Elektra

Elektra

Friday, October 20, 2017

Thursday, October 19, 2017

California Symphony Gets it Right

I've got an email in my inbox that I had to read twice, but now I see that the California Symphony is making correct use of "emerging." The layout made it a little non-obvious that what they are getting at is that their past support of young composers has been enormously valuable.

Composers they've presented when they were still young include Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Puts, Mason Bates, who has quite a booming career, Christopher Theofanidis (same), Katherine Balch, and others whose work I am completely unfamiliar with.

They further note that six of eight alumni of their Young American Composer-in-Residence program have gone on to win the Rome Prize.

If you want to donate to their ongoing efforts, you can do so; just click right here.

Keep up the good work, California Symphony. New works are the lifeblood of the future.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Davies to Brno, Bychkov to Czech Phil

I didn't particularly cover Dennis Russell Davies' upcoming move to the Brno Philharmonic, so here is a mention of it, along with the even bigger news that Semyon! Bychkov! has accepted the opening at the Czech Philharmonic created by the death of Jiří Bělohlávek. Honestly, I never thought Bychkov would take an ongoing post anywhere.

Here's the press release:

*SEMYON BYCHKOV NAMED CHIEF CONDUCTOR AND
MUSIC DIRECTOR OF THE CZECH PHILHARMONIC
STARTING IN THE 2018-19 SEASON*

*Mr. Bychkov to serve as Chief Conductor and
Music Director Designate during the 2017-18 season*

NEW YORK, NEW YORK (October 16, 2017) — The Czech Philharmonic today announced the appointment of Semyon Bychkov as Chief Conductor and Music Director starting in the 2018-19 season. Mr. Bychkov has been a frequent guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic since first appearing with the Orchestra in 2013, and he is also currently the Artistic Director//of/The Tchaikovsky Project/, which he launched with the Orchestra last October and which encompasses concerts and a Decca recording cycle.

Mr. Bychkov says:

   “The Czech Philharmonic is among the very few orchestras that have managed to preserve a unique identity. In a music world that is increasingly globalized and uniform, the Orchestra’s noble tradition has retained authenticity of expression and sound, making it one of the world’s artistic treasures. When the orchestra and Czech government asked me to succeed beloved Jiří Bělohlávek, I felt deeply honoured by the trust they were ready to place in me. There is no greater privilege for an artist than to become part of and lead an institution that shares the same values, the same commitment, and the same devotion to the art of music.”

In addition to conducting the opening concerts of the 2018-19 season, six subscription weeks, and two weeks of studio recordings, Mr. Bychkov will lead the Orchestra on tour and at the major Czech festivals and concerts that are an integral part of the Orchestra’s presence, including Prague Spring, Dvořák’s Prague, and Smetana’s Litomyšl. He will also lead the Orchestra’s Tchaikovsky residencies in Prague, Vienna, and Paris in 2019, when /The Tchaikovsky Project/ concludes with Decca’s release of the composer’s complete symphonies, three piano concertos, /Romeo & Juliet/,/Serenade for Strings/,//and /Francesca da Rimini./

Reviewing a recent Czech Philharmonic performance of Tchaikovsky’s /Francesca da Rimini /at Smetana’s Litomyšl Festival 2017, /Hospodářské noviny/ wrote: “The Czech Philharmonic is currently in excellent form and trusts Semyon Bychkov. And, being battle-hardened from working around the world with the best orchestras on the planet, he gives the Philharmonic players the room to develop their musical potential. The result is a unique musical creation.”

Czech Philharmonic Chief Executive Officer David Mareček and General Manager Robert Hanč welcomed Mr. Bychkov, with whom they have worked closely since he first conducted the Orchestra:

   “We are thrilled and delighted that Maestro Semyon Bychkov will be taking up the position of Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic. Maestro Bychkov brings out the very best in our musicians, as did his much-loved predecessor Jiří Bělohlávek, and he also shares many of the same values: uncompromising musical excellence, respect for tradition, and a rare gift for communicating great music to the world. The Czech Philharmonic already enjoys a particularly warm and harmonious relationship with Maestro Bychkov and with his appointment we look forward to building further on that work and to taking our music to ever wider audiences. With Maestro Bychkov at the helm of the orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic’s future continues to look very bright indeed.”

