Mystery score

Mystery score

Sunday, November 23, 2014


About Suzuki: see the comment from Daniel Wolf on my original posting and see this article about Mark O'Connor's remarks about Suzuki. See Elaine Fine's comments on her blog. I should have kept my damn mouth shut, given the reasonable doubts about O'Connor and his motives.

About the Chetham's and RNCM sex abuse scandals: Nicholas Smith sentenced to prison, Duncan McTier admits abuse. Lots more details about RNCM at The Guardian.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

So You Think We Have Problems with Congress.

I'm reading Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers:  How Europe Went to War in 1914, and hoo boy, am I ever learning a lot. First, the 65 pages on Serbian history in the decades before the war were riveting; now I have started the long chapter on the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Empire had two Parliaments. The Budapest Parliament consisted almost entirely of ethnic, Magyar-speaking Hungarians, and the eastern part of the empire had a policy of ruthless suppression of other languages and linguistic minorities. In the western Parliament, which met in Vienna, well, things were different:
Nowhere were the frictions generated by nationalist politics more in evidence than in the [western] parliament, which met from 1883 in a handsome neo-classical building on Vienna's Ringstrasse. In this 516-seat  legislature, the largest in Europe, the familiar spectrum of party-political ideological diversity was cross-cut by national affiliations producing a panoply of splinter groups and grouplets. Among the thirty-odd parties that held mandates after the 1907 elections, for example, were twenty-eight Czech Agrarians, eighteen Young Czechs (Radical nationalism), seventeen Czech Conservatives, seven Old Czechs (moderate nationalists), two Czech-Progressives (Realist tendency), one 'wild' (independent) Czech and nine Czech National Socialists. The Poles, the Germans, the Italians and even the Slovenes and the Ruthenes were similarly divided along ideological lines.
Since there was no official language in [the western region] (by contrast with the Kingdom of Hungary), there was no single official language of parliamentary procedure. German, Czech, Polish, Ruthenian, Croat, Serbian, Slovenian, Italian, Romanian and Russian were all permitted. But no interpreters were provided, and there was no facility for recording or monitoring the content of speeches that were not in German, unless the deputy in question himself chose to supply the house with translated text of his speech. Deputies from even the most insignificant factions could thus block unwelcome initiatives by delivering long speeches in a languages that only a handful of their colleagues understood. Whether they were actually addressing the issues raised by the current motions, or simply reciting long poems in their own national idiom, was difficult to ascertain. The Czechs in particular were renowned for the baroque extravagance of their filibustering. The [Vienna] parliament became a celebrated tourist attraction, especially in winter, when Viennese pleasure-seekers crowded into the heated visitors' galleries. By contrast with the city's theatres and opera houses, a Berlin journalist wrily observed, entry to parliamentary sessions was free.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Guess I was Wrong About That

Here I am, on Monday, March 13, 2013:
 [Jorge Mario Bergolio] is from the same mold as Cardinal Rat, and yes, we will be going through this again in 10 years or so.
Whoops! No, not really from the same mold as the Pope Emeritus at all, and I hope Pope Francis will live to a very ripe old age.

The Future is Now: Adler Fellows' Concert

The annual event, from the press release:

Tickets for The Future is Now: Adler Fellows Gala Concert are priced from $30 to $65 and may be purchased at or by calling the San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330. $15 Student Rush tickets are available on the day of the performance with valid ID (subject to availability).

