lacked detail or nuance; the rage and sarcasm in Act I were palpable and there was plenty of passion in Act II. In act III, her shock and despair gave way to ultimate transcendence. She simply can't be called "undercast."

I'll also concede that Kristinn Sigmundsson slid upward into notes at the beginnings of some phrases, but his majestic dignity overcomes all.

Thomas Moser, sadly, disappoints through consistency. Everything is sung in a pleasant mezzo-mezzo-forte, without much color or word-pointing. Yes, he phrases musically, but it's not enough. He has to conserve his voice to survive, and act III simply needs about twice as much as he can give. The direction doesn't help. He stands around lecturing the audience, not raving, ranting, fevered, desperate.

The marvelous Jane Irwin is seriously underused, physically, especially in Act I. Give her more to do! Too much standing around!

I wish she were offstage for all of Brangaene's watch; for the first, long bit, she is above the stage in a tower, so there is at least SOME sense of distance. But when Brangaene is off-stage, the effect is magical; you hear her from Tristan and Isolde's perspective, distantly, over a wash of misty orchestral sound.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Champagne

To the last night of Fledermaus at SFO last night - utterly charming! Pure bubbling fun; intoxicating music, witty translation, funny staging, adorable sets. Loved most of the singing, though, really, did Wolfgang Brendel sing more than a phrase at a time, any time? Less Sprechstimme would have been nice. Christine Goerke was hilarious and sounds just as good live as on record (catch her on Robert Spano's recording of Vaughn Williams' A Sea Symphony); I can't wait to hear her in German opera. Gerald Thompson was a fine Orlofsky, and yet I think I'd prefer a mezzo or contralto in the role. Jennifer Welch-Babidge delighted as Adele.

And The Donald was great. It must be a bit odd to conduct Fledermaus one night and Tristan the next, but the pairing seems to suit him just fine.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Jonathan Miller, once again.

I wrote about Jonathan Miller nearly two years ago when this blog was new. He's at it again! I gave up on Daniel Wakin's Times interview a few paragraphs in. And Joshua Kosman has an entertaining story - sort of - about Miller today.

Let's just say that I haven't changed my mind about him.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Don't believe him.

Joshua Kosman gave the San Francisco Opera Tristan a pretty poor review.

Go anyway!

I'll concede his points about Thomas Moser, who sang musically, but very, very carefully and without making much impact. His sound was handsome, controlled, and underpowered; Tristan does need to make a heroic sound from time to time. And there wasn't much raving or dementia in the last movement, either.

But.

Christine Brewer was magnificent. Joshua's review doesn't mention her bruised Achilles tendon, which I read about in Allan Ulrich's interview with Brewer. That's certainly part of the reason she moved so tentatively and the direction was so static. (The damn director didn't give the fully-mobile Jane Irwin much to do either.) Brewer's tone was beautiful from top to bottom, she was physically and vocally expressive, there was a ton of detail in her singing. She sharped from time to time, but mostly in the first act; I chalk it up to a combination of nerves and concern about her stability.

Ditto Kristinn Sigmundsson! I didn't read his movements as "bouncing in time to the music." I thought it was the unsteady gait of old age. He dominated Tristan, and the stage: I could not take my eyes off him.

Boaz Daniel and Jane Irwin were both wonderful.

Most importantly, I can't begin to describe the incredible beauty of Donald Runnicles' conducting and the sounds coming out of the orchestra. The pacing and proportions of this great and difficult opera were just about perfect. The orchestra might as well have been one instrument with many voices, each of which could be picked out of a transparent, glowing texture.

Go see it. Go see it more than once. If you love this opera, you won't be sorry.

Updated Monday, Oct. 9.

Friday, September 29, 2006

How to Develop Opera's Future Audience

Peter Gelb and the Met are doing something right: Opera in the Park and the open house earlier this week are making a fan out of a 7-year-old New Yorker I know.

Her mom recently wrote -

My best fun of late was going to the Met's open house on Friday with my daughter. It was AMAZING! And FREE! We sat in a box seat and watched the full dress rehearsal of Anthony Minghella's gorgeous production of Madama Butterfly, made paper cranes with one of the show's carpenters, ate lunch in the patron's room, and got to walk across the stage afterward. My daughter was spectacularly fussed over, and that night at dinner, she told her dad, "I heard a lot of people say they'd never forget today, and I don't think I will either."

So now she wants to be Cio Cio San for Halloween. I asked my husband, how old do you think she'll be when she realizes she hates us for turning her into a nerd?

And my response was "You must let me take her to the opera some time!
It's never too early to start listening to Wagner." (Really, is there anything cooler than walking across the stage at the Met?!?!)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sir Malcolm Arnold

Sir Malcolm Arnold, symphonist and Academy-Award winning composer of film scores, has died. The obits are sad; he was an alcoholic and a schizophrenic who had a troubled life.

The Times Online obituary mentiones that reviewers considered Arnold's music too "popular," and that certainly caught my eye.

What on earth did such reviewers mean? His style was too much like that of popular music? His music got played too much? His music wasn't complicated or obscure enough? He made too much music composing?

All of the above?

I haven't read any of those reviews, and I don't know any of Arnold's music - well, okay, I've seen at least part of The Bridge on the River Kwai. What's representative? What's good? And has anyone seen any of the reviews, or know something about his reputation over time?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

James Schwabacher

James Schwabacher died in July. His name is attached very publicly to the Schwabacher Debut Recital series; he had a career as a concert and operatic tenor; he gave freely of his time and money to support the musical arts in San Francisco. There've been a number of written tributes to him, and they all show how well-loved he was as a person. Here are some links

A lovely man, obviously. I'm so sorry I never knew him personally. I'll be looking for his recordings.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Off Balance

The last couple of months have been pretty distracting. The month in New Jersey was difficult in some ways, rewarding in others. My mom's house is now under contract and enough inroads have been made that she really will be moving out. Yes, I saw a few good concerts, and I may even blog retroactively about them. I made a new friend, and saw a number of old ones, and met a couple of online friends for a the first time.

A couple of other things going on have had me a bit off-balance as well, though one was resolved quickly and easily, and the other will be resolved soon enough (and I seem to have stopped spinning about it, thankfully). (No, I'm not going into any details.)

I've got a bunch of ideas for blog postings and hope to be writing them up soon.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Emerson/Bartok

Boosey & Hawkes, which publishes the music of John Adams, was kind enough to lend me a study score of Naive and Sentimental music a couple of years ago. They also put me on the mailing list for their newsletter.

The spring issue contained a pointer to an interactive feature on the Carnegie Hall Web site, in which the Emerson String Quartet explores the quartets of Bartók. I have not examined this in any detail, but it looks fascinating. It's oriented toward performers; I am sure that anyone who loves that music and knows something about it will learn lots:

Friday, July 28, 2006

Italian Summer Music Festivals

Goodness knows how I got on their email list, but I was sent a list of Italian summer music festivals. Oh, maybe it's from the tickets I bought over the net to see Stephen Kovacevich in Florence in May, 2004.