Josef Špaček, the youngest concertmaster in the Czech Philharmonic’s history and an “Associate Artist” of the Orchestra, says:

   “Maestro Bychkov is a charismatic artist who is artistically uncompromising. He is never superficial and is a true master of his craft. For him, music is everything, his entire existence. He is able to work wonderfully and effectively with the orchestra. Rehearsals with him are often very strenuous, in part because of his relentless pursuit of perfection, but the artistic result under his leadership is always a unique experience. His international perspective and activities will bring inestimable added value to the orchestra. I hold him in the deepest respect.”

Czech Republic Minister of Culture Daniel Herman says:

“I am enormously pleased that one of the world’s leading conductors, Maestro Semyon Bychkov, has accepted the offer made by me and by the Orchestra’s CEO, Mr. Mareček, and will become the next Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. I am personally acquainted with Mr. Bychkov, and I have great respect for him, not only because of professional excellence and extraordinary artistic talent, but also because of his stances on humanitarian and civic issues.”

One of the world’s most esteemed conductors, *Semyon Bychkov* has achieved international recognition for an approach to music making that combines innate musicality with the rigors of Russian music pedagogy. He has conducted virtually all of the major orchestras in the U.S. and Europe and previously served as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, Grand Rapids Symphony, and Orchestre de Paris, and Chief Conductor of both the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne and the Dresden Semperoper. Mr. Bychkov currently holds the honorary Klemperer Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and the Günter Wand Conducting Chair with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with which he appears annually at the BBC Proms. In 2015, the International Opera Awards named him “Conductor of the Year.” For more information, visit semyonbychkov.com <http://email.kultureshock.net/t/r-l-jlujljky-kthjhjgdk-r/>.

The *Czech Philharmonic*, which in 1896 gave its first concert in its current form under Antonín Dvořák, is composed entirely of Czech musicians and has an extraordinary history which both reflects its place in the center of Europe and the country’s turbulent political history. Acknowledged for its definitive performances of the Czech repertoire—its première recording dates back to 1929 when Chief Conductor Václav Talich conducted Smetana’s /Má vlast/ for release on 10 discs—the Czech Philharmonic has always had a special relationship with the music of Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler. Born in what is now part of the Czech Republic, Mahler conducted the Orchestra in the 1908 première of his Symphony No. 7. For more information, visit ceskafilharmonie.cz <http://email.kultureshock.net/t/r-l-jlujljky-kthjhjgdk-y/>.


Current list of known openings:
  • Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which Leonard Slatkin leaves at the close of the 2017-18 season.
  • Swedish Chamber Orchestra announced in May, 2017, that Thomas Dausgaard will be stepping down as principal conductor at the end of the 2018-19 season. Perhaps this was a tipoff about the Seattle appointment, which commences with 2019-20.
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO)
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.

Conductors looking for jobs (that is, as of the near future, or now, they do not have a posting):
  • Ludovic Morlot
  • Sian Edwards
  • Jun Markl
  • Ingo Metzmacher
  • Bramwell Tovey
  • Jac van Steen
  • Mark Wigglesworth
  • Simone Young 
  • David Robertson
  • Peter Oundjian as of the end of 2017-18
  • Philippe Auguin
And closed:
  • Semyon! Bychkov fills the vacancy at the Czech Philharmonic, following the death of Jiří Bělohlávek
  • Dennis Russell Davies becomes music director of the Brno Philharmonic, which had been open since 2015, as of the 2018-19 season.
  • Nicola Luisotti becoming an assistant music director at the Teatro Real, Madrid, 2018.
  • Seattle Symphony, where Thomas Dausgaard will succeed Ludovic Morlot; announced early October, 2016
  • Vancouver Symphony; Otto Tausk comes on in 2018
  • Orchestra Nationale de France; Emmanuel Krivine takes the post in 2017.
  • 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 Gražinytė-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, October 13, 2017

Friday Photo


Please Destroy Cell Phones Before Entering
Seen on Ashby Ave., Berkeley
July, 2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Houston and Harvey

I'm late, very late, in reporting this, but Houston Grand Opera's house, the Wortham Theater Center, was flooded and badly damaged by Hurricane Harvey a few weeks ago. The Theater Center, which contains more than one auditorium, will be closed until at least May, 2018. The press release is very clear that the May date is the best-case scenario.

