Elektra

Elektra

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

July Self-Defense Class: We've Still Got Openings

Details:

I'll be teaching an intensive self-defense class for adult women in July.

Dates:   Two Saturdays, July 8 and July 15, 2017

Time:    1 p.m. to 3 p,m. both days

Who:     Adult women, age 16 and up, cis or trans. No athletic or martial arts experience required. 
               Techniques are adaptable for a wide range of physical abilities.

Cost:      $90. Class open to all, regardless of ability to pay. If you need to pay less, just let me know.

               at Mind Body Dojo 
               7512 Fairmount Ave.
               El Cerrito, CA 94530

You'll learn basic blocks, kicks, and strikes; effective defenses against common attacks; self-protection strategy. It's a fun, energetic, power-building class.

Class taught by me, Lisa Hirsch, second-degree black belt in Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu. I've been practicing since 1982 and have about 25 years of teaching experience.

To enroll, leave a comment here or contact me at sensei@opendoorjujitsu.com, via the dojo contact form, or at 510-842-6243. 

For lots more information about Open Door Jujitsu, see our web site!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Some Thoughts on Writing, Especially Big Projects

A discussion on Twitter got me thinking that I'd like to write up some observations about writing. They are based largely on three things:

  • Twenty years as a professional writer, usually with tight deadlines. I've been a technical writer since 1996, and mostly I have had to deal with deadlines. (I will say that I'm happier and get more done when I have externally-imposed due dates.) I've been writing paid music reviews since 2004, and deadlines are the reason I got my SF Opera Les Troyens review done in a reasonable time frame (before the second performance), but you still haven't seen my blog posts about the Chicago Troyens...which was last November.
  • Editing projects of varying lengths for professional publication. These include a novel and a doctoral dissertation, plus some shorter articles.
  • Thirtyish years of practicing and more than 20 years of teaching martial arts. Yeah, I've learned things that apply to writing projects.
Martial arts practice is different from writing. It's a physical practice that is significantly influenced by your internal state, learning style, physical abilities, and cognitive strengths. In my style, there are also no deadlines: in general, nobody is giving you a due date to test for a particular rank. You can take as long as you'd like.

In a situation like this, it can become a teacher's task to motivate a student who is practicing regularly but seems directionless and therefore isn't making progress. Setting deadlines may in fact provide some structure for that student and help her to move ahead. I would generally not make this a deadline for a rank test, but I would not hesitate to say "I would like you to demonstrate 5 (or 10) arts of your choice in three weeks. Please bring a list of what you'll demonstrate to the next class." And then I'll make sure the student gets time to practice those and gets feedback from me, too.

In terms of long writing projects, getting hung up in your material in some way can hold you back. For some writers, making up a detailed outline and even a detailed schedule may help you move forward. You can get all sorts of elaborate tools for these tasks, or you can just use a spreadsheet or word processor. Using something less complicated is a good idea, because otherwise you can get sidetracked by learning an elaborate tool.

Just committing to writing 250 (or 500 or 1000) words per day might be enough to help you make progress. After you make something a habit - such as writing 250 words a day - for many people, it'll get easier to do. There's a lot of psychological research published at this point about how to change or establish habits, with different approaches to doing this. One of these approaches might work for people who feel stuck and would like to change their working habits.

Then there's perfectionism: OMG THIS JUST ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH MUST REVISE. AND REVISE AND REVISE. My first jujitsu sensei always said "Strive for perfection, accept what you get." In martial arts, this is easy to understand, because you will do that imperfect technique thousands of times during your years of practice. Some will be great, some won't be, but over time, your basic standard will go up. I can execute dozens of techniques on a consistently good basis, but that's after a lot of hard work and a couple of dan rank exams.

When you're writing, you get something that you don't have in the martial arts: the revision and editing process. Until you turn in the final manuscript, you have lots of control. Yeah, the words on the page might seem to suck, but you will have lots of opportunities to revise your book or dissertation. 

And, you know? Sometimes they'll suck, but sometimes, maybe most of the time,  they won't. You might not be the best judge of what you're writing! It's a good idea to have friendly eyes, people you really trust, take a look at your project while it's in process. They are more objective than you are. If they're good writers or editors, they may spot organizational issues that, when dealt with, make everything flow better. 

It's important, very important, to keep in mind that your manuscript is in flux. Let go as best you can if you find yourself stuck, or obsessed with a particular section, or chapter or day's writing. Work on something else: it is entirely possible to write a large document out of order, as long as your revision process allows you to ensure end-to-end coherence. 

Here I'll throw in something the composer Sheila Silver said to me when I interviewed her some years ago: she composes by sitting down every day and composing. Sometimes what she writes is good and moves ahead the work in progress. Sometimes it's not and she winds up tossing it, or saving it for another time. It's a process that isn't all that different from the process of writing: get something down on paper, evaluate as dispassionately as you can, get something down on paper....

I say "as dispassionately as you can" because, hey, this can be an emotional process for a writer. I write technical documentation, and one salient fact of life for tech writers is that your work becomes obsolete with some speed, depending on the kinds of products you work on. A manual on how to use the database query language SQL won't date that much, because SQL is forever, within various variants. However, every word I wrote between 1998 and 2006, when I was with Documentum, is probably completely obsolete by now. It was useful when I wrote it; they paid me; I genuinely don't care that it's obsolete.

Your dissertation or novel will stay interesting, useful, and current for lots longer that that, and you are probably more emotionally involved with your dissertation or novel than I am with any of my documents. (I am, in fact, somewhat on the cynical side about what I write, and if you saw how tech companies operate, you might be too! Cynicism:it's a good survival skill. And I like the company I work for.) So it's harder to feel dispassionate about. 

