Elektra

Elektra

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!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Slatkin to Leave Detroit Symphony

And another surprise: Leonard Slatkin will leave the Detroit Symphony Orchestra after the upcoming (2017-18) season. He has been music director for ten years.

Updated list of known openings:
  • Detroit Symphony Orchestra (when Leonard Slatkin leaves in 2018)
  • Seattle Symphony Orchestra (when Ludovic Morlot leaves in 2019)
  • St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (when David Robertson leaves)
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO in 2018)
  • 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.)


Morlot to Leave Seattle Symphony

A surprise the other week: Ludovic Morlot, the very talented young Frenchman who has been music director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra since 2011, will leave in 2019 when his contract is up. My impression from 900 miles to the south is that he has been extremely successful with the orchestra. He became MD after Gerard Schwarz stepped down amid controversy; he instituted a new late-night series and modernized the orchestra's programming.

I haven't seen anything about his plans, but presumably there's something in the works that we will hear about eventually.

Updated list of open spots:
  • Seattle Symphony Orchestra (when Ludovic Morlot leaves in 2019)
  • St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (when David Robertson leaves)
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO in 2018)
  • 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.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Marc Minkowski Profile in Early Music America

I interviewed conductor Marc Minkowski earlier this month for Early Music America's magazine. He's rehearsing Don Giovanni for San Francisco Opera, in what will be his SFO debut. It's his first visit to SF, so it's also his first local appearance. You can read the resulting profile here. Spoiler warning: contains horses as well as Mozart.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Bonus Friday Photo 2


Detail from a Pieta, LACMA
March, 2017

Bonus Friday Photo


Kauai, HI
April, 2017

Bonus photo because I ran a pair of photos twice this year.

Oakland Friday Photo


Crimini Mushrooms, Farmer Joe's Market


Productivity

William Baumol, an important economist,  died the other week at 95. You can read his NY Times obituary here. The Times is evidently not going to run the letter I sent them, so here's a blog post on the subject.

He is most famous in musical circles for Baumol's cost disease, which is explained in the obit as follows:
For example, he said, it takes exactly the same number of people and the same amount of time to play a Beethoven string quartet today as it did in, say, 1817. Yet the musicians who spent years studying and practicing — and still have to eat and live somewhere while doing that — cannot be paid the same as their 19th-century counterparts. Their wages, too, will rise, even though they are no more productive than their predecessors were. As a result, their work eventually becomes increasingly expensive compared with more efficiently produced goods.
That paragraph takes an extremely unsophisticated view of what musicians do. The violinist of 1817 had far fewer technical resources than the violinist of today, because of changes in how violin is taught, changes in expectations, and changes in the music professional violinists must be able to play today. The violinist of 1817 hadn't seen anything more difficult than Beethoven and Bach. The violinist of today has seen Paganini, Bartok, Wagner, Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Stravinsky, Berg, and many, many other composers who make great demands on a player's technique.

This has raised productivity in an extremely important way: the player of today can learn music much, much faster than the player of 1817. That is an increase in productivity. To provide on example, the orchestra for the first attempt at performing Tristan und Isolde had something like 50 or 60 rehearsals before everybody threw in the towel and declared the opera unperformable. Contrast that with the San Francisco Opera orchestra, which had the following rehearsals for the company's 1998 and 2006 productions of the opera:

2006 
12 hours orchestra readings (4 rehearsals)
9 hours sitzprobe (3 rehearsals)
7.5 hours staging (2 rehearsals)
Dress rehearsal (1 rehearsal)

33.5 hours rehearsal
10 rehearsals

1998 
10 hours orchestra reading (3 rehearsals)
3.5 hours sitz (1 rehearsal)
6.5 hours staging (2 rehearsals)
Dress (1 rehearsal)

25 hours of rehearsal
7 rehearsals

(Grateful thanks to Teresa Conception and SFO Orchestra Manager Tracy Davis for providing these details.)

It takes about three to four weeks to stage an opera these days, and.....can you recall the last time a work was declared unperformable after 70 rehearsals? No? That's because of increases in musician productivity - even though it still takes four players the same amount of time to perform a Beethoven quartet as it did 200 years ago.

Friday, May 12, 2017

An Already-Interesting Don Giovanni Gets Even More Interesting

San Francisco Opera's upcoming Don Giovanni production was already intriguing, between the debuts of Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Erin Wall, Stanislas de Barbeyrac, and conductor Marc Minkowski, and the return of Sarah Shafer, Ana Maria Martinez, Michael Sumuel, and Andrea Silvestrelli. Joshua Kosman had a cast-change article in the Chron last night and now I have the press release:
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (May 12, 2017) — San Francisco Opera’s 2017 Summer Season will include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the War Memorial Opera House beginning Sunday, June 4 through Friday, June 30 for eight performances. In a cast change announced today, Uruguayan bass-baritone Erwin Schrott and American bass Erik Anstine will sing the role of Leporello. Both artists are making their first appearances with San Francisco Opera and stepping in for previously scheduled bass Marco Vinco, who has withdrawn from the production for health reasons. Schrott is scheduled to sing the first six performances and Anstine the last two.
I did not much care for Marco Vinco's last appearance here, as Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte in a dispiriting performance of a great opera, so no regrets here, especially with Erwin Schrott coming in for most of the performances.