Meanwhile, HGO has that can-do spirit and rapidly announced that they'd be performing their first three operas at what they're calling the HGO Resilience Theater @ George R. Brown Convention Center. That's a mouthful, but hooray! If SF Opera could survive 18 months out of the War Memorial Opera House 20 years ago while renovations and earthquake work were being done, well, HGO can do what it needs to do, if under worse - unplanned - circumstances.

The three operas scheduled for the mouthful-house are La Traviata, Julius Caeser, and The House Without a Christmas Tree. No word yet on production number four: Elektra.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cello Change Announcement / Vocal Change Announcement

San Francisco Symphony has announced a couple of soloist changes for the next few weeks of concerts. One was announced last week, but I let it slide.

  • In Krzysztof Urbański's upcoming program, Oct. 19-21, Joshua Roman will play the Dvorak Cello Concerto, replacing Sol Gabetta, whose newborn is "unexpectedly unable to travel with her."
  • In MTT's Thanksgiving week program, Nov. 24-26, mezzo Isabel Leonard will sing in Mahler's Fourth Symphony, where she replaces Susanna Philips, and additional works to be announced. A mezzo in the Mahler is somewhat unusual. Berg's "Seven Early Songs" will evidently no longer be on the program.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Dausgaard to Seattle

I have to admit: I was not at all surprised to see that Thomas Dausgaard had been appointed the next music director of the Seattle Symphony. He's been their principal guest conductor for some time, and is popular in Seattle.

I saw him there, on my first visit to Benaroya Hall, when I was in Seattle on business a few months ago. The program was Strauss; Four Last Songs with Gun-Britt Barkmin and the Alpine Symphony. Both were well-conducted but I would not make any kind of statement about his overall strengths based on one program.

Current list of known openings:
  • Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which Leonard Slatkin leaves at the close of the 2017-18 season.
  • Swedish Chamber Orchestra announced in May, 2017, that Thomas Dausgaard will be stepping down as principal conductor at the end of the 2018-19 season. Perhaps this was a tipoff about the Seattle appointment, which commences with 2019-20.
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO)
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • 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
  • 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.

Conductors looking for jobs (that is, as of the near future, or now, they do not have a posting):
  • Ludovic Morlot
  • Sian Edwards
  • Jun Markl
  • Ingo Metzmacher
  • Bramwell Tovey
  • Jac van Steen
  • Mark Wigglesworth
  • Simone Young 
  • David Robertson
  • Peter Oundjian as of the end of 2017-18
  • Philippe Auguin
And closed:
  • Dennis Russell Davies becomes music director of the Brno Philharmonic, which had been open since 2015, as of the 2018-19 season.
  • Nicola Luisotti becoming an assistant music director at the Teatro Real, Madrid, 2018.
  • Seattle Symphony, where Thomas Dausgaard will succeed Ludovic Morlot; announced early October, 2016
  • Vancouver Symphony; Otto Tausk comes on in 2018
  • Orchestra Nationale de France; Emmanuel Krivine takes the post in 2017.
  • 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 Gražinytė-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

We Can't Scare People Off

I gotta say, I am discouraged to see concert write-ups like this on the SFS web page:

DVOŘÁK’S CELLO CONCERTO WITH THE SF SYMPHONY
Conductor Krzysztof Urbański leads an exhilarating program of virtuosic showpieces, featuring Dvořák’s celebrated Cello Concerto performed by Sol Gabetta, whose “wit, aristocratic poise, and elegance” (The Herald) lend themselves perfectly to the elaborate grandeur of this romantic work. Then, hear Mozart’s charming overture to his iconic opera, The Magic Flute.

It doesn't even mention the Lutoslawski. Look, consider actually OWNING that there's a recent piece on the program and then get excited about it! It's a wonderful piece! People will enjoy hearing it!