What you can do is keep this in mind: writing is a craft. Yes, there's plenty of art in it, but ultimately, it's a craft. It's true that there are people whose writing process never becomes easy. But the more you can do to regard it as a craft, as something you get better at, the more likely it is that it will get easier for you over time.

I'm going to throw in maybe one or two final thoughts before I publish this: try not to get too socially isolated while you're got a big writing project going on. I know how absorbing the work can be, and I know how easy it is to get stuck inside your own head. See people at whatever level works for your place on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Talk about things other than the writing project. Give yourself a break. 

And, really lastly, get yourself physically out of your writing space. You can't just stare at the screen all day. Get out into nature or the city streets around you. If you're ambulatory, you might find walking on your breaks to be helpful; movement somehow shakes things loose and can give you new ideas or cast useful light on what you are doing. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Washington National Opera: Departure of Phillipe Auguin

I realize I forgot to write a post about this: Phillipe Auguin's contract is not being renewed, and he becomes music director emeritus, at Washington National Opera at the completion of the 2017-18 season. "Not renewed" seems pretty blunt: the company didn't want him back. If conductor and company hadn't been able to come to an agreement, the announcement would have said he had decided to leave.

Here's what Francesca Zambello said about his departure. It sounds as though there will be less opera, done on a smaller scale, at WNO than there has been:
“I think he served the company very well,” said Zambello, WNO’s artistic director, by phone on Monday. “Eight years is a good tenure to have.” She also said, “I think he is evolving toward a different aspect of his career, and we are evolving toward different needs from a music director.” The company is focusing, she said, more on American works and projects such as the American Opera Initiative, which involves 20-minute and hour-long new operas. The big Wagnerian repertoire, she said, “is not really in our financial ranges right now.” But Auguin “will stay part of our music family. He’s back this season, and in future seasons.” He will conduct Verdi’s “Don Carlo” — the final opera of his official tenure — at WNO in March.
Anne Midgette's subsequent article about Auguin's depature pulls no punches. Draw your own conclusions, or I'll draw them for you: he was under-used (music director not involved with artistic planning??) and perhaps he and Zambello were as oil and water.
Current list of known openings:
  • Seattle Symphony when Ludovic Morlot leaves
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO)
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Orchestra Nationale de France
  • Vienna Staatsoper / VPO (Dominique Meyer not planning to appoint a WSO MD; his contract expires in 2020.)
  • Dresden Philharmonic: 2019 departure for Michael Sanderling
  • MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony: 2018 departure for Kristian Jarvi
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra: 2018 departure for Robin Ticciati
  • Orchestre National de Lyon: open now, with Leonard Slatkin's departure
  • Brno Philharmonic: open since 2015
  • Singapore Symphony: 2019 departure for Lan Shui
  • Vienna RSO: 2018 departure for Cornelius Meister
  • Toronto SO: 2018 departure for Peter Oundjian
  • Winnipeg SO: 2018 departure for Alexander Mickelthwate
  • Czech Philharmonic, following death of Jiří Bělohlávek
  • Hamburg Symphony, following death of Sir Jeffrey Tate
  • Washington National Opera, departure of Philippe Auguin at conclusion of 2017-18 
  • San Francisco Opera, departure of Nicola Luisotti at conclusion of 2017-18
  • Opera North: open now, with Aleksandr Markovic's departure
  • Bavarian State Opera: with Kirill Petrenko going to Berlin and KP's Munich contract through 2021, it's sort of implied that he'll give up Munich
  • Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: 2017 is Stephen Lord's final season as MD
I am curious about all of these, but of course the San Francisco Opera opening is closest to home.

And closed:
  • NDR Elbphilharmonie: Alan Gilbert becomes MD (or chief conductor) in the 2019-20 season.
  • St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Stéphane Denève to succeed David Robertson
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic; Jaap van Zweden's contract extended through summer of 2022
  • City of Birmingham SO; Mirga Grazintye-Tyla appointed 2/4/2016, succeeding Andris Nelsons
  • New York Philharmonic; Jaap Van Zweden appointed, 1/27/16, succeeding Alan Gilbert
  • National Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda appointed, 1/4/2016, succeeding Christoph Eschenbach.
  • Leipzig Gewandhaus: Andris Nelsons appointed, 9/9/2015
  • LSO: Simon Rattle appointed, 3/2/2015
  • Orchestra de Paris: Daniel Harding, 6/11/2015
  • Berlin Philharmonic: Kirill Petrenko appointed, 6/22/2015
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard succeeds Donald Runnicles in September, 2016

Friday, June 23, 2017

Borda Return Media Round-Up

For reference. Am I missing anything? (Yes, so I have updated the post. And updated it again on June 23. First published in March, 2017.)

Orchestra Executive Merry-Go-Round

Yesterday, Drew McManus had an article at Adaptistration about current vacancies, and recently-filled vacancies, in the executive suites of various American orchestras.
  1. Brent Assink's departure from the San Francisco Symphony after many successful years of financial and (mostly) labor stability. 
  2. Rita Shapiro's departure from the NSO in Washington, DC. She has been replaced by Gary Ginstling, formerly an executive at SFS, a good hire.
  3. Matthew VanBesien left the NY Philharmonic, which then managed the fantastic coup of luring Deborah Borda back to NY from the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
  4. Of course, this leaves a huge gap at the LA Phil, but they've got two excellent internal candidates in Gail Samuel and Chad Smith, and the orchestra should just promote one of them.
  5. Most recently, Allison Vulgamore is out at the Philadelphia Orchestra at the end of this year. It's about time: she was terrible for the Atlanta Symphony (and so was her successor there) and she happily led the Philly into bankruptcy.
My current nightmare: LA or SF hires Allison Vulgamore. Please, no. You had really good things going with Assink and Borda. Keep the streak going.