Anyway, if you happen to be in Italy, some are still in progress -

Puccini Festival - Torre del Lago Viareggio - from 18 june 2006 until 20 august 2006

Spoleto Festival - Spoleto (Perugia) froml 30 june 2006 until 16 july 2006

Opera Festival Firenze - Boboli Garden - from 15 june 2006 until 10 august 2006

Ravenna Festival - from 17 june 2006 until 23 july 2006

Teatro Greco of Siracusa - from 11 may 2006 until 25 june 2006

Medieval Festival of Brisighella (Ravenna) - froml 23 june 2006 until 02 july 2006

Jazz in'it - Rocca di Vignola (Modena) 23-24-25 june 2006

Information and tickets on-line on: Music Festivals

Going East

I'll be in NJ at my mother's for about a month starting Sunday, July 30. I can't spend every minute dealing with the house and will have plenty of social time. I am especially interested in old music (the Tallis Scholars have a tasty concert of mid-17th c. German vocal music), new music (whatever you think is good/interesting), and opera. Also, visits to museums - there are shows I want to see at the Frick, Met, and Morgan, as well as the Bruce in CT - and eating some good food. Would anyone like to join me at Babbo, if we can get in?

Rothko Cricket Frightwig

The not-evil cat, known as Cricket, and sometimes Mr. Wig.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

On a Completely Different Subject

Laurie Toby Edison and Debbie Notkin have published a brief review of mine at Body Impolitic, their body-image blog. It's about the film Monster House (which you should skip).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Into the Deep End

Joshua Kosman joins the fun: welcome to the bløgösphère.

Bayreuth Broadcasts

Ooops, they started yesterday! But you can still catch the entire Ring, Tristan, and Parsifal over the net. OperaCast has a handy Bayreuth page with radio station links.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

LHL

A friend with many more friends than me is reporting that Lorraine Hunt Lieberson has died of metastatic liver cancer.

I saw her only once, as Ottavia in two performances of "L'incoronazione di Poppea" in 1998. The production was one of the glories of the the Mansouri years, with a fabulous cast that included David Daniels, Ruxandra Donose, and Robert Lloyd.

LHL made her entry while laying on a moving sofa. Even after it stopped, and before she started to move, let alone sing, you could not keep your eyes off her, she so dominated the stage. Her last entry, for "Addio, Roma," was a slow, slow walk downstage, and again, she drew the eye in a way I've seen only from her.

During the opera, she looked 10 feet tall and might as well have been the most beautiful woman in the world. When I went to get autographs, I found she was a couple of inches shorter than me and, while pretty enough, someone you'd never give a second glance on the street. She seemed a bit shy, and very modest; every inch a creature of the stage without an inch of diva ego.

I'm lucky to have seen her, and deeply sorry it was just that once.

________

Update: Bloomberg publishes the first obituary: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Singer of Bach, Handel, Dies at 52

Update, July 7: It seems as though everyone in the blogosphere who knew her work has commented on her passing. I'm not going to try to list them all; The Standing Room and Oboeinsight are both collecting links to blog postings and news articles about LHL. And be sure to catch Joshua Kosman's appreciation in today's Chronicle.

I have plenty of cat photos available, but no catblogging this week.

Update, July 17: Anthony Tommasini reports that at Friday's BSO concert, James Levine opened with “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen," from the Brahms Requiem, in memory of LHL.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Dottoressa Strega

Well! My beloved filed her dissertation yesterday. She is now Donna H. Odierna, Dr. P.H. (Doctor of Public Health). Her dissertation is called "Learning to See the Invisible: Marginalization, Attrition, and Health Inequalities in a Study of Welfare and Substance Use."

Here's what she looked at:
  • Social marginalization and its effects on participant attrition in a particular study population

  • The relationship between marginalization and health, where she found a negative association between severe marginalization and health

  • Whether attrition of hard-to-find participants affects results, where she found that it can

The latter part of the dissertation worked by taking a set of results from a particular study population, backing out hard-to-find respondents, and re-running the original analysis. There were differences in the results. Retaining hard-to-find respondents has a significant effect on research results, in other words, and thus, possibly, on policy based on those results. She did an enormous amount of work on hard-to-find survey respondents and the efforts that went into retaining them in the study population, because the original researchers went to incredible lengths to retain as many respondents as possible.

I'm so proud of her!!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Seen at Davies

At the Verdi Requiem, the other day, soprano Jane Eaglen; this just a couple of days after the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra concert I reviewed for SFCV. I spotted her and her husband waiting for the elevator, and if anyone recognized her, it didn't show.

Conlon: Two for Two

I was in Civic Center Saturday night at 10 p.m. because I'd just gotten out of the San Francisco Symphony's next-to-last performance of the Verdi Requiem. I wish I'd gotten to it earlier in the run, because I would have loved to hear it multiple times. It was nearly perfect: I only say that because I know something must have gone wrong, that there must have been a bobble in there someplace. Whatever it was, I didn't hear it.

What I did hear was the sound of the Symphony Chorus, ethereal or thunderous as needed; the Symphony itself, with a richer and more luminous sound than what's typical when MTT is conducting; four outstanding soloists; and a performance with the emotional range, heroic scale, and drama the work itself requires. James Conlon, returning to SFS for the first time in many years, led a beautiful, shapely, wholly involving performance. At the end, he seemed faintly embarrassed by the ovation he got, deferring repeatedly to outgoing Symphony Chorus director Vance George, the soloists, the orchestra, and the chorus itself.

Well, really, everyone made marvelous contributions. The soloists were the kind of quartet I dream about: uniformly musical, comfortable with the style, and in sound vocal condition. That said, they were not all equal. Bass Vitalij Kowaljow sang well, but a bit anonymously. Tenor Frank Lopardo is now working with a voice that has lost its nap; still, he sang stylishly, with a fine Verdian line, very beautiful soft singing, and a lovely trill.

The vocal stars of the show were certainly soprano Christine Brewer and mezzo Stephanie Blythe. I think you could not ask for a better pairing; they sounded marvelous together, and, really, what I want now is to hear them as Aida and Amneris. There were plenty of decibels; more importantly, there were two beautiful and even voices, up high and down below, easily produced, perfectly steady, and with seemingly endless reserves of breath and power. The line went on and on and on - really, they were breathtaking, putting nearly every dramatic soprano or mezzo walking the earth in their shadows.

