Elektra

Elektra

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Christian Reif at Berkeley Symphony

Received today, not a surprise:
BERKELEY, CA (March 23, 2017) – Guest conductor Christian Reif will lead Berkeley Symphony in Shostakovich's evening-long, epic Symphony No. 13, “Babi Yar,” on Thursday, May 4 at 8 pm at Zellerbach Hall. The Orchestra is joined for the Berkeley Symphony’s season finale performance by bass Denis Sedov and a men’s chorus comprised of alumni of the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus, the Pacific Boychoir Academy, and members of the St. John of San Francisco Russian Orthodox Chorale, led by chorusmaster Marika Kuzma. Reif is stepping in for Berkeley Symphony Music Director Joana Carneiro, who recently gave birth to triplets.
Tickets for the Berkeley Symphony concert on May 4 start at $15 and are available at www.berkeleysymphony.org or by phone at (510) 841-2800, ext. 1.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Met National Council Audition Results

A couple of these young singers' names should be familiar!
This year’s winners are Samantha Hankey, 24, mezzo-soprano (Eastern Region: Marshfield, MA); Kirsten MacKinnon, 26, soprano (Middle Atlantic Region: Vancouver, BC, Canada); Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, 23, countertenor (Eastern Region: Brooklyn, NY); Richard Smagur, 26, tenor (Central Region: Clarkesville, GA); Kyle van Schoonhoven, 28, tenor (Central Region: Lockport, NY); and Vanessa Vasquez, 26, soprano (Middle Atlantic Region: Scottsdale, AZ).
Kyle van Schoonhoven is a first-year Adler Fellow;  Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen was in last year's Merola program. Congratulations to all of these talented singers!

Stop, Already!

Found in my in-box, and this is just a sample:

  • Her program, the complete Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach, is one of the most beloved works in the piano repertoire (SF Performances)
  • Best known for the beloved children’s novels A Series of Unfortunate Events he wrote as Lemony Snicket – and which he has recently adapted into an acclaimed series for Netflix – Daniel Handler brings his relentlessly mischievous style to a new play for adults. (Berkeley Rep) 
  • Violinists Itzhak Perlman, Cho -Liang Lin, concertmaster of Philadelphia Orchestra David Kim and Midori have put together special video greetings to celebrate the centennial of their beloved teacher - Dorothy Delay.  (Dorothy Delay tribute)
  • Members and alumni of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program will also perform a variety of beloved arias, duets and ensembles. (LA Opera)
  • The Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO) is a cultural centerpiece of the Princeton community and one of New Jersey’s finest music organizations, a position established through performances of beloved masterworks, innovative music by living composers, and an extensive network of educational programs offered to area students free of charge. (PSO)
  • For the first time, this original jackets edition brings together all of the recital albums this beloved American mezzo-soprano recorded for Columbia Masterworks from 1974 to 1998.  (ArkivMusic)
  • The Bay Area’s beloved former SF Symphony violist Geraldine Walther, now violist of the world-renowned Takács String Quartet, will join forces with superb pianist David Korevaar to perform the Chopin Sonata for viola and piano, Schumann’sMarchenbilder and David Carlson's True Divided Light, commissioned for NVCM.  (Noe Valley Chamber Music)
  • The beloved biblical story of Noah's ark set to music,
    featuring nearly 500 performers of all ages 
    at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on May 6 (LAO - again)
  • Beloved Virtuoso Kyung Wha CHUNG Returns to Carnegie Hall,
    Tackling the Highest Peak:
    The Complete Solo Sonatas & Partitas of J.S. BACH in a Single Evening (Kathryn King Media)
  • First are the beloved outdoor Symphony for the Cities concerts from July 3 to 9. (Minnesota Orchestra)
  • Don’t miss Sonya Yoncheva as one of opera’s most beloved heroines, the tragic courtesan Violetta, opposite tenor Michael Fabiano as her lover, Alfredo. (Metropolitan Opera)
  • The Aram Khachaturian International Competition has aimed at identifying talented young musicians since 2003 when it launched as part of the centennial celebrations for the beloved Armenian composer. 
  • The composer, a true Romantic, became desolate and enraged, hatching a plan to return to France and murder his former beloved, her new suitor, and her mother, then kill himself. (Boston Symphony Orchestra - describing Hector Berlioz)
We need a few more adjectives.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Unpaid Labor