The Scottish Rite Masonic Center is located at 2850 19th Avenue in San Francisco. For more public transportation information, visit and

Featuring the 2014 Adler Fellows
Stephen Lord, Conductor
San Francisco Opera Orchestra

Thursday, November 4, 2014; 7:30 p.m.
Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 2850 19th Avenue, San Francisco

The planned program (subject to change!) is:

La Clemenza di Tito
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Pelléas et Mélisande
Claude Debussy
“Ah, ah, tout va bien”
Maria Valdes, soprano
Philippe Sly, baritone

Ariadne auf Naxos
Richard Strauss
“Es gibt ein Reich”
Erin Johnson, soprano

The Rake’s Progress
Igor Stravinsky
“No word from Tom”
Maria Valdes, soprano

I Lombardi
Guiseppe Verdi
“Non fu sogno”
Jacqueline Piccolino, soprano

Georges Bizet
“Parle-moi de ma mère!”
Julie Adams, soprano
A.J. Glueckert, tenor

“C’est toi! C’est moi”
Zanda Švēde, mezzo-soprano
A.J. Glueckert, tenor
tutti Adler Fellows

Samson et Dalila
Camille Saint-Saëns“Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix”
Zanda Švēde, mezzo-soprano

George Frideric Handel
“Tirannia gli diede il regno”
Efraín Solís, baritone

Dom Sébastien
Gaetano Donizetti
“Sur le sable d’Afrique,” “O Lisbonne, o mie patrie!”
Efraín Solís, baritone

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“D’Oreste, d’Ajace”
Erin Johnson, soprano

Così fan tutte 
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo”
Hadleigh Adams, baritone

Antonín Dvořák“Pisen Rusalky O Mesiku” (Song of the Moon)
Jacqueline Piccolino, soprano

Les Pêcheurs de Perles 
Georges Bizet
“L’orage s’est calmé” 
Hadleigh Adams, baritone

Worth a Look

Found on the Web:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cough, Cough: Vargas Out Again

Ramon Vargas is still sick - hey, in Boheme, it's the soprano who has the lung problems - and will miss several more performances of the Met Boheme. He is expected to return to the stage on December 1.

Bryan Hymel (Nov. 20) and Charles Castronovo (Nov. 24 and 28) will sing Rodolfo in his absence.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Special Classes at Berkeley Dan Zan Ryu

I am currently planning to schedule the following special classes at Berkeley Dan Zan Ryu during the first half of 2015.
All classes will be at Studio 12, Sawtooth Building Bay 1, 2525 8th St., Berkeley, CA. This is immediately south of Dwight Way.
If you'd like more information about either of these classes, send me email ( or call my dojo voicemail (510-842-NAGE).

Women's Self-Defense

You'll learn alertness, awareness, & avoidance; practical defenses against common attacks; basic kicks and strikes. Suitable for women age 14 and up.

Dates: 6 Saturdays, January 17 to February 21, 2015
Times: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Cost: $125 + short-term AJJF membership. No one turned away for lack of funds. Class must have a minimum of six participants registered to go forward.

(If these dates & times don't work for you, I can schedule a class if you have six or more women who'd like to enroll.)

Safe Rolling & Falling
The basics of safe rolling & falling for people who don't study martial arts. Open to all.

Dates: 10 Saturdays, March 28 to May 30, 2015 (Memorial Day to be discussed)
Times: 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Cost: $200 + short-term AJJF membership. No one turned away for lack of funds. Class size maximum of 8.

Please feel free to send this information to any friends or family who might be interested.

I am Not the Intended Audience.

Well, I had been looking forward to the San Francisco Symphony's SoundBox series, which will take place in a smaller space in Davies than the main concert hall. The inaugural concert, some details of which may be found at this web site, is on Saturday, December 13, 2014. (That's 12/13/14, just for fun.)

Unfortunately, the concert starts at 9 p.m., a pretty clear signal that these programs aren't aimed at people like me. Not that I wouldn't love all of the music, some of which is old, some new, but that is a tough start time. Yeah, I know, if it were Tristan I'd be at the opera house until 11:30. But I think I'm more likely to be found at the International Orange Chorale program - all new music - that night. It starts at 7:30 and it's a short drive away.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tosca at San Francisco Opera

Long-time readers of this blog know that I have some antipathy toward Tosca, largely because I want to slap the title character silly at multiple points during the opera, but perhaps secondarily because it has not been well-conducted all that often during the last decade or so. I offer as evidence my write-ups of the runs with Patricia Racette and Adrianne Pieczonka. There's a passing remark elsewhere about weak conducting in the November, 2004 run (Jobin/Vaness, Dvorsky, Delevan), but no full review. I remember almost nothing about the 1997-98 run, conducted by Nello Santi, other than that James Morris just couldn't get the nasty on for Scarpia and that Carol Vaness looked a lot better than she sounded.