On June 9, I heard Conlon's first program of three in the Romantic Visions festival, consisting of three dances from operas inspired by Oscar Wilde, written by Zemlinsky, Shreker, and Strauss, and Zemlinsky's one-act shocker A Florentine Tragedy, also written by Zemlinsky (and also based on Wilde). The dances were, comparatively, fluff, though of course Salome's "Dance of the Seven Veils" is integral to the eponymous opera. They gave you a nice glimpse of the composers but mostly leave you wanting more.

The opera, though - whoa. It is from about 1916, and is quite firmly in the lush, splashy, style of Richard Strauss. It's written with enormous confidence and skill, brilliant orchestration, and plenty of drama. Not very much happens during the 90-minute confrontation between a merchant, his wife, and her aristocratic lover; it's largely a psychological drama. The outcome is....not what you might expect. I'm not giving it away, and, frankly, if you ever have a chance to see this piece, don't read the libretto or synopsis.

It got a bang-up performance. James Johnson provided a tour-de-force of focussed dramatic singing as Simone, the merchant. He has Wotan in his repertory, and all things considered, it is amazing that James Morris and Greer Grimsley are hired ahead of him. I'd love to hear him in the role. Kim Begley was convincing as Guido Bardi, the lover. Bianca, Simone's wife, has a tiny part, amounting to no more than five or ten minutes of work; still, Kate Aldrich made plenty of impact, and I hope she'll sing in SF again. Conlon could have kept the orchestra down a bit; the singers were overwhelmed a few times. Still, the performance was passionate and cohesive.

It's too bad the piece doesn't appear more often. I think it would fit very, very well on a double bill with Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle.

Conlon's a marvelous conductor - not so many conductors will do brilliantly with works as different as the Verdi and Zemlinsky. I hope he'll back soon, either at SFS or across the street in the Opera House. I'm sorry I didn't get to the Liszt/Tchaikowsky concert, since who knows when either of the works on that program will cross my path again?

Minor Updates on Wednesday, June 28.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Friday, June 16, 2006

LHL and JL

Buried in Lawrence Van Gelder's "Arts, Briefly" column today in the Times, Daniel J. Wakin reports the worrisome news that Lorraine Hunt Lieberson has cancelled all of her scheduled performances for the year, "for personal reasons."

The adjacent item brings happier news: James Levine returns to the BSO podium on July 7, leading the opening performance at Tanglewood.

Where I've Been

Hither and yon - three weeks in New Jersey, not quite confined entirely to my mother's house, and under some work pressure, as well. I think I am ready to resume posting, however.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sunday Dogblogging

Molly (in front) and her buddy Jupiter hoping for treats yesterday at the Albany Bulb.

Friday, April 28, 2006

She's Right, You Know

Read vilaine fille and weep. And then write letters of complaint (to the NY Phil) and of warning (to Peter Gelb).

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Buh?

The TAFTO discussions continue, entertainingly, with participant Marc Geelhoed of Deceptively Simple and TAFTO skeptic A. C. Douglas exchanging broadsides at their respective blogs. I note that ACD seems to have misunderstood something Drew said. The following sentence is not about TAFTO:
If this business ever hopes to reverse the trend in declining ticket sales and lack of participation throughout their communities, they are going to need the help of the people who already care about classical music.

It's about the classical music business.

(Oh, and - I got some mail from Marc that made me laugh. If he says he was joking, I bet he was.)

Updated, April 27: Email to Drew resulted in a one-word reply to this posting: "Bingo!" - meaning yes, "this business" refers to the classical music business, not TAFTO, in the sentence quoted above. Further, ACD has posted Marc's email with the soprano joke. Dry, yes, but funny, at least to me.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Top 10

Steve Hicken (listen) is one of the bloggers featured in the Classical Music section of Top Ten Sources. When I followed the link from listen, I was pleased and surprised to find myself there too, and in excellent company. There's a related category, Top Ten Opera. I'm not quite sure what the eclectically brilliant Steve Smith is doing there; his writing about opera is terrific, but so's his writing about chamber music, the symphonic repertory, jazz, and rock 'n roll.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Chicago Classical Music

Chicago Classical Music is a Web site for classical music lovers in Chicago; it's been established "under the auspices of" the Arts & Business Council of Chicago. The site is very nice; there are bloggers from several arts organizations, a ton of interesting content, lots of comments, many links. Pay a visit!

Alex Shapiro

A month or two back, I ran across notes from the kelp, composer Alex Shapiro's blog, because of referrals to me (thank you, Site Meter!). She had a funny and challenging TAFTO Month contribution last week. And today, I listened to some of her music. You should, too; it is extremely beautiful and interesting. I especially like At the Abyss and Bioplasm. Alex's Web site has a catalogue of recordings, too.

And love the photos of marine objects at notes from the kelp.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Why the iPod Matters

ACD expresses puzzlement about the importance of the iPod and challenges Steve Metcalf on a point he made in an article on New Music Box.

I'm not puzzled.

What the iPod and iTunes have the potential to do is reach new audiences. Alex Ross pointed out some time ago that 14% of the iTunes downloads are classical works. Some of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Minamalist Jukebox series has been made available at iTunes. That means people who weren't in the hall and don't have the CDs of the works performed can get to hear first-class performances of important music on demand. The iPod market is immense, as Steve Metcalf points out in his article, and iPods are cool. Reaching more iPod owners = reaching a new audience. (Ignore ACD's blathering about the coarsening of the culture. We'd have the music he hates, whether that's rock or rap, even if we were still on 78s.)

I'm not sure Alex is right to agree with ACD's point 3, mostly because I so dislike claims that classical musical is "fundamentally elite." There was a mass audience for new music in the 18th and 19th centuries, because there was much less of a distinction between popular music and what we now call classical music. Composers could make a living writing music because there was a market for commissions and performances of new music. (Okay, I do realize that was not the point Alex was responding to.) I absolutely think that for classical music to thrive, we need audiences for new music, and a few superstar composers - household names, whose music interests the public - would be a fine thing indeed.

Update 1, April 14: ACD points approvingly to a Playbill article reporting that some Philadelphia Orchestra concerts will be broadcast on radio. However, the NPR program is not available nationwide; for example, no stations in NYC or the Bay Area carry it. In California, you can hear these programs on the radio only if you live in Bakersfield or Fresno. If the contract included podcasting rights, I could download MP3s of the concerts to my computer. Or to an iPod, if I had one.

Update 2, April 14: ACD has updated his original post and will not respond until I demonstrate better reading comprehension. In that, we're even.

Update 3, April 16: ACD updates again and, in taking issue with Galen Brown, states that "What classical music is today seen as is the music of a superior intellectual and cultural class, and as such deemed elitist and therefore anathema." Can we have some evidence of that, beyond ACD's assertions? ACD regards himself as part of a superior intellectual and cultural class, that is quite clear, but I don't know anyone else who takes that stance. Moreover, I've never seen anything supporting the idea that people who don't go to classical music concerts or who are ignorant of classical music don't do so because they think it's elitist or the music of a superior intellectual or culture class. The people I know who don't go to classical music concerts are intellectual, well-read members of the middle and upper-middle classes, who are aware of, say, the intellectual currents in the literary arts, in politics, in historical thinking, in the scientific world. I can have conversations with almost all of my friends about Dawkins vs. Gould or the history of creationism, but it's a lot harder to find people to talk with about, say, Minimalism from Terry Reilly to John Adams, let alone Thomas Ades.