Gilbert to Hamburg

Alan Gilbert, whose tenure as the music director of the NY Philharmonic just ended, has a new appointment: he will be the music director of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, starting in the fall of 2019. He was their principal guest conductor from 2004 to 2015 and evidently it's a love-fest all around.

Here's what he has to say about this:
As I wrap up my time at the New York Philharmonic, very little would have tempted me to take on the challenge of a new position so soon. But the perfect confluence of circumstances seems to have come together with the Elbphilharmonie Orchestra. First of all, this is a group of musicians that I already know so well and love dearly. The musicians and I have shared a very special rapport and musical chemistry for many years. Furthermore, the environment surrounding the orchestra is uniquely exciting. The Elbphilharmonie is the perfect and already iconic physical space in which to play and present music, and the management team, headed by Achim Dobschall and Sonja Epping of the orchestra and Christoph Lieben-Seutter at the Elbphilharmonie, is the most inspired, ambitious, and forward-looking in the world of music. How rare it is to find a situation in which it is not only possible to imagine pushing the paradigm of orchestras in the 21st century forward, but one in which all constituent groups are demanding that this progress happen. I’m thrilled to have found such a place.
How rare, indeed. Congratulations to Maestro Gilbert, and thank you for giving me one more reason to visit Hamburg one of these days.

Here's Michael Cooper's NY Times article about Gilbert's new gig. Leaving a fixer-upper for a  brand-new house, yep.

Updated list of known openings:
  • Seattle Symphony when Ludovic Morlot leaves
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO)
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Orchestra Nationale de France
  • Vienna Staatsoper / VPO (Dominique Meyer not planning to appoint a WSO MD; his contract expires in 2020.)
  • Dresden Philharmonic: 2019 departure for Michael Sanderling
  • MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony: 2018 departure for Kristian Jarvi
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra: 2018 departure for Robin Ticciati
  • Orchestre National de Lyon: open now, with Leonard Slatkin's departure
  • Brno Philharmonic: open since 2015
  • Singapore Symphony: 2019 departure for Lan Shui
  • Vienna RSO: 2018 departure for Cornelius Meister
  • Toronto SO: 2018 departure for Peter Oundjian
  • Winnipeg SO: 2018 departure for Alexander Mickelthwate
  • Czech Philharmonic, following death of Jiří Bělohlávek
  • Hamburg Symphony, following death of Sir Jeffrey Tate
  • Washington National Opera, departure of Philippe Auguin at conclusion of 2017-18 
  • San Francisco Opera, departure of Nicola Luisotti at conclusion of 2017-18
  • * Opera North: open now, with Aleksandr Markovic's departure
  • Bavarian State Opera: with Kirill Petrenko going to Berlin and KP's Munich contract through 2021, it's sort of implied that he'll give up Munich
  • Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: 2017 is Stephen Lord's final season as MD

And closed:

  • St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Stéphane Denève to succeed David Robertson
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic; Jaap van Zweden's contract extended through summer of 2022
  • City of Birmingham SO; Mirga Grazintye-Tyla appointed 2/4/2016, succeeding Andris Nelsons
  • New York Philharmonic; Jaap Van Zweden appointed, 1/27/16, succeeding Alan Gilbert
  • National Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda appointed, 1/4/2016, succeeding Christoph Eschenbach.
  • Leipzig Gewandhaus: Andris Nelsons appointed, 9/9/2015
  • LSO: Simon Rattle appointed, 3/2/2015
  • Orchestra de Paris: Daniel Harding, 6/11/2015
  • Berlin Philharmonic: Kirill Petrenko appointed, 6/22/2015
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard succeeds Donald Runnicles in September, 2016
  • NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Hamburg; Alan Gilbert appointed starting in 2019.

Oakland Friday Photo


Avocado toasts
May, 2017
Caused a sensation on Twitter. Good thing I already have a house. Of course, they are homemade avocado toasts and didn't cost $19.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Vacanies

A reader was kind enough to provide me with MANY additions to my list of open music director jobs. Here are the current openings:

Updated list of known openings:
  • Seattle Symphony when Ludovic Morlot leaves
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO)
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Orchestra Nationale de France
  • Vienna Staatsoper / VPO (Dominique Meyer not planning to appoint a WSO MD; his contract expires in 2020.)
  • Dresden Philharmonic: 2019 departure for Michael Sanderling
  • MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony: 2018 departure for Kristian Jarvi
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra: 2018 departure for Robin Ticciati
  • Orchestre National de Lyon: open now, with Leonard Slatkin's departure
  • Brno Philharmonic: open since 2015
  • Singapore Symphony: 2019 departure for Lan Shui
  • Vienna RSO: 2018 departure for Cornelius Meister
  • Toronto SO: 2018 departure for Peter Oundjian
  • Winnipeg SO: 2018 departure for Alexander Mickelthwate
  • Czech Philharmonic, following death of Jiří Bělohlávek
  • Hamburg Symphony, following death of Sir Jeffrey Tate
  • Washington National Opera, departure of Philippe Auguin at conclusion of 2017-18 
  • San Francisco Opera, departure of Nicola Luisotti at conclusion of 2017-18
  • Opera North: open now, with Aleksandr Markovic's departure
  • Bavarian State Opera: with Kirill Petrenko going to Berlin and KP's Munich contract through 2021, it's sort of implied that he'll give up Munich
  • Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: 2017 is Stephen Lord's final season as MD
I am curious about all of these, but of course the San Francisco Opera opening is closest to home.