It's been on my don't-need-to-see-for-a-while list since I saw Racette in it, because she was so charming and dramatically convincing in the part, so I did not expect to see this year's revival: same production, same Cavaradossi (Brian Jagde, whom I didn't like at all in 2012), same Scarpia (Mark Delevan). I went into San Francisco last Saturday assuming I'd pick up a rush ticket to see SFS (S.Adams, Prokofiev, Ravel)....but I was urged to come over to the opera house to see debuting soprano Lianna Haroutounian, and Jon Finck, of SFO, very kindly offered me a seat while doing the urging. So, what the heck, I went.

The bad news first, just to get it out of the way: Riccardo Frizza is a dab hand at bel canto, and I'd liked him a great deal in his previous SFO appearances, in which he conducted Lucrezia Borgia and I Capuletti e i Montecchi. But Puccini is hard, with a deeply layered orchestra and rhythmic/metrical complexities galore. Just take a look at the first page of La Boheme if you don't believe me.

I'd have to see him again in Tosca to tell you exactly what went wrong and where, but Frizza led the worst-conducted Puccini opera I have ever heard. The performance had almost no drive or dramatic tension, and this is an opera with a ton of excitement and drama. It wasn't a matter of tempo; the performance took about the same amount of time that Tosca usually takes. It was more a matter of emphasis and phrasing. Unlike the last run - conducted very well by Nicola Luisotti - Act II felt shockingly lifeless, despite the torture scene and despite the great scene with Tosca and Scarpia.

But there's plenty of good news: Lianna Haroutounian is the real deal, a terrific singer with a beautiful voice. This was her role debut, and while I think she's got a ways to go in working into the part - her characterization was a bit one-dimensional compared to Patricia Racette's -  this was a wonderfully sung and reasonably convincing assumption. Haroutounian has a big, colorful voice, great legato, and sterling control; every note sounded strongly and was sung with a beautiful line. Joshua Kosman was effusive about her in his review, and he was absolutely right, though at the last performance there was a bit of shrillness at the very top of her range.

She was decently partnered by Brian Jagde, much improved from his last appearance as Cavaradossi and yet still somehow lacking. His voice is much better integrated and handled the tessitura more cleanly than two years ago, when there was a lot of audible gear-changing and some very square phrasing. The big moments were big, but this opera has intimate moments as well, and those were lacking in, well, intimacy. "Recondita armonia" ought to have lilt and charm; I grant you that Jagde didn't get much help from Frizza, but the color of his voice and ability to deliver a bit of a smile in the tone are up to the tenor. And "E lucevan le stelle" (which dragged interminably) wasn't nearly as despairing as I'd like to hear it.

(If you're wondering how it should be done, look no further than the meltingly beautiful performance of Giuseppe di Stefano on the great, great, great Victor de Sabata recording, which fully lives up to its enormous reputation after sixty years. It is absolutely indispensable for anyone who gives a damn about Italian opera.)

Mark Delevan remains a deeply sadistic and threatening Scarpia, although his voice continues to lose the edge it had more than a decade ago when he sang the Dutchman at SFS.

And a long Rubin Institute aside: I heard part of Anne Midgette's pre-performance talk on Tosca, and am sorry I didn't hear the whole thing. I got there on the late side, and her talk got cut short by a few minutes, so she didn't get to say everything she had to say. She played an excerpt of Franco Correlli exhibiting his magnificent sound and lung power; impressive, but I wish I'd asked her about the conductor, because he was terrible. I gotta say that I also think what Correlli did called attention to himself rather than the music, and I wish he hadn't.