We'll take, for example, the friend I took to the Symphony last night, to a concert of Webern, Stravinsky, and Ives. She and her partner go to a few classical events a year, mostly in the Cal Performances series in Berkeley, even though they live walking distance from S. F. Civic Center, where the Symphony, Opera, and S. F. Performances have plenty of events. They attend plenty of intellectual and cultural events - go regularly to the museums here, subscribe to two different theater companies, attend City Arts & Lectures (lectures and conversations covering a wide range of political, literary, and cultural matters). There's the time issue, in not attending classical music concerts. There's the question of "what's good?" But believe me, the reasons they're not going to a lot more classical performances have nothing to do with whether classical music is elite or not. I think they'd just laugh at that, as I would.

Update 4, April 16 About ticket prices: I wrote an article for SFCV called The (High) Price of Music. Someone not too familiar with the classical world might not be willing to pay $30 to $129 to sit in Disney Hall listening to the L.A. Phil, but might pay $5 for a concert podcast to hear on that iPod - and then might be willing to spring for a concert ticket.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Alice Coote

Steve Smith writes about Alice Coote's Met debut, as Cherubino in Nozze. I've seen her only once, in the notorious Stuttgart/San Francisco Alcina, which put a marvelous cast of singers into perhaps the most bizarre and incomprehensible production I've ever seen. It was definitely better if you closed your eyes - but I'll never forget Coote's backward glance at Catherine Nagelstad, as Helena Schneidermann rescued her at the very end of the opera.

Wish I could be in New York, even though I have tickets to see Nozze here - twice - June.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

It's TAFTO Time Again!

Once again, Drew McManus is hosting Take a Friend to the Orchestra Month at Adaptistration. Contributors so far include Jerry Bowles of Sequenza21.com, Marc Geelhoed from Time Out Chicago & the blog Deceptively Simple, Timothy Judd, violinist, Richmond Symphony Orchestra, Kevin Giglinto, Vice President for Sales and Marketing, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Connie Linsler Valentine, Executive Director, Nashville Chamber Orchestra, Pete Matthews, classical music enthusiast & for profit marketing professional, Joe Patti, theatre manager and author of the arts management blog Butts In the Seats, Brian Sacawa, saxophonist and blogger (Sounds Like Now), and Alex Shapiro,composer & author of the Notes from the Kelp.

Take a look, and - take a friend to the orchestra this April.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Appearing at Mills

This Saturday night, April 15, 2006, 8 p.m., the Welsh pianist Iwan Llewelyn-Jones is giving a recital at Mills College. The program consists of Beethoven: Sonata Op.27 No.2 (Moonlight), Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit, Franck: Prelude Choral et Fugue, Chopin: Berceuse Op.57, Scherzo No.2 Op.31, and Fauré: Nocturne No.4 in E flat Op.36.

Admission is $20 general, $10 seniors; the recital is in the Mills College Concert Hall. Mills has an extensive concert series during the school year.

(I have not heard Mr. Jones's playing, but I suspect this recital hasn't gotten much publicity, so I am passing along the information.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Gathering Storm

Last Friday, I caught the American Symphony Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall, in a concert of British music from the 1930s. The ASO plays absolutely fantastic repertory - almost all off-the-beaten-path rarities. Next year's concert series isn't on line at their Web site yet, but includes concerts entitled The Art of the Psalm, with works by Bruckner, Zemlinsky, Liszt, Schreker, and Reger; Symphonic Mexico (Revueltas, Ponce, Chavez); Uncommon Comrades (Vainberg, Shostakovich); and the American premiere (amazingly) of Schreker's opera Der ferne Klang.

Friday's concert consisted of Oration (Concerto Elegiaco), a cello concerto by Frank Bridge, Arthur Bliss's piano concerto, and Ralph Vaughn Williams's Fourth Symphony. The Bliss, with soloist Piers Lane, is virtuosic tripe; a lot of ideas that last 30 to 90 seconds but are never developed or taken anywhere interesting. The Bridge, on the other hand, is an extremely interesting, very modernist piece, lyrical and moderately dissonant, emotionally intense. Matt Haimovitz, who played eloquently and with gorgeous tone, was the cellist, and I'd like very much to hear it again, both for the piece and the performer.

The RVW surprised the hell out of me; it's extremely pessimistic, despairing, gloomy, and definitely not what you'd expect from Mr. English Folk Song himself. There is one moment when I thought it would go all hey-nonny-nonny, in the trio of the scherzo. Careful observers would have seen me glance at the ceiling of Avery Fisher and then put my head in my hands - but then that almost-sweet melody turned out to be bitterly ironic. Elsewhere in the pice, I heard an allusion to "Ich hab' ein glühend Messer," from Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.

I didn't realize RVW had it in him to write a piece this powerful, even though I know and love the Sea Symphony. The fourth is strongly put together and very moving; it ought to get played more, but how often do the English symphonists get played in this country? Right.

I think Leon Botstein, the conductor, is a little on the cautious side. The last two movements of the RVW would have made even more impact if they had been played a bit faster and more incisively.

I hadn't been in Avery Fisher Hall in, uh, well, not since the 1970s. The proportions are odd, with that giant sprawling orchestra section and the teeny shallow balconies. The last remodel left the hall looking ugly, except for the stage area. I remember approving reviews of the design - but the seats are such a bizarre color, sort of mustardy olive, or maybe green tinged too deeply with yellow. Muddy dun? Ick, in any event (and the seats are uncomfortable). The circulation space is dated, as well; the mobile that looks like it's made of giant brass toothpicks is hideous and the display cases (which had a great Elliot Carter exhibit) definitely look old-fashioned. I was also amazed to see a folding table set out at which Matt Haimovitz CDs were being sold; that touch was so amateurish, so high-school...isn't there a gift shop someplace??

Aesthetics aside, I'm not exactly sure why there is so much complaining about the sound. I was in about the 10th or 15th row and found it reasonably warm, with no problems hearing the winds and no sense that the brass ever overpowered the strings. At this point Avery Fisher is no worse, and I thought better than, Davies in SF, where there is an awful lot of undifferentiated blaring, the cellos and basses have very little presence, and if you're in one of the balconies you feel like the orchstra is a BART stop away, sonically speaking.

Update, April 12: The title of this posting is the title the ASO gave the concert I saw. Anne Midgette reviewed the concert in the Times earlier this week.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Speaks for Itself

ACD denies that he defended Bernard Holland, which neatly gets him out of addressing the specific points made by me and Marcus.