Friday, June 16, 2017

San Francisco Opera and Nicola Luisotti on KQED-TV

Upcoming TV broadcasts of SFO productions:

Attila – Giuseppe Verdi
Thursday, August 3 at 9 pm
KQED 9
In popular culture, Attila the Hun was a ruthless barbarian, but to Verdi, he was a far more complex and compelling figure: a brave, ambitious warrior tormented by fierce internal doubts. This San Francisco Opera/Teatro alla Scala co-production features a distinguished cast, including legendary Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title role and Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey as the Roman general Ezio. The cast also features Lucrecia Garcia (Odabella), Diego Torre (Foresto), Samuel Ramey (Leone) and Nathaniel Peake(Uldino). Nicola Luisotti conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. The performance was recorded in June 2012.


Mefistofele – Arrigo Boito
Thursday, August 24 at 9 pm
KQED 9
This monumental work of “choral grandeur and melodic richness” (The New York Times), a reimagining of Goethe’s Faust, is one of the most impressive productions ever seen at the War Memorial Opera House. The title role of Mefistofele is sung by Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov in his staged role debut. The cast also features Ramón Vargas (Faust),Patricia Racette (Margherita/Elena), Chuanyue Wang (Wagner/Nereo), Erin Johnson(Marta), Renee Rapier (Pantalis), Luke Lazzaro (Adam) and Brook Broughton (Eve).Maestro Nicola Luisotti conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in the bold San Francisco Opera production by director Robert CarsenThe performance was recorded in September 2013.

As It Was Foretold

From the Met:
Sonya Yoncheva will make her role debut in the Met’s new production of Puccini’s Tosca next season replacing Kristine Opolais, who has withdrawn for personal reasons. The Met looks forward to welcoming Ms. Opolais back in future seasons. The company is grateful to the Vienna State Opera for releasing Ms. Yoncheva from a previous commitment.
Ailyn Pérez, who most recently sang Mimì in the Met’s production of Puccini’s La Bohème, will replace Yoncheva as the Countess in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro in performances from December 29 through January 13.
 The new staging of Tosca opens on December 31 and will be directed by Sir David McVicar and conducted by Andris Nelsons. The premiere performances will also star Vittorio Grigolo as Cavaradossi and Bryn Terfel as Scarpia. On January 12, Jennifer Rowley will sing the title role ofTosca. The January 27 matinee will be transmitted live as part of the Met’s Live in HD series, which reaches more than 2,000 movie theaters in 71 countries around the world.
The performances of Le Nozze di Figaro with Ailyn Pérez open on December 29, with Nadine Sierra as Susanna, Isabel Leonard as Cherubino, Mariusz Kwiecien as the Count, and Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro. The conductor is Harry Bicket.
Foretold by Parterre Box not long after the Met season announcement.

Hawaii Friday Photo


Westernmost Bookstore in the United States
Kauai, March, 2017

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Guest Post: The Exterminating Angel

Review by Burst of Beaden

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
April 24, 2017

Music by Thomas Ades
Libretto by Tom Cairns
Conducted by Thomas Ades
Directed by Tom Cairns
Royal Opera Orchestra & Chorus

For anyone who has seen Luis Bunuel's 1962 surrealist film, "The Exterminating Angel", the idea of writing a theatrical version might seem like a very bad idea The film depicts a dinner party where the guests are not able to call it a night and leave. They remain in the same room for weeks, with disturbing results. This situation is inherently static and claustrophobic. The main events are psychological rather than actual.

Despite this basis, two important composers, Thomas Ades and Stephen Sondhiem, have decided to set this piece to music. Sondheim is adapting 2 Bunuel films "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie" (1972) and "The Exterminating Angel" as a two-act musical entitled "Bunuel," which had a workshop performance in November 2016. A New York opening is planned for the near future.

Ades's opera, also entitled "The Exterminating Angel," premiered in Salzburg at the relatively intimate Haus fur Mozart in August 2016. The U.K. premiere took place in London at The Royal Opera House on April 24 ,2017, with (as far as I can tell) the same cast, Ades conducting. (The opera will be performed at the Met next fall with mostly the same cast and conductor). I was able to get a ticket for the sold-out London premiere by visiting the box office and getting a returned ticket.

I'm not a music critic or a trained musicologist, so I will not try to describe this huge, overwhelming, but ultimately rewarding score. For that I refer you to Alex Ross's excellent critique of the Salzburg opening in the New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/08/22/thomas-ades-the-exterminating-angel). 

Ades (the composer) does not ease the audience into the opera's dense and complex sound world. For example, the entrance of the party guests is accompanied by loud blasts from the orchestra that are not comfortingly diatonic or chromatic. We are immediately adrift in a Berg-like vortex of sound. 

As told repeatedly in the program notes, the music is a "musical collage" that includes parodies of late romantic, 12 tone, baroque, folk, bel canto, symphonic, … I must say that I didn't discern any rock, hip-hop, or rap (doesn't mean it wasn't included, though). I could discern recitative, trios, duets, arias, songs, choruses, and orchestral interludes. But in the end, I just let the music wash over me without trying to analyze it, which is an approach that I recommend.

The cast includes the expected array of S-MS-T-B-B parts. This being Ades, the cast also includes the unexpected. There is a brilliantly applied use of the counter-tenor voice for a highly agitated young man, who at one point complains that he cannot drink coffee with a tea spoon. The "diva" character sings in a high tessitura like that of Ariel in Ades "The Tempest." In other words, maybe only dogs can actually hear every note. 