Especially since, you know, there's all this stuff in the email publicity and in the program book about how cool it is to have conductors playing music from their native lands (or whatever phrasing it is that you're using). I look forward to hearing Charles Dutoit conduct some Frank Martin one of these days, y'know?

Tip o' the Day

You'll want to see conductor Krzysztof Urbański at San Francisco Symphony this week and in two weeks. I caught this week's program, which was fantastically conducted: 

  • Penderecki, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, ten brilliant and emotionally intense minutes of string writing in many many parts. 
  • Mendelssohn, Violin Concerto, sweetly played by Augustin Hadelich. I didn't like him much in the Beethoven a few years back, and now I think....maybe I just don't like the Beethoven, or maybe it needs more muscular playing than his. A fine Paganinin 21st Caprice as the encore.
  • ....and the real star, Shostakovich's huge Tenth Symphony, fabulously done. I don't know the piece at all and won't say much about the specifics, but you should go!
Random observations: it is weird not to see Mark Volkert in the assistant principal violin chair. Carey Bell now has a goatee; Ed Stephan continues to amaze on the timpani; that must have been the new associate principal oboe, James Button, next to Eugene Izotov during the Shos and in first chair during the Mendelssohn.

The program two weeks out is also a winner: Dvorak cello concert with Sol Gabetta, whom Joshua Kosman raved about after her solo recital some time ago, overture to The Magic Flute, and Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra, a wild piece not heard nearly as often as its older brother by Bartok. Be there or be square.

Why???



I got a rather odd email this morning, one that is unique in my experience, from a Bay Area organization whose mailing list I've been on for a long time. Years, not sure how many.

Here's the text of the email:
We're tuning up for the new season and we noticed that you haven't opened one of our emails in several months.

We understand that everyone needs a break sometimes, and that you probably get a symphony of emails, so we've made it easier for you by taking you off of our email list. 

We would love to welcome you back if you'd like to continue hearing about our phenomenal concerts, performers, educational resources, and music. Just click here to resubscribe:

They must consider the information they will get about people who re-up to be more important than the downsides. But this isn't something I would do, for these reasons.

1. Every email sent by Constant Contact or Mail Chimp or other mailing list management software has an unsubscribe link. Presumably, people who really don't want to receive the emails will click that link.

2. It costs the sender little or nothing to send the email. I admit, I have not checked to see what the paid versions of mailing list software cost, so maybe I am wrong about this.

3. It definitely costs the recipient nothing to receive; email providers don't have quotas on mail you receive, though they may have storage fees.

4. Honestly, they really don't know why someone isn't reading their marketing emails. If the situation is that a family member is ill, or someone has died, or the person is traveling the world and can't attend concerts in the Bay Area, well, throwing them off the mailing list is a big mistake. The mind-reading, we-know-better-than-you-do aspect of this is mildly disturbing.

5. Describing your own concerts as phenomenal: quote a critic or it's not true. I would find complimentary quotes much more persuasive than self-description.

6. Possibly most importantly, does it make sense to call attention to the fact that these emails phone home? I know perfectly well about this function, and even I got that creepy "YOU ARE WATCHING ME" feeling from receiving this email. It is possible that most of the other recipients of this morning's mail don't know that the emails they receive send status back to the sender.

7. If you're sending email like this, an org might as well ask why its emails aren't being read, the equivalent of the question you get when you actively unsubscribe. Wouldn't that be useful to know?

I'm actually somewhat surprised to have received this particular email, because I've read plenty of emails from the org in the last year - but those were probably all press releases. I think it's a while since I attended one of their concerts, alas, but one does have to make choices. 

I don't think I'd do an auto-purge of this type myself; it seems like a gamble to get a response, or attention, or something, from your potential audience. I don't remove people from my dojo's mailing list because I send email to it only three or four times a year, and I figure people can unsubscribe if they don't want the mail - and they do, too: I get three to five unsubscribes annually. (Okay, if I knew someone had died.....)

So, in short, this seems like a gamble and not necessarily one that will pay off. Anyone else have thoughts?