Read Marcus's two postings here and here. Read ACD's original reply to me, and judge for yourself.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Learning to Love the Requiem

Mozart's, that is.

No, it's true, I never liked the piece. I sang it some years back and it failed to grow on me, and learning a work for performance normally sets the piece deep in my heart. It was all too obvious where Mozart left off and Sussmayr took over, the orchestration seemed clumsy, and I just could not stomach the sweeter sections of the piece. I heard it a few years ago, performed by the California Bach Society, and when a friend who then sang with them asked me what I thought, "because I know you'll be honest," I shook my head and said "Fine performance, but I just can't stand the piece."

Well.

A friend suggested some time ago that I check out Hogwood's recording, and offered to lend me his copy. I turned white and demurred; he became just a bit more insistent. Well, okay, why not, I thought, and took the CD, even though I was dubious.

Well.

Hogwood's performance makes the piece work for me, to the point that it recently lived in my car stereo for a couple of weeks. To the point that one day I hit repeat five times after the "Dies irae."

If I'm remembering the liner notes correctly - they're in California and I'm in New Jersey just now - the edition is one that attempts to strip out as much Sussmayr as possible. That certainly helps. But it's what Hogwood and his performers do with the piece that makes the recording so great.

To start with, there's the transparent clarity of both the orchestra and the chorus. I love the sound of English choruses with boys singing the soprano and alto parts - and those choruses are almost always superbly trained. On this recording, the Westminster Cathedral Boys Chorus and Academy of Ancient Music Chorus are nearly perfect. Every word is clear, every attack snaps, every cutoff is clean, every sibilant the same length.

Most important, though, are the choices Hogwood makes. His tempos are ideal; he respects Mozart's proportions and doesn't try to inflate the piece into a giant Romantic drama. He conducts crisply at all tempos, and the music never bogs down or loses the pulse. And so, the Requiem speaks for itself, classically.

I think there's only one serious problem with the recording: Emma Kirkby. One of the boys might as well have stepped out of the chorus for the soprano solos, for all the impact she makes with that mousy little voice. She's utterly out of scale with Carolyn Watkinson, the alto soloist, who sounds like an adult, and you can hear the other soloists holding back to make sure Kirkby is audible when the quartet is singing.

Oh, well - it's easy enough to ignore her. The real stars of the show are Hogwood, and his marvelous orchestra and chorus, and I'm glad to finally like, if not quite love, K. 626.

Updated because I managed to date this posting in the future.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tepid, Torpid

To the 92nd Street Y last night, my first visit there, with Steve Smith, for what looked like a promising concert of Ravel, Rorem, and Brahms, with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, plus baritone Nathaniel Webster and violist Cynthia Phelps.

And "promise" was mostly what the program had going for it. The Ravel, a one-movement violin sonata written during his student years and not published until after his death, is salon music. It's pretty, and it was prettily played, and it would make very nice background music for a tea party of old friends. For any other use, it's about 15 minutes too long and much too repetitive.

Ned Rorem's song cycle Aftermath is a pacifist work, setting texts by a number of different poets, from Shakespeare to John Hollander. The composer was in the house and, seemingly ageless at 83, came bounding out for bows at the end. He looks like he'll be composing for another 20 years.

I'd like to hear the cycle again, with a more imaginative singer. Nathaniel Webster has an attractive basic tone, good control, dynamic variety. But the basic tone hardly varied, and while his diction is quite good, I still got no sense he was doing much with the words. He had the music on a stand in front of him, and perhaps that interfered with his spontaneity and ability to connect with the audience.

Still, in most of the songs, Rorem doesn't give the singer much help. Too many seem based on circular motifs, with phrases that circle stepwise or in arpeggios around a single tone. He sets the words with peculiar accents in some phrases, and the settings could do more to illuminate the poems and their structures. Putting that another way, I felt like the settings muddied the poems rather than clarifying or strengthening or adding to them. These lines, coming at the end of John Hollander's "The Park," should chill the listener, but Rorem's setting did nothing for me:

I shall never have grown into old
Winter with you now: has time robbed me
Of waiting with you here, or spared me?


A few of the songs are more effective than the others: I liked the first song, John Scott of Amwell's "The Drum," set with a spare piano accompaniment mimicking a drumbeat, and the last, Muriel Rukeyser's "Then," which was given a lovely melody indeed. Randall Jarrell's "Losses," the longest text, also got a fine setting. But other poems, such as "When I have seen by Time's fell hand defaced" (Shakespeare sonnet LXIV), sounded incoherent.

The program concluded with a performance of Brahms's Piano Quartet in g minor, Op. 25. Brahms shouldn't be boring and shouldn't put the listener to sleep; last night's performance barely held my attention until the quartet finally woke up in the last movement. Somehow, the first three movements sounded as if they were all being played at one speed, without much being done to distinguish them from one another. The quartet took no risks, and what came out was spineless and dull.

The Former Chief Critic of the Times

Marcus Maroney writes about a wholly inadequate Bernard Holland review of this week's Orpheus Chamber Orchestra concert. I've been toting up my own list of Holland horrors for a few years now. I don't understand why he still has a job. Everyone reviewing for the Times is more competent than he is. And I consider it an utter mystery that there's more frothing in the blogosphere about Anthony Tommasini's reviews than about Holland's, which can be so astonishingly unprofessional and damaging.

By me, Holland's sins are:
  • Unnecessary cruelty, also known as misplaced nastiness.

    I'll never forget his review of the Westminster Choir's 1996 Christmas Concert. Note the condescending tone, the sneering suggestion that serious listeners need not attend, the slap at the chorus for attempting Schoenberg's difficult "Friede auf Erden."

    I don't review the Oakland Symphony with the expectation that it will perform with the precision of the San Francisco Symphony. That's not a hard lesson for most reviewers to learn - and any amateur chorus taking a shot at "Friede auf Erden" deserves praise. I would certainly never sneer at any audience attending a classical music concert, though I've commented at least once on how different an audience's reaction was from mine.
  • Disdain for the work under review.

    In 1998, the Met opened with Samson et Dalila, a work Holland simply can't abide. My solution? Don't review works you hate! If you must, say it once at most, then review the performance. Believe it or not, even the former chief critic of the Times hasn't got enough power to chase Samson out of the repertory at this late date.

    Better yet, relax and have a good time. I've only seen Samson once, thought it a hoot, but maybe I have more tolerance for well-constructed camp with great tunes than Bernard Holland does.
  • Relying too heavily on the program notes.