It's an opera with a very large cast of characters. (At one point, I counted 11 characters onstage, but there are more.)   How to tell them apart?  Who are the principal characters? Who are the minor characters? Where's the exposition that tells us right away who the host and hostess are? Who is the diva of the piece?  Why are there sheep onstage before the opera begins and are they principal characters? Needless to say, I was perplexed, but by the second act, I got my bearings.

There are several starry singers in the cast, including Anne Sofie Von Otter (a neurotic woman), John Tomlinson (her doctor), Thomas Allen (a conductor), Christina Rice (his wife, a pianist), Charles Workman (host), Amanda Echalaz (hostess), Sally Matthews (a widowed mother), Iestyn Davies (her highly agitated brother), and  Audrey Luna (a diva). The singers were all excellent and comfortable in their roles. I must say it was fun to see Sir Thomas Allen running around in his boxer shorts, compete with garters, in the second and third acts. 

I would like to give shout-outs to a few musical passages where Ades extends a perhaps patronizing had to the less-musically sophisticated of us in the audience: 
  • The interlude between acts 1 and 2. It was wonderful and Ades (the conductor) and the orchestra played the heck out of it. (It is as brilliant as interludes in "Peter Grimes" or "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.") 
  • Christina Rices's poignant singing of a song-within-the-opera in Act 1.
  • The diva's final virtuoso aria in act 3, in which Audrey Luna makes the opera her own. 
So, what of the opera itself? Does it succeed? I think it does succeed, on its own terms.
Just like the characters in the opera, we, the audience, are guests who are transfixed by an invisible force. For us, the invisible force is the opera; our Exterminating Angel is Ades himself.  (I'm not making this up, the clues are in the libretto.) What the opera does, what Ades accomplishes, is to hold up a brilliant, unflattering mirror to us, the audience. We must look back. Bravo, Ades, for that!




Monday, June 12, 2017

It's Possible to Overthink These Things.

Sometimes people go to concerts because they just want to hear the music, but if you're an executive with a major musical organization, especially the musical organization across the street from the current venue, then people who overthink things (that would be me) might wonder about spotting the SF Opera general director and director of communications & public affairs at Susanna Mälkki's bang-up Stravinsky and Beethoven program the other day. Even when she knows that the director of communications loves double reeds and there were lots of them on the program.

That was a long sentence! But the fact is that every US musical organization should have Mälkki on their list of "people we'd like to have as a guest conductor some day." She is terrific, with proven abilities in new music (she was MD of the mighty Ensemble Intercontemporain, for heaven's sake), the classics, and opera (it's not a secret that Matthew Shilvock was in the house last fall for Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin at the Met, conducted by Mälkki).

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Singers! Audition for Island City Opera's Upcoming Productions

From their press release:

 

AUDITION ANNOUNCEMENT for 2018 SEASON

Island City Opera is holding auditions for our 2018 Season for both principal roles and chorus at Alameda Elks Lodge Ballroom, 2255 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda, CA on June 25th, 1PM to 6PM, and, July 1st, 10AM to 4PM.

Schedule an Audition

In January 2018, Island City Opera is proud to join with Valhalla Productions to produce a double bill of two one-act operas by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov seldom heard in America; Mozart and Salieri sung in English, and, Kashchey the Immortal sung in it's original Russian. Conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya. Copies of the vocal scores of the Rimsky-Korsakov operas (in Russian) can be found here

In March 2018, Island City Opera will present Vincenzo Bellini's La Sonnambula, a rarely performed bel-canto gem sung in it's original Italian. Directed by Olivia Stapp. Conducted by Jonathan Khuner.

Although auditions for any of the operas can be accommodated on either day, those wishing to audition for principal roles for the Rimsky-Korsakov operas are requested to schedule their auditions for June 25th if at all possible. Likewise, those auditioning for principal roles for La Sonnambula only should try to schedule for July 1 if possible.

All roles in the Rimsky-Korsakov operas will be double-cast if possible. La Sonnambula will be single cast with possible covers. Singers auditioning for principal roles are requested to sing a prepared aria or song in each language of the operas for which they wish to be considered.

For people wishing to sing in our chorus for either or both productions, who have not sung with us before, we would be delighted to hear you at these auditions as well.

To schedule an audition appointment, please complete the form here. The audition will be no more than 15 minutes. An accompanist will be provided.

If it is impossible for you to audition on either of these dates, we can arrange a private hearing at a mutually convenient time and place, but, there may be a $25 fee.
Schedule an Audition

Garden of Memory


Photo by Lisa Hirsch


The annual new music extravaganza approaches! It is always a ton of fun, with a wide variety of music from dozens of talented performers.

From the press release:

Wednesday, June 21, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Chapel of the Chimes | 4499 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA
Admission: $15 general, $10 students & seniors

Advance Tickets & Information: www.gardenofmemory.com

Listeners are advised to either carpool or come by public transportation, as parking is very limited.

Featuring over 40 performers including Kitka, Henry Kaiser, Rova Saxophone Quartet, Robin Petrie, Samuel Adams and Helen Kim, Sarah Cahill, Paul Dresher and Joel Davel, Amy X Neuburg, Lightbulb Ensemble, Dylan Mattingly, Pamela Z, Larry Polansky and Giacomo Fiore


Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Denève to St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

I was surprised by David Robertson's impending departure from the SLSO. Today the orchestra announced that Stéphane Denève has been named the next SLSO music director.

He seems like a damn good choice to me. His programs in SF have been imaginative and very well conducted. He's not afraid of new music and has managed to get some on most of his programs when he's the guest conductor for a US orchestra.