Friday, October 06, 2017

Friday Photo


More or Less a Little Free Library, Birch Coffee, Long Island City
August, 2017

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Just Tear It Down, Already!


David Geffen Hall (Monica Simoes photo)


Well, it seems we will not be getting the makeover of Phi...er, Avery....ER David Geffen Hall that we've been waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting) for. Lincoln Center announced today that the major planned renovation is being canceled.

In the last few months, both Lincoln Center and the NY Philharmonic had personnel changes at the top, very much for the better. Deborah Borda came back to the Phil as its president, after 17 years at the LA Philharmonic. Deborah L. Spar joined Lincoln Center from Barnard College. Both had experience deeply relevant to any NYC construction project -- and they quickly discovered that the renovation project could not guarantee that the orchestra would be out of its home for only two years.

These two officials know what they are talking about if they say this is too risky for all involved. Unfortunately, despite my flip headline, they can't just tear it down and start over. That would surely take more than two years.

So we'll get more patching and interior renovation of the hall, not the major makeover everyone had been hoping for. Le sigh, but what can you do.

Michael Cooper has the scoop in full.

Remember, Dear, "Fan" Comes from "Fanatic."

I wrote an article about those of us who could not keep away from the amazing San Francisco Opera Elektra. How I wish I could see this one again. (Well, I can, in Karlruhe at some as-yet-known time and with a different cast. Won't be quite the same, though.) It's called Elektra Inspires and Rewards Endlessly

That it did, and everyone I know wants to see every member of the extraordinary cast again.


Monday, October 02, 2017

Si Newhouse

Si Newhouse (S.I. Newhouse, Jr.), owner of Condé Nast and published of many magazines, including The New Yorker, has died at 89.

I knew almost nothing about him before his death a few days ago. David Remnick and Alex Ross's touching memorial articles provide a glimpse of a smart, curious, man who was interested in everything. Rest in peace; eternal gratitude for your life's work.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Behind the Scenes at the Opera House


Alfred Walker (Orest) and Christine Goerke (Elektra).
Cory Weaver Photo, c/o San Francisco Opera
Note the beautiful tunic she's wearing.

Susan Bullock (Elektra)
Prague State Opera

Keen-eyed observers will have noted that the costumes Susan Bullock and Christine Goerke wore as Elektra in the Prague and SF bring-ups were not the same! I asked San Francisco Opera about this, and the press office was kind enough to consult Jai Alltizer, who was the SF Opera Costume Supervisor for Elektra. Allitzer replied as follows:
So happy Lisa liked the tunic Ms. Goerke was wearing in Elektra. The tunic is black linen and it was constructed here in our costume studio, as was her trench coat.
We are the second company to perform this production and it is possible another version of the Elektra costume may be created.
The designer wants Elektra to be comfortable, wear black contemporary clothing, and generally be less stylish than Chrysothemis. 
These parameters allow great flexibility.
I also wanted to mention that when I chatted with her at the stage door after Elektra, Christine Goerke remarked on how great the makeup and wig people at SF Opera are. She loved her wig, and, really, it could be her own hair, but in black. She raved about the makeup artists as well, because she didn't look as though she was wearing makeup on stage.

My own observation is that this was also true of Adrianne Pieczonka (Chrysothemis) and Alfred Walker, while Michaela Martens, as Klytemnestra, was pretty clearly supposed to look as though she was wearing a little too much makeup.

Lastly, I thought the makeup artists did a fantastic job with Aurelia Florian's makeup for La Traviata. She went from looking slightly flushed in Acts 1 and II to looking pale, wan, and near death in Act III, and the makeup was pretty darned subtle in achieving these effects.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Vexations

At the Guggenheim Museum this week, a tag-team of pianists did a complete performance of Erik Satie's mad piano piece "Vexations." A tag-team is necessary because if you take the score literally - it's not clear whether you should -- the piece is supposed to be played 840 times. NY Times arts reporter Joshua Barone was there, and reports hilariously on it.

This isn't the first time this has been done in NYC. A memorable team that included John Cage, John Cale, composer Christian Wolff, and musicologist/conductor/pianist Joshua Rifkin had performed the thing in 1963. Three decades later, Alex Ross reviewed a different team.