All that aside, she said some interesting things about the opera, one of which I wish more directors realized: when that last act curtain goes up, Tosca and Cavaradossi are both in a state of exhaustion because they've been awake for around 24 hours, during which one of them was tortured and the other committed murder. I think they are in slightly different states; Cavaradossi is on the verge of collapse, between the torture and anticipation of his execution, while Tosca has been preparing for their departure from Rome and is exhausted but running on adrenaline. I hope to see a production some day that takes note of this.

I nabbed poor Anne between when she got kicked off the podium and when the performance started, and subjected her to a few of my pet theories about the opera. Well, actually, I started by agreeing with her about one point she made: that Puccini was completely deliberate in how he composed one particular section, I believe when Mario is realizing that the "fake" execution is going to be real. Anne noted in her talk that her husband disagrees about this, but he is completely wrong: I dare you to find a bar of Puccini after 1895 when he isn't completely in control of the emotional content of what he is writing. (Okay, Turandot, I know, I know, but you know it would have been different if he'd lived, right?)

I do think that the compactness of the opera, as opposed to the sprawling Sardou play from which it is drawn, acts against making Tosca completely believable. The play makes it very clear that she is an innocent, a child of nature, someone motivated by her emotions and with no concept of politics. Face it: anyone with a little worldly knowledge would understand that Cavaradossi is a dead man from the moment Scarpia's men round him up, regardless of whatever deal Scarpia seems willing to make. He  is a sadist and he enjoys not only the anticipation of getting into Tosca's panties, but knowing that he won't be making good on the deal.

It's very much up to the soprano to bring out not only Tosca's emotionalism - the easy part - but her worldly naivete, and hoo boy, that is a very difficult assignment.

Anne and I also chatted a bit about Joe Kerman's notorious characterization of Tosca as a "shabby little shocker." It's been a great jumping-off point for all kinds of writing and speaking about the opera, among other reasons because it is pretty obvious that Kerman had little liking for the work and that he didn't understand what Puccini was doing at the point in the opera that he was describing. I think it is too bad that the phrase is what the general public associates with Kerman, because he was an important musicologist who did great work in a number of areas - and I think he wrote that line when he was in his mid-20s. Look, we all said a few dumb things in our 20s. I didn't even like Puccini at that age; I was close to 40 before I got the message. I have no idea whether Kerman changed his mind about Tosca as he aged, or whether he had more sympathy for Puccini in general, but it is certainly possible.

Tattling: SF Opera Boheme

Why I fled my dress circle seat, paid for by me, at intermission:
  • To the lady to my immediate left: I know that the seats are tiny and there's no room, but please try not to elbow your neighbors every ten minutes or so. I know that I was not slopping over into your space. Please keep your elbow out of mine.
  • To the ladies behind me: if you need to chat after the music starts, I can recommend any number of fine recordings of La Boheme for you to chat the privacy of your living rooms.
I fled to orchestra standing room, and a friend very kindly offered me his unfilled companion seat, but Boheme is not that long, and yes, I would have stood rather than deal with more audience misbehavior.

I have had different people to my left throughout the season, and this is the first trouble I have had with that spot, but I'm pretty sure the ladies behind me were there at a different opera, also chatting away. They did not respond to being shushed, either. Next time, perhaps I will inform an usher, or leave an anonymous note, or something. I admit that I should have politely said something to the woman on my left about her elbow.

Not exactly an aside: the seating at the opera house is awful in every section. In the balcony and dress circle, the seats are tiny and the leg room absurd. In the orchestra, the seats are about an inch from the ground and vary in size. San Francisco Ballet told Janos Gereben a while back that they were fund-raising to replace the seating, and I cannot wait, though if the number of seats is to be preserved, I don't know how they can improve things other than by raising the seat height in the orchestra.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

That Was a Tough One.