Updated list of known openings:
  • Seattle Symphony when Ludovic Morlot leaves
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO)
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Orchestra Nationale de France
  • Vienna Staatsoper / VPO (Dominique Meyer not planning to appoint a WSO MD; his contract expires in 2020.)
  • Dresden Philharmonic: 2019 departure for Michael Sanderling
  • MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony: 2018 departure for Kristian Jarvi
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra: 2018 departure for Robin Ticciati
  • Orchestre National de Lyon: open now, with Leonard Slatkin's departure
  • Brno Philharmonic: open since 2015
  • Singapore Symphony: 2019 departure for Lan Shui
  • Vienna RSO: 2018 departure for Cornelius Meister
  • Toronto SO: 2018 departure for Peter Oundjian
  • Winnipeg SO: 2018 departure for Alexander Mickelthwate
  • Czech Philharmonic, following death of Jiří Bělohlávek
  • Hamburg Symphony, following death of Sir Jeffrey Tate
  • Washington National Opera, departure of Philippe Auguin at conclusion of 2017-18 
  • San Francisco Opera, departure of Nicola Luisotti at conclusion of 2017-18
  • * Opera North: open now, with Aleksandr Markovic's departure
  • Bavarian State Opera: with Kirill Petrenko going to Berlin and KP's Munich contract through 2021, it's sort of implied that he'll give up Munich
  • Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: 2017 is Stephen Lord's final season as MD

And closed:

  • St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Stéphane Denève to succeed David Robertson
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic; Jaap van Zweden's contract extended through summer of 2022
  • City of Birmingham SO; Mirga Grazintye-Tyla appointed 2/4/2016, succeeding Andris Nelsons
  • New York Philharmonic; Jaap Van Zweden appointed, 1/27/16, succeeding Alan Gilbert
  • National Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda appointed, 1/4/2016, succeeding Christoph Eschenbach.
  • Leipzig Gewandhaus: Andris Nelsons appointed, 9/9/2015
  • LSO: Simon Rattle appointed, 3/2/2015
  • Orchestra de Paris: Daniel Harding, 6/11/2015
  • Berlin Philharmonic: Kirill Petrenko appointed, 6/22/2015
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard succeeds Donald Runnicles in September, 2016

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Sir Jeffrey Tate

Last week was a bad week for great conductors. Jiří Bělohlávek died, followed a day or so later by the British conductor Sir Jeffrey Tate, who died of a heart attack in Bergamo, Italy, at age 74.

That meant that Tate outlived his initial life expectancy by about 24 years. He was born with spina bifida and kyphosis (severe curvature of the spine), and his parents were told he'd probably live to be about 50. He trained initially as an eye doctor, all the while having an eye on music, but his parents wanted him to be in a profession that would give him a solid livelihood. In his 20s, he had the chance to enroll in a program for conductor/repetiteurs, and then he was invited to join the music staff at the Royal Opera.

He didn't look back from there, and had a superb career with both opera and orchestral music. I never heard him conduct in person, but his Hansel und Gretel is gloriously conducted, and he made many other fine recordings. He conducted 20 Ring cycles, and they must have been fabulous, given his success with Hansel. He was knighted recently, having been on the New Year's Honours List.

He said that he felt like a double outsider, as a disabled man and a gay man, mentioning that gay men tended to be very focused on bodily perfection. He's survived by his partner, more recently husband, of 40 yearsKlaus Kuhlemann, a German scientist he met while conducting in Cologne. Condolences to Mr. Kuhlemann and all who knew and loved Sir Jeffrey.

Other obits:

Ojai 2018 News

A press release arrived about Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s planned programming for next year, and hoo boy, it's pretty great. You may recall that she stepped in for Esa-Pekka Salonen, who withdrew owing to his composing schedule.

From the press release:
The 2018 Ojai Music Festival welcomes the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in its first extended United States residency. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1997 based on the shared vision of being a free and international ensemble, dedicated to creating and sharing exceptional experiences in classical music. With 45 members spanning 20 different countries at its core, the MCO works as a nomadic collective of passionate musicians uniting for specific tours in Europe and across the world. Based in Berlin, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra forms the basis of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and has long and fruitful artistic relationships with major artists, including Ms. Kopatchinskaja and Mitsuko Uchida, Ojai’s 2021 Music Director. In Ojai, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra will be featured both as an orchestral ensemble, and also as a showcase for the superb solo and chamber music artistry of its members.
Major 2018 Festival projects include two staged concerts designed by Ms. Kopatchinskaja. The first is Bye Bye Beethoven, which she describes as a commentary on “the irrelevance of the classic concert routine for our present life.” This staged program features a mash-up of music by Charles Ives, John Cage, Joseph Haydn, György Kurtág, Johann Sebastian Bach, and the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Ms. Kopatchinskaja’s second semi-staged concert is her own provocative commentary on the inevitable consequences on the planet of global warming. Titled Dies Irae, the program includes music by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Michael Hersch, Byzantine chant, Giacinto Scelsi, and Galina Ustvolskaya’s remarkable Dies Irae for eight double basses, piano, and wooden coffin.
A new piece by American composer Michael Hersch – described by him as a dramatic cantata for two sopranos and eight instrumentalists – will receive its world premiere at the 2018 Ojai Music Festival, with subsequent performances at Cal Performances’ Ojai at Berkeley and at Great Britain’s venerable Aldeburgh Festival. Mr. Hersch, who wrote a violin concerto for Ms. Kopatchinskaja two years ago, is considered one of the most gifted composers of his generation and is a formidable pianist. He currently serves on the composition faculty at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. This new work is a co-commission by the Ojai Music Festival, Cal Performances Berkeley, the Aldeburgh Festival, and PNReview, the prominent British poetry magazine at which Mr. Hersch is artist-in-residence.
Additional programming highlights include Kurtag’s Kafka Fragments; Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat on the occasion of its centennial; major chamber and piano music by Galina Ustvolskaya; as well as Roumanian and Moldavian folk music performed by Ms. Kopatchinskaja and her parents, Viktor and Emilia Kopatchinski on cimbalom and violin. The Festival closes with the Ligeti Violin Concerto performed by Patricia Kopatchinskaja.
As I said, wow. That's a great start.