Here are the relevant links:

  • Joshua Barone, NY Times (2017). The pianists included some of the survivors of the 1963 marathon, including Rifkin, with whom I took a couple of fabulous classes at Brandeis in the late 1970s.
  • Alex Ross, NY Times (1993, reprinted on his blog)
  • Alex Ross reports about the 1963 performance on his blog; follow the links!

Women's Intensive Self-Defense Class, November, 2017

Front snap kick


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

Dates:   Two Saturdays, November 4 and November 11, 2017

Time:    1 p.m. to 3 p,m.

Who:     Adult women, cis or trans, age 16 and up. No athletic or martial arts experience required.

Cost:      $95. 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 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!


Friday, September 29, 2017

Friday Photo


Cat demanding that I play some Verdi from the Toscanini box for her.
Oakland, September, 2017

This is Sunny, the Japanese Bobtail cat. She came to live with us in August. She is teeny, at less than 7.5 lbs, has beautiful markings. You can't see her bobtail in this photo, but you can see that she has good taste in music.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ruminations on Selling Opera Tickets in the Twenty-First Century

I think it's fairly common knowledge that opera companies and classical music orgs are having more and more problems selling tickets. There are lots of reasons for this, including competition with sports, popular musics, theater, museums, film (in movie theaters or at home), and with other classical arts orgs.

Think about it: fifty years ago, how many musical organizations and presenters did the NY Philharmonic, Met, SFS, and SFO compete with? Around 2005, Alex Ross wrote on his blog that in the early 1970s, there were two new music groups in NYC, but now there were nearly 50. That's a lot of competition.

I wonder whether we're seeing the effects of this in San Francisco, where San Francisco Opera is no longer the only game in town: Opera San Jose, West Bay Opera, West Edge Opera, and Opera Parallele are all doing interesting work at lower prices, and taking on increasingly challenging works, including Salome, Lulu, Cunning Little Vixen, etc.

I attended the opening performance of La Traviata at SFO this past Saturday, and I was shocked at the number of empty seats in the Dress Circle. Today, I read on Facebook that the Tuesday performance was half-full. The most widely-read critic in the area gave the opening a rave, and we know that Traviata remains a popular work.

Now, even if half-full is something of an exaggeration, if the house was only 2/3 or 3/4 full, that's still terrible news. There are ten Traviata performances scheduled, and my impression has been that long runs of the most popular operas in the repertory are generally there to help support runs of more esoteric or "difficult" operas. This season, that would be Elektra and the upcoming premiere of Girls of the Golden West. I really want SFO and other companies to be able to stage new and more difficult works. SFO, the 800-pound gorilla of local opera companies, is the only organization with the budget to bring us internationally-famous singers and directors, and to commission composers as prominent as John Adams.

After seeing and hearing that the first two Traviata performances were apparently undersold, I have to wonder whether the old strategy of Rigoletto/Tosca/Boheme /Butterfly/Traviata/Turandot/etc just isn't going to work that way any longer, and I have to speculate about why.

My guesses are that 1) current opera-goers have caught on and do not actually want to see the same operas every three years 2) the older productions at SF are just tired out and those operas need a fresh look and feel (the Traviata production is 30 years old; Nozze is similar; Turandot has been around more than 20 years; Tosca is 20, etc.) 3) younger potential opera-goers want novelty, not the same old same old. 

There've been a surprising number of empty seats for Elektra, which got well-deserved raves from every critic who reviewed opening night, and a lot more raves from those of us who've been going multiple times and urging our friends to go. This just makes me so sad: Elektra has a great, great cast, a terrific conductor, and a riveting production. And yet I hear people saying things like, oh, they saw it once, and it was "very modern," meaning "maybe a little too difficult for me." It's a beautiful score however close Strauss gets to bi-tonality; I have been known to characterize it as "Rosenkavalier with more murders." (Don't laugh! Give it a listen!)