Email received from a theater company:
Subject line: Come sing with us!
[omitted: a couple of notes about their upcoming season] What makes this jaw-dropping piece particularly special is that the playwright asks us to to welcome a completely different choir for each performance!!! What an amazing challenge and opportunity! In this spirit of community, we are reaching out to you - our loyal supporters - for recommendations and thoughts.
Here are the main points we have been sharing with the choirs:
  • The shows are Wed-Sat nights and Sun matinees from May 2nd to June 1st.
  • Each performance will feature a chorus of volunteer 12-20 singers. If your choir is larger, it might be featured in more than one performance.
  • The choir will sing about 20 minutes of music featuring simple harmonies. Our music director believes it will take 4-5 hours to learn. The score is available upon request. There will also be one 2 hour rehearsal onstage before your performance led by our music director. Sheet music and accompaniment will be provided for the performance.
  • We will be promoting your choir on our website, lobby, and emails. Each singer will also be given a 1/2 off ticket price code to pass on to friends and family.
If you or someone you know is in a choir, we hope you might consider joining the dozens we already have booked on this special project. We really think it will be a memorable experience for everyone involved. If you are interested in joining us, would like to see the music, or have any additional questions please email me at [email address omitted]
My reply:
My first thought is this: does [theater company] pay its actors?
I am confident that the answer is yes.
You are here asking for 12-20 singers per performance, and it looks as though there are 20-25 performances. So you're asking for something between 240 to 500 singers to put in 4 to 5 hours each to learn the music, or approximately 960 to 2500 aggregate hours, depending on how fast the singers learn and how many singers there are.
Then they've got to attend a rehearsal and appear in the show, more hours. For this, you are offering a discount code, in hopes of selling tickets to people who want to see their friend or relative perform.
Would you ask actors to put in this much unpaid labor? If not, perhaps you should be hiring a professional chorus for this show. If it's too much money for you to do that, it's the wrong show for [theater company] to perform.
I have not yet renewed my subscription or made my donation for this year. This makes me rethink whether I should continue to support [theater company]. 

Borda Return Media Round-Up

For reference. Am I missing anything? (Yes, so I have updated the post.)

Awaiting the Correction.

An opera company I won't name just made an entertaining error in the email announcing their 2017-18 season. And I can tell you exactly what happened, too.

The email announces four operas. One of them is by a composer who is also represented in this year's repertory. The header area of the announcement names Opera A, which will be done next year. The body of the email, with details about each of next year's operas, lists Opera B...which is in the 2016-17 season.

I'm pretty sure that they used last year's season announcement as a template and somehow didn't update all of the text in the body of the email. The composer name was the same, the costumes might be interchangeable (depending). The link in the header goes to the 2017-18 season, the link in the body goes to 2016-17.

The moral of the story is that your mailing list management program contains a feature that allows you to send drafts to yourself and anyone else you think should proofread outgoing email before you send it to the thousands of email addresses on your mailing list. You should use this feature liberally.

I obviously don't know exactly what happened; maybe someone inadvertently skipped that step or maybe someone thought they were sending the email to 10 people rather than the whole mailing list. But I spotted the error about 2 minutes into reading the email, and probably a few other recipients did too.

I Did Not See This One Coming.

Last week, I published an extremely gloomy post about the current state of the New York Philharmonic, after learning that their chief executive, artistic administrator, and senior vice president for capital campaigns and the endowment were all leaving the orchestra, just as Alan Gilbert leaves, with a year before Jaap van Zweden arrives, and with a renovation down the road that will completely disrupt the orchestra for a couple of years.

Honestly, I thought that the orchestra had a good chance to wind up in bankruptcy court within ten years, considering that they've been running deficits since the 2001-2 season.

But yesterday morning, Michael Cooper of the NY Times managed to scoop the press departments of both the NY Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic by publishing some astounding news ahead of the orchestras' press releases: Deborah Borda, who has been chief executive at the LA Phil for 15 years, is returning to the NY Philharmonic.