If you happen to check out my Cosi post, I should note that Ellie Dehn has proven to be a terrific singer in other roles; I loved her Musetta in the last Boheme and she was a standout in last year's Carmen. Maybe this particular role was just not a good fit. AND Claudia Mahnke, not so good in this Cosi, was a fabulous Fricka in 2015's Bayreuth Ring. Maybe they were done in by Luisotti? It is reasonable to expect that Marc Minkowski will be much better.

Oakland Friday Photo


May, 2016

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Santa Fe Opera, 2018

Santa Fe Opera announced its 2018 season today:

  • Candide, Bernstein, new production (Laurent Pelly), company premiere. Bicket/Rae, Shrader, Burdette, Schneiderman, Ott, Troxell.
  • Madama Butterfly, Puccini, revival. Bignamini; Kaduce/Martinez, Gluekert/Guerrero, Marino, Pallesen
  • Doctor Atomic, Adams & Sellars, new production, company premiere. Aucoin/McKinney, Bullock, Bliss, Arwady, Okulich, Mix
  • The Italian Girl in Algiers, Rossini, revival. Rovaris/Mack, Swanson, Conner, Hendrix, Verm
  • Ariadne auf Naxos, R. Strauss, new production. Gaffigan/Echalaz, Sledge, Morley, Majeski, Gilfrey
Most exciting, to me, is the new production of Doctor Atomic. I hope it won't be a duplicate of the SF production. After that, Ariadne. Might see Butterfly as it has been ten years. Candide, maybe, but there will be a good semi-staged version at SFS next season.

I Called It.

This past January, I ran a blog post speculating a bit about future San Francisco Opera productions. Here's part of what I said:

Santa Fe Opera has commissioned an opera by Mason Bates called The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. Bates is a popular guy in San Francisco, with SF Symphony commissions and a Beethoven/Bates Festival to his name, not to mention, a Grammy-nominated CD.
If I were the general director of a prominent opera company that is situated at the north end of Silicon Valley, in a city overrun with young (and not so young) nerds who work for companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, and, yes, Apple, and I had an interest in attracting more young, well-off audience members, well, I would be chatting with Santa Fe about doing the second bring-up of an opera about the loved and hated founder of Apple. Note: as announced, it also has a smallish cast, which, in these economic times, is always welcome.
As I noted at the time, I had and have absolutely no inside information about this, but I did call this one. Here's the press release I just got, announcing dates and also the news that SFO has signed on as a co-commissioner along with Santa Fe and Seattle. Co-produced with Indiana U and with support from Cal Performances, too.

I'd previously noted the small cast. One act with a prologue and 19 scenes sounds like the opera tops out at two hours, max, so, less rehearsal times, etc.

That bit about his confidant, Steve Wozniak?? Woz designed the first couple of Apple models and is also an iconic figure. And I spotted him in the audience at the Berlioz Requiem last week.

SAN FRANCISCO OPERA TO PRESENT THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS,

AN ELECTRO-ACOUSTIC OPERA BY MASON BATES
WITH A LIBRETTO BY MARK CAMPBELL
SCHEDULED FOR THE 2019–20 SEASON, WAR MEMORIAL OPERA HOUSE

NEW OPERA IS A CO-COMMISSION WITH SANTA FE OPERA AND SEATTLE OPERA,
WITH SUPPORT FROM CAL PERFORMANCES AND CO-PRODUCED WITH
INDIANA UNIVERSITY’S JACOBS SCHOOL OF MUSIC

SANTA FE OPERA TO GIVE THE WORLD PREMIERE JULY 22 – AUGUST 25, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (May 9, 2017) – San Francisco Opera today announced its participation as a co-commissioner of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs—the first full-length opera written by Bay Area composer Mason Bates and set to a libretto by Mark Campbell—joining Santa Fe Opera and Seattle Opera, with support from Cal Performances. The new work is a co-production with Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and will have its world premiere beginning July 22, 2017 at Santa Fe Opera. San Francisco Opera will present the Bay Area premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs during the Company’s 2019–20 repertory season at the War Memorial Opera House. Bates’ electro-acoustic opera is composed in one act and is comprised of a prologue and 19 scenes.

The creative team is led by director Kevin Newbury, who previously staged the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2013) and a new production of Norma (2014) for San Francisco Opera. In their Company debuts, the designers include scenic artist Victoria “Vita” Tzykun, costumes by Paul Carey, lighting by Japhy Weideman, projection design by London-based 59 Productions and choreography by Chloe Treat. Casting and conductor for San Francisco Opera’s presentation will be announced at a later date.

San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock said: “This is a profoundly moving new opera that I am excited to bring to Northern California audiences. Steve Jobs was an iconic figure in contemporary life whose genius has impacted the very way in which we engage with the world. But he was also a real person and a member of our immediate community. Mason’s new opera is a deeply layered, moving portrayal of a man grappling with the complex priorities of life, family and work. Like all great operas, I have been so impressed by how it speaks to the universality of the human condition. This is not just an opera about one man. It is an opera about all of us.”