Friday, June 02, 2017

San Francisco Friday Photo


Mission Bay, SF
April, 2017


There's a long, curved, outdoor bench in the UCSF / Kaiser part of Mission Bay that has these adorable starfish and other sea creatures on it. I liked them very much until I realized that part of their function is to decoratively keep people from sleeping on the bench.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Jiří Bělohlávek

Jiří Bĕlohlávek
Photo: Vaclav Jirasek, courtesy of SF Opera


Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek has died at 71, after a long illness of some kind. He was conductor of the Czech Philharmonic and former principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Locally, he led two very great productions at San Francisco Opera, 2010's Makropulos Case and last year's magnificent Jenufa.

I understand that he had a somewhat stormy relationship with the Czech Phil - there was some coming and going - but I hope I never forget how great that Jenufa; was just the sound of the orchestra was a miracle.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Change of Venue, West Edge Opera Edition

West Edge Opera, which has used the abandoned Wood Street train station for part or all of its summer festival for the last couple of years, will not be able to do so this year after all. Short version: the City of Oakland withdrew permission to hold public events there.

Negotiations are in progress for a new venue, the location of which isn't disclosed in WEO's press release. There will still be a shuttle to the site and it will have amenities similar to those of the train station.

Press release is below the cut.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Matthew Shilvock at the Wagner Society


Terri Stuart, left, presenting Matthew Shilvock with something 
at the March Wagner Society meeting.
Photo by Lisa Hirsch.

Matthew Shilvock, the still-new general director of San Francisco Opera, spoke to the Wagner Society of Northern California back in March, giving a talk that combined his own introduction to opera, his first encounter with the Ring (it did not end well, owing to circumstances beyond his control - a case of mono), some Wagner productions he's seen, a glimpse of the future, the cast of the upcoming Ring, and an in-depth look at the specialized project management skills that are needed for scheduling rehearsals for the Ring, or, for that matter, any opera season.

He also talked very frankly, and with numbers to back up what he said, about some aspects of ticket sales and publicity, and the effect of the Met HD broadcasts on ticket sales. (The jury is still out; nobody can fully judge the impact, in part because the Met keeps so much information confidential. I was especially interested to hear that the best guess based on public information is that the Met breaks even on the broadcasts. That was a surprise to me because of the size of the audience. The best guess takes into account the costs of the broadcasts, which I have no idea of.)

It was a great talk, erudite and charming. Also, he has a sense of humor and almost fell over when I held up a sign during the future repertory discussion with one word on it.

Photo by Matthew Shilvock

BIRTWISTLE


Here's the bullet-list version of some of what he said.
  • Francesca Zambello will be coming back to direct the Ring. (I believe that at the season announcement she mentioned that there would undoubtedly be some changes of approach based on both the cast changes and what she learned from staging the production at the WNO  last year and here in 2011.)
  • SFO is talking with both Donald Runnicles and Nicola Luisotti about future projects.
  • Having just one director and one conductor for the summer, as for the Ring, can make it a more straightforward than usual season for the company....in some ways. Summers are still extremely intense.
  • The Ring has children as the Nibelungs. The company works very hard to adhere to the strict child labor laws in California, which were enacted with Hollywood and the film industry in mind. Children must attend stage school, for example
  • Strauss orchestra is bigger than the Ring orchestra; St Francois was the biggest orchestra they have had.
  • The Rheingold anvils are piped in from chorus room
  • The Ring needs lots of rehearsal space. Having the Wilsey Center will make it easier to rehearse the Ring, bringing the orchestra in from the Presidio.
  • Production is shared with Washington National Opera, which staged the first three and then was only able to do Götterdämmerung in concert because of financial challenges following the 2008 recession; they staged the whole thing last year.
  • Matthew showed us the 2011 rehearsal schedule; this utterly fascinated the project manager in me. He talked about it a lot and my notes are incomplete.
    • Color coded
    • Very complex
    • Done in Excel
  • In 2011, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung got more rehearsal time because they were being brought up in SF for the first time, Walküre and Rheingold had been staged before and needed less rehearsal time.
  • Evelyn Herlitzius will be a very different Brünnhilde from Nina Stemme, who sang the role in 2011. Stemme is more classically poised, Herlitzius more elemental. 
  • Sometimes they have to have two orchestra rehearsals for same opera same day; it's not ideal, but sometimes it's the only way to do what needs to be done.
  • The Ring operas require an unending amount of work for singers. Wagner singers understand this and are mellow about it.
  • The covers do rehearsals sometimes for the health of the singers doing Brünnhilde and Wotan. (I'm thinking, maybe Siegfried too? The eponymous opera is absolutely brutal to the tenor.)
  • In 2018, they'll have a full run of dress rehearsals in order; they weren't able to do that in 2011.
  • This is a big benefit to the crew.
  • One week less of rehearsals in the rehearsal room, but  Walküre and Rheingold will get more  rehearsal time than in 2011.
  • Baroque opera, can be more playful because expectation are different; they are not set as with core repertory.
  • Moses and Aron, maybe, or works that, like Moses, are pillars of the contemporary repertory. (There was an audible gasp in the room when he mentioned Moses. I, for one, would love to see this.)
  • Another Handel opera is planned.
  • He mentioned the user friendliness of War Memorial Opera House, where during intermissions the audience has to choose between beverage and bathroom.
  • In their renovated building, the Royal Opera has better user experience than SFO. 