As far as I can tell from what I'm reading and hearing, nobody saw this one coming. If you'd asked me who could possibly run the NYPO successfully, i would have said, in no particular order, 1) Brent Assink, who is leaving the San Francisco Opera...and who turned down the NY job last time it was open 2) David Gockley, who has retired from the San Francisco Opera but who probably isn't interested in this job, and 3) Deborah Borda, but she is not going to leave LA.

So much for that thinking.

Over at the Washington Post, Anne Midgette, after picking herself up off the floor, speculates on why Borda would take on this particular challenge:
Why would Borda want to return to a job she already had? Speculation is already running rampant. Her last stint at the New York Philharmonic was a mixed experience. She was the first woman to run a major American orchestra when she took over in 1991, but she had a contentious relationship with Kurt Masur, the music director for her entire tenure. Does this return offer her a chance to realize her vision for the orchestra in the company of a new music director?
Or did she want to live in the same city as her longtime partner, Coralie Toevs, the chief development officer of the Metropolitan Opera? Or did the board just offer her a boatload of money?
The answer is likely some combination of all three, but perhaps outweighed by the thrill of a challenge. The New York Philharmonic, for all of its longtime foibles, is widely seen as one of the pinnacles of the orchestra world, the peak of a career. And it’s in such dire straits right now that only a real visionary can help fix it. No one doubts that Borda could be the person to turn it around; still, it would certainly be a major coup for her were she to pull it off.
I think Anne is absolutely right: the thrill of the challenge has to be a huge factor in the decision. The Philharmonic post is a difficult one, between the musicians' reputation, the apparent lack of direction of the orchestra over a long period, the years of financial problems, and the huge task of raising money for the renovation. If Borda can pull off the renovation and stabilize the orchestra's finances, she'll go down in history as a hero, the savior of the country's oldest orchestra.

The other reasons are significant as well. After 15 years of racking up frequent flyer miles, who wouldn't want to be in the same city as her beloved?

As for the boatloads of money, Deborah Borda is already the highest-paid orchestra executive in the country. When the Phil's 990s start to come out for the second Borda era, we'll see just what the pricetag was. But the point is, if she does what she's setting out to do, she'll deserve every penny.

My last thought on this is speculative: the NY Philharmonic's repertory has been far more adventurous and interesting under Alan Gilbert than under his last several predecessors. You'd need to go back to Boulez to find the last conductor who took a serious interest in forward-looking programming. There has been some concern about Jaap van Zweden's interest in new and recent music. But under Deborah Borda, the LA Phil's programming has been the most interest and adventurous of any orchestra in the country, and it just gets better and better every year. We can at least hope that she'll hire a progressive replacement for Edward Yim and continue this in NYC.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Anna Caterina Antonacci in San Francisco: Media Roundup

Anna Caterina Antonacci in La Voix humaine at SF Opera Lab.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera


Anna Caterina Antonacci, the legendary Italian singer, is in town giving just three performances of a recital that includes songs by Berlioz, Debussy, and Poulenc, with the second half devoted entirely to Poulenc's La Voix humaine.

I say you should see it! She's excellent in the songs and superb in La Voix humaine. And here are links to what the critics have to say.

  • Joshua Kosman, Chron, is on a tear, following his forceful piece last week, Classical Music: So white and male. This week, he has plenty of praise for Antonacci and nothing good to say about La Voix humaine, calling it a "jangly bit of lurid misogyny." More below about this.
  • Georgia Rowe, Mercury News. We're on the same page.
  • Opera Tattler; lots of praise for Antonacci. Okay, I yield to her expertise on the gowns, but I did like the almost-Berkeley-therapist outfit for the songs.
  • Lisa Hirsch, SFCV. I should have been more effusive about Sulzen, who played gorgeously.
Bonus media from the past:
  • Ako Imamura, Bachtrack, writing in 2015 about the NYC performance of a program similar to this.
  • Zachary Wolfe, NY Times, writing in 2015 about the NYC performance of the same program as Imamura. Note the photo; presumably Antonacci travels with the phone.
So about La Voix humaine. I liked the work well enough. It is technically well-put-together, a tour-de-force for the singer, with an extremely dramatic piano part, by Poulenc himself rather than a straight reduction from the orchestral score. The program didn't credit a director, and what Antonacci did with it was infinitely detailed, from her physical movements to the color of her voice to the way she shaped each phrase.