I also wonder whether Elektra sales have been hurt by the fact that you could see Christine Goerke in the same opera, different productions, in both Houston and NY this season, whereas if those were in different years or a couple of years apart, there would be more people traveling.  I hope not! On the other hand, fans of the singer and opera will go see her in more than one location anyway.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Greeks Had a Word for This

Christine Goerke (Elektra) and Adrianne Pieczonka (Chrysothemis)
Cory Weaver Photo / San Francisco Opera


Catharsis. And who couldn't use a little emotional release in these times?

If you haven't seen San Francisco Opera's Elektra -- or if you'd like to see it again -- do yourself a favor and pick up a ticket for the last performance of the run. It's tomorrow, Wednesday, September 27, 2017. I'm nudging everyone I know about this, because:

  • San Francisco Opera managed to go 20 years between productions of this great work, but...
  • ...assembled a cast the likes of which you will not see very often.  Joshua Kosman's Chron review is dead on about the glories of the singers in this production.
  • A good-looking production that will engage your heart and your head.
Opera doesn't get any better than this, so if you possibly can, find your way to 301 Van Ness Ave. tomorrow night.


Monday, September 25, 2017

San Francisco Opera La Traviata Media Round-Up

Amitai Pati (Gastone), Atalla Ayan (Alfredo Germont), Aurelia Florian (Violetta Valery)
Act I party scene
Cory Weaver photo / San Francisco Opera


Here we are:

Hot and Cold Running Polish Baritones

Are we sure they're not related? Is there some opera requiring two baritones, so we can see them on stage together? Can SFO put on King Roger, since obviously there is a choice of singers for the title role?


Artur Rucinski


Mariusz Kwiecien

(A friend on Twitter sensibly mentions Don Giovanni.)

La Traviata, San Francisco Opera

Atalla Ayan (Alfredo) and Aurelia Florian (Violetta)
Photo: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera


San Francisco Opera has two warhorses in the fall season, balancing out Elektra, which way too many people consider tough going, and the upcoming John Adams premiere, Girls of the Golden West. Verdi's evergreen La Traviata opened this past Saturday night, and maybe that warhorse strategy is no longer working so well, because there were an awful lot of empty seats in the Dress Circle.

Put me down as "modified rapture" on this cast. All three of the stars were making their SFO debuts, with varying results. Tenor Atalla Ayan, who hails from Brazil, struck me as a generic lyric tenor. He has a nicely burnished, big-enough voice, but sounded slightly strangled at the top and sang the entire first act in a monotone, with little dynamic variation. He also didn't manage much in the way of youthful impetuosity, which is what defines Alfredo Germont in that act. He improved some over the course of the opera, but remained on the blunt side. Nothing in his performance stands out except for the fact that he threw the money at Violetta twice, and the first time was wrong. Okay, nerves, it won't happen again, but it's a big moment in a dramatic scene.

Artur Ruciński (Giorgio Germont)
Photo: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

I'm totally down with Polish baritone Artur Ruciński, singing Giorgio Germont, who has a beautiful baritone voice, very solid and large, with good high notes, not too far off what Mariusz Kwicien (whom I adore, don't get me wrong) would sound like if he were a real Verdi baritone rather than a lyric baritone who can nonetheless sing Verdi roles convincingly. Ruciński was a little on the stiff side dramatically, which I suspect is how he was directed, and those grace notes in "Di provenza" were hammered a bit, which again, maybe it's him, maybe it's how he sings the character.

And now the moment you've been waiting for: Aurelia Florian had a gruesome first act, tripping over herself here and there in "Sempre libera," getting out of sync with the orchestra once or twice in the same aria, having obvious difficulty with some of her high notes, and occasionally going out of tune. She and Ayan also didn't have much obvious chemistry. On her side, she did show a beautiful voice with an interesting dark timbre, but overall I didn't have a lot of hope for the rest of the opera.

The fact is that the stars of the first act were the orchestra, chorus, and Music Director Nicola Luisotti. The orchestra sounded great, the chorus sang with vigor and pinpoint accuracy, and Luisotti conducted a propulsive, yet flexible, account of the score. In fact, I'd say that Luisotti's only misstep during the opera was in Act II, scene XII, which happens to start with Alfredo's entrance right after the bullfighter dance. He is an uninvited guest -- he found the invitation back at his and Violetta's country house -- and he's enraged. Violetta and Baron Douphol enter shortly after that, and that 6/8 section was just too damn fast. Violetta has a couple of long, arching phrases in this section that need some time to expand, and Luisotti hurried right over them.