Island City Opera 2018

Island City Opera, Alameda's very own, has an interesting 2018 season!

  • Kashchey the Immortal and Mozart and Salieri, both by Rimsky-Korsakov, January, 2018
  • La Sonnambula, by Vincenzo Bellini, in March, 2018
Both will be at the Elks Ballroom on Santa Clara Avenue. I've never seen any of these and hope to attend.

Honestly Trying Not to Turn Into a Photo Blog: Explanation

Yes, I know, I'm writing fewer blog posts than I used to. I still haven't wrapped up the posts about my Chicago visit....which was six months ago.

The reason is simple: the transfer from Google Mountain View to Google San Francisco, which has been fabulous for my sleep and my sanity, has been bad for blogging. That's because I am no longer spending an absurd amount of time cooling my heels in a comfortable shuttle that's equipped with both wi-fi and tables. I have more time at work and at home, less time in transit, and I spent a lot of that transit time managing incoming email and writing blog posts.

I'm trying to make up for this; I know I've failed to write up any number of interesting concerts I saw, the upcoming season, political issues (groan), and on and on. I miss writing about this stuff! Just need to adjust to the new schedule.

Richard Wagner Birthday Concert

Wagner kitsch, Bayreuth, 2015


To a thoroughly charming concert yesterday afternoon, at beautiful St. Mark's on O'Farrell in San Francisco, celebrating the 204th birthday of the infamous composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner. There was no orchestra, just the two fine pianists William Wellborn and Steven Bailey. They presented a program of (mostly) Wagner transcriptions for the piano.

Wellborn's half of the program was done as a lecture-demo; he discussed the works, and either played them himself or put on a CD of a different pianist performing the work. So we got his knowledge, we got his playing, and we had bonus tracks by Leslie Howard and Ignace Paderewski! This covered the following works:

  • Wagner: Sonata in B-Flat Major (1831) III - Menuetto
  • Wagner-Liszt Senta's Ballad from The Flying Dutchman (Howard)
  • Lizszt - La lugubre Gondola
  • Liszt - Am Grabe Richard Wagners
  • Wagner-Liszt Spinning Chorus from the Flying Dutchman (Paderewski)

Then Bailey came on and did his thing, and quite a thing it was. The Tannhäuser transcription was nearly a half-hour long and included the Venusberg music!

  • Wagner-Liszt Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral from Lohengrin 
  • Wagner-Liszt/Moszkowski/Bailey Tannhäuser Overture "Paris" version
  • Wagner-Liszt - Isolde's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde

And then together they played the delightful and very funny Souvenir de Bayreuth, Faure/Messager, after which we all repaired to the community hall and snacked on fabulous snacks, including cupcakes.

Les Enfants Terribles at Opera Parallele

Opera Parallele's Les Enfants Terribles was so damn good that I would have seen it again had I not had events scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday. (Or maybe I would have gone to SFS to see Matthias Goerne, the big miss of the weekend.) In any event, it was fabulous; Glass's score is simply gorgeous and the staging is apt, haunting, and spot-on. Must admit, of course, that I have a weakness for multi-piano works, as would anyone who turned pages for the first pianist in Les noces at an early age.

I'll also tell you right off that the Glass is a huge improvement over the 1950 Cocteau film, which is not only badly dated, but sunk by the fact that the actors, playing teens, are clearly in their mid-20s. There's just more suspension of disbelief when operatic voices are on stage.

A few things that I could not squeeze into the review:

  • There was a point where baritone Hadleigh Adams and dancer Brett Conway looked just like Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.
  • Opera Parallele patron Betty Wallerstein donated the use of her beautiful home for the film shoot. She gets a big credit and a nice write-up in the program. Thanks from here as well!
  • That ending? I think Glass needs a musical coda of some kind.

Reviews I know of:

What It's Like to Be a Female Composer

Powerful articles in New Music Box from composers Sarah Kirkland Snider and Emily Doolittle.

  • Candy Floss and Merry-Go-Rounds: Female Composers, Gendered Language, and Emotion, by Sarah Kirkland Snider. Read it and weep, and know also that men say this kind of garbage to women in all fields. Women have to put up with this in the sciences, in literature, in tech, in the arts, basically everywhere, from teachers, peers, and people who might commission a new work from you, buy your new novel, and so on. And you can bet that Eric Whitacre never hears this kind of thing these days (I own that it's possible his musical language has gotten criticism).
  • Composing and Motherhood, by Emily Doolittle. How you get treated, how the structure of academic music works against mothers, what might be done to level the field more. 

Learn to Protect Yourself! (Upcoming Women's Self-Defense Class, El Cerrito, CA)

Front snap kick


I'll be teaching an intensive self-defense class for adult women in July.

Dates:   Two Saturdays, July 8 and . July 15, 2017

Time:    1 p.m. to 3 p,m.

Who:     Adult women, cis or trans. No athletic or martial arts experience required.

Cost:      $90. Class open to all, regardless of ability to pay. If you need to pay less, just let me know.

               at Mind Body Dojo 
               7512 Fairmount Ave.
               El Cerrito, CA 94530

You'll learn basic blocks, kicks, and strikes; effective defenses against common attacks; self-protection strategy. It's a fun, energetic, power-building class.

Class is taught by me, Lisa Hirsch, second-degree black belt in Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu. I've been practicing since 1982 and have about 25 years of teaching experience.

To enroll, leave a comment here or contact me at sensei@opendoorjujitsu.com, via the dojo contact form, or at 510-842-6243. 

For lots more information about Open Door Jujitsu, see our web site!