    In 2002, the San Francisco Symphony put on a semi-staged version of Rimsky-Korsakov's Mlada. I attended a performance and enjoyed it very much, excepting the acid-toned soprano singing the villain of the piece. Holland came out to review it; when I saw his review a few days later, I was surprised at how closely his remarks on the work and its history tracked with the program notes. I would have at least read the New Grove articles on Rimsky and the opera! (Re-reading the review, I'm surprised he didn't comment on the "Egyptian" music, so Hollywood-campy as to make Samson sound positively noble by comparison. And he's wrong about an opera company taking the thing on. The music is wonderful, and it would certainly be nice to give the lead dancer room to spread out, but nothing happens. The opera is completely unstageworthy.)
  • Barely making the effort

    Okay, I admit that I read and admire Think Denk, pianist Jeremy Denk's blog. Don't hold it against me when I say that I was very sorry the Times sent Holland to review the Joshua Bell/Jeremy Denk recital a few weeks back. I get that they're young and peppy and accurate, but he says absolutely nothing else about the performance. Couldn't he have tried??


Updated, April 6. ACD replies, without actually discussing any specific points I make or any of Holland's reviews (and guess what? calling Holland the only Times critic worthy of the name is a defense of Holland). Marcus comments further on Holland. Steve Hicken takes note of the ongoing discussion; do read the very entertaining comments.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Subway

A few months ago, a friend and I had dinner at Farallon, a spectacularly-designed San Francisco seafood restaurant. We were seated in the Pool Room, which is barrel-vaulted and covered with charming and suitably marine mosaics. I took a look around and said "This room reminds me of a subway station." I meant that in a good way, and my friend knew exactly what I meant. He's been in plenty of subway stations himself.

Since I arrived on the East Coast last week, I've taken several subway lines up, down, and across Manhattan, and all the way to Brooklyn. My, what a difference a few decades makes. I remember the hot, grimy, noisy, filthy, scary NYC subway system of the 1970s all too well. Today...well, I wouldn't exactly want to live down there, but the stations and cars are clean, and much quieter than they used to be. There's no stink or garbage, and much of the acrid, characteristic subway system odor has disappeared. The grime is gone, and every available surface is now covered with shiny white tile or mosaic. Some of the mosaics are newly-commissioned artwork; other mosaics are restoration of tiling from the early days of the subway system. It's so much nicer than it used to be!

I wish I had photos to blog, but not yet, not yet. Next visit, though!

Opera in the Plaza

David Gockley is making good on one of the promises from his first press conference as General Manager of San Francisco Opera: The first Madama Butterfly of the summer season will be simulcast to a giant LED screen in Civic Center Plaza.

This will be on Saturday, May 27, 2006, at 8 p.m. I'll be out of town, at Wiscon 30, so let me know what it's like.

Monday, April 03, 2006

True Love Knows No Fear

And neither did Erika Sunnegårdh in her first appearance as Leonore (Fidelio) this past Saturday, under what can only be termed extraordinarily high-pressure circumstances:
  • It was her Met and U.S. debut

  • The performance was a broadcast

  • She was substituting for Karita Mattila, perhaps the greatest soprano now singing
Yes, I was there, up in Family Circle standing room, lured in by the circumstances. I'm exaggerating a bit, but only a bit. Ms. Sunnegårdh did show some nerves, but who can blame her? She was intermittently out of tune in the first act; a couple of first-act high notes didn't come into focus and sounded harsh; she inexplicably dropped one of the tougher passages in "Abscheulicher!" A friend listening on the radio thought she had gotten lost, and that seems probable. Personally, I'd be nervous too, and I'd miss a lot more than one difficult passage.

Beyond those issues - all of which I expect will be fixed in her scheduled performance later this week, given that the second act had no vocal problems - I have nothing but praise for her. She looked adorably boyish; she executed all of the stage business accurately and believably, fitting in well with a cast that had been working together; she blended into the ensembles and sounded good in them.

She has a big voice, indeed. Her high notes are very big, and easily produced. I had no sense she was at the limit of her potential volume. There's mass and weight without thickness, and more weight and size at the top than the bottom. She's due to sing some Turandots next year, and it's easy to hear why; the voice is built more like that of Nilsson or Turner than like Flagstad or my last Leonore, Christine Brewer. She'll have no problems as the Chinese princess.

I was happy as can be about the performance as a whole. True, I winced at Ben Heppner's entrance, when he slid up to his attack on "Gott!" at the beginning of Act II. (Is Florestan the Turandot of tenor roles, or what??) He warmed up and settled down and most of the act was very good indeed. He's a good actor and he and Sunnegårdh put on a fine show of marital love. I liked Gregory Turay and Jennifer Welch-Babidge; I loved the bit of stage business near the end that at least makes a run at resolving the Fidelio/Marzelline situation. I thought Kristinn Sigmundsson excellent and James Morris in much better vocal shape than the last couple of times I heard him, though his voice will never have the beauty of 20 or so years ago. Alan Held has become quite a singer and actor, but why did he bark and shout so much when he obviously would have been just as effective if he'd just sung?

Paul Nadler led a grand performance, well-proportioned and full of tension; the chorus sounded fabulous. I loved every minute, found it all gripping, and cried during Act II. I'm still troubled by the bizarre proportions of the piece (Act I is too long, Act II too short) and the implausibility of the Leonore/Pizarro confrontation. Did she have him in a hammerlock in this production, or what?? I couldn't quite tell from the rafters, as I left my binoculars in California.

Still, these are minor quibbles. The occasion itself was operatic, and the opera itself splendidly performed. What more could I ask?

Spelling corrections made some hours later, and read what Steve Smith and Anthony Tommasini have to say. (I agree with Tommasini that there was some tentativeness in her performance.) Also, read Daniel J. Wakin's original article about her and his post-performance follow-up.

I Gambled and Lost

LHL has cancelled her upcoming SF Symphony appearances owing to a severe gall bladder condition, according to today's press release. The Mahler Rückert-Lieder are being replaced by the 1947 version of Petrushka.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Not since Ponselle?

The wonderful Karita Mattila isn't singing tomorrow's Met matinee - and thus broadcast - of Fidelio; instead, her cover, Erika Sunnegardh is singing. She is 40 and making her Met debut (!); she's also under contract to cover Mattila's Elsa, and she's taking part of a run of Turandot a season or so down the road. I'm rather astonished to find this in the Times article about tomorrow; the quotation is from Joe Volpe's not-yet-published memoir:

"Not since Rosa Ponselle's debut in 1918, opposite Caruso in 'La Forza del Destino,' has the Met given an unknown singer such an opportunity," Mr. Volpe wrote.