BUT back to the beginning of Act II. My hopes should have stayed high, because Aurelia Florian sang a lovely and touching Violetta from there to the very end of the opera. Whether it was nerves or fioriture that sank Act I I do not know, but she can't be the first soprano to have issues there. She certainly redeemed herself! "Ditte alla giovine" tore me apart; "Amami, Alfredo" had a beautiful arching line; she was vulnerable with a core of emotional steel throughout the scene with Giorgio Germont. And she maintained that tenderness through the end of the opera. Act III is mostly hers, and she died most beautifully, with good contributions from Ayan and Ruciński, and also from Anthony Reed as Dr. Grenvil and Amina Edris as Annina.

Speaking of the smaller roles, they were all very beautiful sung: Renée Rapier as Flora, Amitai Pati as Gastone, and Philip Skinner as Baron Douphol.

Dramatically, this revival isn't much to write home about. The new Backstage with Matthew email is all about how great John Copley is, but I am not buying it. Honestly, the sets are uninteresting and the direction ranges from adequate to embarrassing. This partygoer being spanked, that courtesan falling down and kicking her legs up to show her bloomers? Just no. Giorgio Germont 15 feet from Violetta while he sings that he's kneeling and asking her forgiveness? Um. These details show inattention and perhaps a bit of a failure of taste. Perhaps if you want to show the wild partying, it should really be wild. Worse, the direction doesn't really give a good dramatic shape to the drama; I was never quite convinced of the intensity of Violetta and Alfredo's devotion. The singing carries the day more than anything else.

There's new choreography for the Act 2 dances, but it's nothing to write home about. I was annoyed to a possibly unreasonable extent by the fact that the two female dancers were out of sync with each other, with one of them noticeably behind the other. I just don't understand this; can't she hear where the downbeats are? Perhaps this is the same dancer who was behind the other two in the ballet sequence in Nixon in China five years ago.

So, while it wasn't a great evening, it was pretty darned good, especially Aurelia Florian, Artur Ruciński, the chorus, orchestra, and Nicola Luisotti. If you have a hankering to see this opera, by all means, get a ticket.

Renée Rapier (Flora), Aurelia Florian (Violetta), Anthony Reed (Dr. Grenvil), 
Amitai Pati (Gastone), Andrew G. Manea (Marquis d'Obigny), 
Artur Ruciński (Giorgio Germont), Atalla Ayan (Alfredo Germont)
Act II party at Flora's
Photo: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Oktoberfest at SFS: Have Fun While Doing Good

Next month, on Tuesday, October 3, San Francisco Symphony is presenting a fun program under the rubric of Oktoberfest. It's a benefit for the orchestra's educational programs.

Conductor Christian Reif and vocal soloists Julie Adams, Daniela Mack, David Blalock, and Edward Nelson (SATB respectively) perform this program:

Lumbye

Champagne Gallop
Mozart
“Fin ch'han dal vino” from Don Giovanni
Offenbach
“Ah! quel dîner!” from La Périchole
J. Strauss, Jr.
Champagne Polka
Romberg
Romberg - “Drink, Drink, Drink” from The Student Prince
J. Strauss, Jr.
"Csárdás" from Die Fledermaus
Thomas
"Ô vin, dissipe la tristesse" from Hamlet
J. Strauss, Jr.
Tristch-Tratsch Polka
Donizetti
“Il segreto per esser felici” from Lucrezia Borgia
Lehár
“Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Das Land des Lächelns
Reger
Four Tone Poems after Arnold Böcklin, Opus 128: IV Bacchanal
Donizetti
“Lallarallarà la la la” from L’elisir d’amore
Verdi
"Libiamo ne' lieti calici" ("The Drinking Song") from La Traviata
J. Strauss, Sr.
Radetsky March
Tickets start at $29, there will be a pop-up Biergarten before and after, and I presume the beer will flow freely as you have to be 21 to attend.