I can't exactly say I was moved by it, though if you'd asked me before I saw Joshua's piece I would have just said that it has a particular quality of detachment, of putting the character Elle under a microscope. I might have said this is typically French or typical of Poulenc. But maybe it really was because the character isn't well fleshed out; we see only one particular side of her personality and we see when, very likely, she is at her worst, desperate and suicidal. Certainly Joshua's analysis isn't wrong, but I believe that the musical and dramatic value of La Voix humaine, and what a great singer like Antonacci can do with it, make it worth performing.


International Women's Day, 2017

Joshua Kosman celebrated the occasion a day early, with an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the nearly-complete failure of American orchestras to notice that all good composers aren't white, male, and mostly dead.

My only disagreement with the article is that I don't consider SoundBox to be the equivalent of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Green Umbrella series. SoundBox is an obvious attempt to create an experience that's far removed from what goes on 100 feet away on the main stage of Davies: the low lights, the nightclub-like atmosphere, the couch-and-bar-stool seating, the drinks, the difficulty of getting tickets, the permission to use your camera, the excerpting of larger works, the appeal to a new audience. I've been to a couple of Green Umbrella concerts; they're held in the main auditorium of WDCH, listed on the regular concert schedule, and work just like SFS's regular chamber music programs.

That's a small point. Here's Joshua's conclusion, which boils down to "if you are only programming music by dead white men, you're missing a lot of great music:"
There are women all over the world writing music of great individuality, vividness and intensity that would not only excite listeners but remind young people that yes, women can be composers too. There are countless black and Asian and Latino composers who deserve better than to be consigned to silence, or to the dubious spotlight of the ethnic-celebration concert.
If the Los Angeles Philharmonic can find these creative figures, other organizations can too. All that’s lacking, presumably, is the will — and the consciousness, lacking for far too long, that this needs to be a priority.
And if increasing the ethnic and gender diversity of the repertoire means bringing it that much closer to the music of our own time — well, we’ll consider that an ancillary benefit.
So what can we all do about the hegemony of (mostly dead) white men? Well, for one thing, let your local orchestras and concert presenters know that you would like to hear more music not written by dead white men. Send 'em letters. Tell them that you will contribute more or buy more tickets when they start programming music (or more music) by women and non-white composers. Keep track of how local organizations are doing and take public note of their repertory: use Twitter, Facebook, and your blog / LiveJournal / Instagram /whatever account to hold these groups responsible for their programming.

Here's the situation locally:
  • As Joshua notes, SFS's 2017-18 season has one (1) work on it not by a white man, in the form of Kaija Saariaho's Lanterna Magica. He did not note that it is on Susanna Mälkki's program. She happens to be the only woman conducting next year at SFS; she is also Finnish; we can guess that she asked for this piece. Past years haven't been much better, with anywhere from 0 to maybe 2 works composed by women and hardly any by nonwhite men.
  • San Francisco Opera has not yet performed an opera composed by a woman on its main stage. Some years ago, they staged Rachel Portman's The Little Prince at Zellerbach. They did try to commission a work from Jennifer Higdon, an honored and excellent composer; for complicated reasons, SFO and Higdon were ultimately unable to come to an agreement and the commission was withdrawn. Santa Fe Opera commissioned Cold Mountain from her and wound up with a Grammy-winning recording and an apparent hit. I've been wondering whether Saariaho's first opera, L'Amour de Loin, might not turn up here. Matthew Shilvock saw it in NYC and was evidently impressed, based on his Twitter feed. The work is comparatively inexpensive to stage, with only three singers and the chorus. It can also be done easily with a unit set, further reducing costs. This opera would be a good start, anyway.
  • The Oakland Symphony has gone out of its way over the last decade to showcase works by composers who aren't dead white men. They've had Persian composers, African American composers, Mexican composers and others. Support them! Buy tickets!
  • West Edge Opera performed Laura Kaminsky's As One in 2015 and will stage Libby Larsen's Frankenstein this coming summer.
  • Over at Magnificat, director Warren Stewart has been programming music by female composers of the Renaissance and Middle Ages for, well, forever. Support them! Buy tickets! (Well, if they are performing these days - they have not given a concert in a year.)
  • Small, nimble, new music groups are generally doing better than the big organizations, in part because if you're performing new music, it's just about impossible to ignore female composers.