Composer Mason Bates added, “Jobs’ search for inner peace is the story of the opera, which is about a man who learns to be human again.” Together, Bates and Mark Campbell have fashioned an opera that traces the development of Jobs’ spirituality through his relationships with five major figures in his life: his wife Laurene, his confidant Steve Wozniak, his girlfriend Chrisann, his spiritual advisor Kobun and his father Paul. The past informs the present along this deeply emotional journey, during which Steve Jobs never leaves the stage. Bates has established distinct musical idioms for each character and notes that “as they interact, their music will blend almost like on a DJ rig.”

According to scenic designer Victoria Tzykun: “The products and experiences that Steve Jobs dreamed up with his teams defied expectations and provided a sense of wonder. That sense of wonder is what is very important for us to capture in this production. In order to provide that for modern audiences, we are harnessing cutting-edge technology and fusing it with traditional stagecraft in a way that will create a world that has never yet been seen on an operatic stage: a visually minimal physical environment that can morph in an endless variety of ways through physical movement, video and light. The scenic units will glow from within and be projected on as they move about the stage, seamlessly blending the different mediums.”

Since its inception in 1923, San Francisco Opera has embodied a spirit of innovation. From the building of the iconic War Memorial Opera House in 1932 to the creation of the Merola Opera Program and Adler Fellowships, San Francisco Opera continues to be an industry leader in the opera world. The Company has also had a long history of presenting world and United States premieres including a new work by John Adams, Girls of the Golden West, scheduled to open November 21, 2017.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Hector, I Love You, But What Were You Thinking?

To SF Symphony last night for the second of three performances of Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts, better known as the Requiem, Op. 5, of Hector Berlioz.

James Keller's notes for the piece are a hoot, but the first thing that caught my eye is that these performances are being done in a reduced version by conductor Charles Dutoit, who is on the podium this week. Reduced, and yet:
4 flutes, 2 oboes and 2 English horns, 4 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 8 trombones (all offstage), 3 tubas, 8 timpani (some timpanists also play percussion), bass drum, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, tenor drum, and strings (16 1st violin, 14, 2nd violin, 12 violas, 10 cellos, 8 double basses), mixed chorus of 80 sopranos and altos, 60 tenors, 70 basses, and a tenor soloist. In addition, 4 brass ensembles positioned at the four points of the compass, consisting of N, 2 cornets, 2 trombones, and tuba, E 2 trumpets and 2 trombones, W 2 trumpets and 2 trombones, and S 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, and 2 tubas.
The score also gives instructions should a performance feature more players.

In any event, holy cow, this is a bizarre piece even by Berlioz's standards. Completed in 1837, the composer revised it in 1852 and in 1866-67, so evidently....well, I'm curious about the earlier versions and might check whether the first version has ever been recorded. I mean, I am making an assumption here, that only the last version is performed and recorded these days.

As I said, it is a rather bizarre work. It is quite long at about 80 minutes, and Berlioz makes compositional choices that, shall we say, are not the obvious ones. Your typical Dies Irae is a flamethrower; see Verdi, for example. Not this one, which is hushed and slow-ish, with Berlioz holding the fireworks for the Tuba Mirum and, perhaps, Symphonie Fantastique. The text-setting is awkward and so is the vocal phrasing. Last night was the first time in a long while that I really regretted not getting a recording in advance of a performance, because I'd never heard a note of the piece, and, well. I wish I'd had an idea of what was coming.

It has some fabulous moments, some very loud, as when everybody is going at once and the only way you know there are strings is that you can see them bowing furiously, and some very quiet, as in the closing Sanctus, and some in the middle (whichever movement it is where the strings and brass do nothing for an extended period and it's just the chorus and winds). But formally, well, it is messy and awkward, the composer's immense ambition somewhat exceeding his ability to create something unified. By Les Troyens, with a great dramatic libretto to hang his fabulous music on, he'd come a long way.

I must also say that the performance itself left something to be desired. The orchestra, normally a miracle of precision, had some off moments at the beginnings of phrases. The huge chorus, consisting of the SF Symphony Chorus, Young Women's Choral Projects of San Francisco (Susan McMane, dir.), and Golden Gate Men's Chorus (Joseph Piazza, dir.) sounded as though it needed to live with the work for a good deal longer, which is one way of saying they sounded underrehearsed. There was a general lack of confidence, heads were deep in scores much of the time, and the sopranos in particular had noticeable tuning problems in exposed phrases, of which, alas, there are many.

This piece is nothing like the other big choral works in the SFS Chorus's repertory; that's a group that could probably sing the Brahms or Verdi Requiems from memory and that does amazing work on shorter and less oddball works. But it's strange enough to make the Missa Solemnis sound easy, and that is saying something.

Other opinions:

  • Joshua Kosman, Chron, calls the performance anemic, and yeah, I'll go along with that. Surprising lack of energy for the number of people in the house. I found myself wondering at one point what Donald Runnicles would have done with it.