I guess that's about her upcoming starring role and the covers, but I wonder how that plays in the context of Astrid Varnay's 1941 debut, covering Sieglinde for an indisposed Lotte Lehmann, followed by singing Bruennhilde the following week covering for Helen Traubel.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

In the East

I'm unexpectedly home on family business, completely with laptop so that I can get some work done while I'm here. So I will be blogging, I expect, and will also be attending some performances in NYC, I hope.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Peter Craven Rants

An entertaining rant by Peter Craven, in The Age, about the recent, awful film Tristan and Isolde, complete with a fine discussion of Wagner's opera.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Fredosphere in San Francisco

Fred Himebaugh's choral piece The Evidence will be performed in the San Francisco Bay Area by San Francisco Choral Artists in concerts on March 25 (St. Mark's Episcopal, Palo Alto), April 1 (St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco), and April 2 (St. Paul's Episcopal, Oakland). SFCA is a superb group! Congratulations to Fred - and I'm hoping to be at one of those concerts.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Link Roundup

I have a couple of interesting links in my mail box, but no postings to hang on them, so:
  • Bridge Records sends me mail about once a month with new releases. Music for cello and piano by Chopin and Liszt, anyone? Tone poems by 19th and early 20th century American composers? Check out their Web site and get on their mailing list.

  • Duo 46 is a violin & guitar duet (Beth Schneider and Matt Gould, respectively). They've commissioned many interesting works and are charismatic performers of an unusual repertory. Listen to the many samples of their work.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

How It Went

The inaugural concerts of the Haydn Singers this weekend went well. Palo Alto was a little more ragged than we would have liked, and the turnout was fairly small, at least in part owing to the ghastly weather. Apparently thunderstorms tend to suppress the audience, and who can blame them? I might have stayed home myself. But my friend David Bratman, who reviews for San Francisco Classical Voice, came, and wrote us up on his LiveJournal.

The Berkeley concert went splendidly, and we had an excellent turnout, especially considering that we were performing opposite Hesperion XXI and the San Francisco Bach Choir.

We will very likely be performing this same program in the fall, in venues to be announced later, with other programs to follow. Catch us then!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Haydn Singers This Weekend

I'm thrilled to report that the Haydn Singers, conducted by Paul Flight, are debuting this weekend, in Palo Alto and Berkeley, CA. Our first program includes:
  • The obligatory Mozart: Misericordias Domini, K. 222, and Missa Brevis, K. 192, both very dramatic indeed

  • The eponymous Haydn: some delightful part songs and a Salve Regina by Franz Josef, plus Christus Factus Est by FJ's brother Johann Michael

  • The unknown Gasparini: a remarkable setting of Adoramus Te

Tickets are inexpensive ($15 general admission, $12 seniors, $10 students, all at the door), the music is delightful, the venues excellent:

(Moved to the top of the heap on Friday, March 10; first published several days ago.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Dojo space sought

A posting from my non-musical life.

I'm just starting to look around for space for my jujitsu dojo, which I plan to open....well, let's say June or July, maybe as late as September.

You might know a space that would work for me! Here's what I'm looking for; some of the requirements are more flexible than others, and might change if I can't find what I want where I want it, but for now, these lists are it.


Required:

Shared space of some kind (I cannot rent a storefront on my own)
In Berkeley, CA or Oakland, CA (Not Laurel District)
On BART or a major bus line
750 s.f. open space minimum (no columns dividing the space); the
bigger, the better up to 1200 s.f.
At least 17 feet wide
8-10 foot ceilings (The higher end of the range is better)
Space has mats already or has storage space for mats
Storage space for other stuff (I am willing to buy Ikea-type storage
closets, etc.)
Available 2 or 3 evenings a week in 3-hour blocks (class will be 2
hours but I need setup & takedown time)
Changing rooms
Bathroom


Would be nice:

Available for a couple of weekend classes a month
Within walking distance of a BART stop, with walking distance defined as 10 blocks/15 minutes
Wooden or raised or sprung floor
Mirrors
Ability to hang bags
Room for me to have a desk
Wheelchair accessible


This space can be in a dance or movement studio of some kind; it can
be shared with another martial art; it can be in warehouse space; it
can be in a Y or recreation center or church or synagogue or other
house of worship (as long as I don't have to convert :-).

If you point me to a space I ultimately take, you get six months of
free jujitsu classes, which you may transfer to another person if you
don't want classes. (I'm planning to teach anyone 14 and up; no
children's classes, some flexibility on 14 depending on the individual
child.)

The Numbers

Greg Sandow posted some fascinating numbers on his ArtsJournal blog last week, covering the number of concerts and number of attendees annually at some 1200 American orchestras between 1990 and 2004. His posting focusses on the attendence patterns, but to me that's not the most interesting aspect of the numbers.

What caught my eye is the enormous increase in the number of concerts in that time period: from 25,210 to 37,263. Folks, that's a 50% increase in the number of concerts! There's an amazing story buried in that! Who is giving those additional concerts? Where are they? Does this mean that somewhere, new orchestras are attracting new audiences? That existing orchestras are overextended? That too many organizations are chasing the same butts to get them in the seats? In what segment are those additional concerts? (Greg raises that question.) What on earth do those numbers mean?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Venues

I really ought to have pushed this past weekend's Soli Deo Gloria concerts a little harder. It's not my favorite repertory, but yesterday's concert, especially, went quite well.

And the chorus sounded great. I arrived at the venue, Zion Lutheran in Piedmont on the late side; the rest of the chorus was already running through some openings - wow. A beautiful sound, well-blended and balanced, and way more sound than you'd expect from 35 singers. (I must say that Soli Deo Gloria has many excellent voices in it it!)

Our other two venues were First Lutheran Church in Palo Alto and St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

If you've never been to St. Gregory's, you really do need to go. The building itself is beautiful, delightful, and unusual: the sanctuary is two very high-ceilinged connected rooms that are round, rather than square; it seems either can be configured with an altar; the iconography of the dancing saints is nothing like you'll see anywhere else. It's a fabulous venue for listening to music or for singing; the sanctuary is lively without being overwhelmingly resonant, and it's easy to hear yourself and the whole chorus. Sight-lines are also very good. The seats are comfortable as well.

First Lutheran is small, traditionally-configured and very fine to sing in as well, though I think you wouldn't want a really big chorus in there, or a group with an orchestra - that would overwhelm the space.

What I'm thinking about most is Zion Lutheran and how different it sounded to me a week ago and yesterday. My initial impression at our rehearsal last Monday was "dead space, unresonant, too muffled because of the carpeting and padded pews." I couldn't hear myself so well, and the chorus sounded to me like a bunch of disconnected voices. But we sounded great yesterday. I have to assume that was mostly a result of how I was feeling a week ago, with the balance being the extra week of rehearsal and two performances we had under our collective belts.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Poetry on Assignment

I wrote poetry intermittently at various times when I was younger - a lot younger - but only a few poems since I got out of school.

It turns out that what I might need is to be assigned a subject. I've written three poems recently, all response to assignments, more or less, from outside sources. One came from a Salon article. The other two....

My friend Elise makes fantastic and very individual jewelry - she has an incredible eye for combining different stones and beads, and has developed a wire-bending technique different from anything I've ever seen before. She is also a person of, well, whimsy: she names all of her pieces, from fairly simple earrings to extremely complex and beautiful necklaces. She also likes to issue literary challenges and give earrings and other jewelry in exchange for writing.

I saw her at the Potlatch science fiction convention over the weekend, and rose to the challenge. For a hair ornament, she asked for a work about pirates. I wrote a poem and took home an ornament (the poem is a little too personal to post). A bunch of these were available; a couple of other friends also have hair ornaments. A 7-year-old of my acquaintance got a hair ornament in exchange for a drawing.

For a pair of earrings called "The Truth Berry," Elise put on a contest: write a haiku about the earrings. No digital camera (yet), so I can't show you the earrings. They combine a purple, faceted glass bead with a heart-shaped green bead, so they look like a leaf and a berry.

I won the contest with this:

Taste it now. Is it
sweet or bitter? Will you live
or die? Tell the truth.

I told Elise, and was only half-joking, that maybe she should send me poetry assignments all the time.

New in the Times

A couple of features in the Sunday Times Arts & Leisure section are by apparent newcomers, unless I've missed their bylines:

Evan Eisenberg's Arms and the Mass, or: Why Does This Liturgy Sound So Familiar? is about masses based on the song L'Homme armé; the story has too many jokes and too little solid info - he's trying too hard and misses the point. There are audio clips labeled as if they're from the Dufay and Josquin L'Homme armé masses, but actually they're both the tune itself, not excerpts from polyphonic masses. Aaargh.

Meline Toumani, in Get Them in the Seats, and Their Hearts Will Follow, discusses an initiative at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln for getting youth in the door. What's different about this? Teenagers themselves are in charge.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Losing the Thread

Jon Carroll, a great columnist who really, really should be syndicated, writes about his granddaughter, horses, and classical music in today's S. F. Chronicle. (Read him every day! Really!)

Ticket Prices - too high, or what?

Maybe not - I covered a few bases in an article in SFCV, called The High Price of Music. A friend has called to my attention a couple of Bay Area organizations offering high-quality, low-priced concerts:
  • Noe Valley Chamber Music, $15 general admission, $12 senior, $12 student. Upcoming concerts include Nadya Tichman and a Season Finale ($25) featuring a performance by Donald Runnicles (piano, Music Director of SF Opera), Kay Stern (violin, concertmaster of the Opera orchestra), and Thalia Moore (cello, associate principal cello of the Opera orchestra)

  • San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, FREE


Special thanks to Drew McManus for a lot of help dealing with those pesky 990s while I wrapped up the SFCV article.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Fear

Daniel J. Wakin's Times article on Peter Gelb and the Met is being received with considerable approval, by Alex Ross and, somewhat to my surprise, ACD.

I like most it, and agree with Alex's comments about repertory. This is especially encouraging:
But he went on to say that the house had been "coasting" and that the old formula — counting on dedicated operagoers to fill the house for standard productions — no longer worked. He also took note of criticism that the Met has not attracted enough world-class conductors. Regarding singers, he said, it has "waited too long to jump on talent."
This concerns me, though:
Performances will be broadcast nationwide in high-definition movie theaters and made available through downloading, if agreements can be reached with the house's unions. CD's and DVD's could follow.


Opera is naturally scaled for live theater, in which the audience isn't right on top of the performers. If live opera is streamed to movie theaters, where the expectation is of intimacy and many close-ups, will singers scale their performances to the camera and microphone? That's not what I want to hear or see, and I would worry a lot about the long-term effects on the art.

Repertory

The San Francisco Symphony is touring China. There's an an attractive Web site set up for the event; you can see photos and what they call "journal entries". (Hint: it's a blog.)

What's most catching my eye, though, is their read-it-and-weep repertory: Brahms, Schumann, Tchaikowsky, Mahler, Dvorak, Stravinsky, Haydn, Debussy-Schoenberg, and, oh, yes, representing the United States, Ives and Copland.

I understand that the idea is to showcase an outstanding orchestra and its conductor, but still: Nothing by living composers. Nothing adventurous at all. And, alas, it's typical of the SFS's programming of the last couple of years.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Breaking Up, Part 3

Michael Renardy reports in comments to a previous posting that the Audubon Quartet has reached a settlement of sorts. An anonymous donor came up with $200,000, which former Audubon first violinist David Ehrlich is willing to accept in settlement. Clyde Shaw and Doris Lederer will be keeping their cello and viola, respectively; Akemi Takayama, second violinist, is still in neogtiations with Ehrlich.

See Google News for more stories.

Update, 2/8/06: Daniel Wakin has an update in the Times. Read it before February 15, 2006 when it goes into the paid archive.

Upcoming Concerts (with two, two, two choruses!)

Soli Deo Gloria, with which I've been singing since September, is performing the first weekend of March. Our guest conductor this time around is Chad Runyon - I expect some Bay Area readers know him as a baritone soloist, voice teacher, and past member of Chanticleer. He's programmed a concert of Palestrina (Missa Brevis), Victoria (Missa quarti toni), Morales, and Guerrero. The concert is coming together very nicely. You can see us in three places:
  • Friday, March 3, 2006, 7:30 p.m.: First Lutheran, Palo Alto

  • Saturday, March 4, 2006, 5:00 p.m.: St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco

  • Sunday, March 5, 2006, 3:30 p.m., Zion Lutheran, Piedmont
If I were picking a venue other than by convenience, I'd take St. Gregory's. It's a lovely church to look at, to sing in, and to hear music in.

Haydn Singers Make Their Debut!

I'm extremely excited to be singing in The Haydn Singers, Paul Flight's new chorus. Paul is a wizard of a conductor and it's a great group. We are singing some charming Haydn part-songs, his Salve Regina, a Gasparini motet, a motet by Michael Haydn, and (despite the name), Mozart's Misericordias Domini (K222) and Missa Brevis in F (K192). The music is all fantastic, both fun and challenging to sing. We'll be performing the second weekend in March (yes, I have too many rehearsals and performances between Feb. 27 and March 11! ):
  • Friday, March 10, 8 p.m., First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto (1140 Cowper Street)

  • Saturday, March 11, 8 p.m., Church of St. Mary Magdalen in Berkeley (2005 Berryman Street (at Milvia))

Come hear us sing!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Long may he blog!

Happy 50th birthday to Terry Teachout! I have a few of those things in common to you - first Presidential election in which I voted, seeing Star Wars when it was new (I met an important person in my life while standing in line to see The Empire Strikes Back the day it opened in Boston!), and what I learned to type on. Well, it was a typewriter, anyway.

(But my inner copy editor is wondering how "The fourth decade of my life, after all, wasn’t exactly an unbroken string of disasters", apparently referring to Terry's 40s, got past his inner copy editor. Alas, our 40s are the fifth decade of our lives.)