My review of Curlew River is posted at SFCV. I filed it about 13 hours late; not that I think anyone noticed, but in theory I should have filed by 9:30 p.m. last night.

Usually I don't have problems getting my thoughts together about a music-dramatic work, but this was particularly tough. I can't point to very much that was wrong with what I saw, but it felt as though it just sat there. It didn't move me at all, and it's a potentially deeply moving story.

I was not alone in this, either; I've now seen a number of reports saying that some viewers were bored. Not me; I've wanted to see this for decades and I think it is a gorgeous piece. I missed the 1990s productions at Theater Artaud, both of which starred Chanticleer, and what must have been a Merola production in 1995 (San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, Patrick Summers conducting - right?).

This would have been a good performance to turn the Rubin Fellows loose on. It's more recent than anything else they reviewed, for one thing. For another, it's not like very much in the Western canon.

I had to consciously make sure I was reviewing the performance in front of me, rather than the one I have in my head: it is just not Ian Bostridge's fault that he isn't Peter Pears, whose voice haunts Curlew River as much as it haunts any other work by Britten. Bostridge sang impressively - his voice is much bigger than I'd expected. He is also odd looking in a Benedict Cumberbatch-ish way; he towered over the rest of the cast, he is obviously very thin, and his face is...just slightly off. I would like to hear him again. He is a very good singer.

A friend asked me what would have made the performance more satisfying, and here's what I said, more or less:
The questions are whether it works better as theater of the mind than theater on the stage; whether I caught a weaker performance than the ones that got raves in NYC and at the Barbican;  whether there is a pacing or staging problem in this production that smothers the catharsis in the piece; whether it's more effective done with the masks and Noh-like movement style.
I think Britten runs hot and cold. Some of his music absolutely kills me - Les Illuminations, the Serenade, Turn of the Screw, Peter Grimes, some of his chamber and orchestral music - and some of it really does leave me totally cold. I have seen two different productions of Billy Budd and at the end of both evenings I was mostly enraged by the libretto. I recognize that the score has a lot of great music, but I just can't connect with the plot and what happens in it at all.
I also got nowhere with Grimes when SFO did it in the late 20th century (although obviously others loved it, reading reviews from back then), but the SFS production in June was fantastic, one of the greatest things I've ever seen, with a shattering performance by Stuart Skelton as Grimes. Now I know what Grimes is about.
I want to say that I am perfectly fine with directors staging Curlew River conventionally, rather than following the strict instructions in the score. See Google Image Search for lots of photos of productions of Curlew River, many of them so evocative I want to be magically transported to the performances in question.

My review omits something significant; there was a fleeting moment this morning when I meant to add it, but....the singers' diction was pretty good at the start, then deteriorated badly after about fifteen or twenty minutes. I missed a lot of what was sung, and there were no supertitles. This was undoubtedly a major barrier for anyone in the hall who didn't know Curlew River already.

I also neglected to mention where that moment of catharsis is, the one that should be the big dramatic moment in Curlew River: it's when the ghost of the dead boy appears and sings along with the chorus, and the Madwoman, calmed, becomes a Mother. This is the miracle, and it's the moment that the work is moving toward.

I expect there will be more; John Marcher and I sat together, for one, and I know Patrick Vaz attended as well.

Also a Little Embarrassing

But not blind.

Licia Albanese's ability to put one over about her age has continued after her death. In the company's annual round-up of family members we've lost, San Francisco Opera's pocket obituary for the great soprano gives her birth year as 1913. Only if she lied on her naturalization papers!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

It's Mildly Embarrassing....

  • ....when the photo caption in a preview mentions a performer who isn't in the photo.
  • ....when a leading artist's name is spelled differently on consecutive pages of a glossy item mailed to subscribers.

Friday, November 14, 2014

(Another) Met Boheme Cast Change!

Roman Vargas, who is currently singing Rodolfo at the Met, has taken ill, so, actually, it's not Brandon Jovanovich subbing in; he's currently appearing in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which opened the other day to raves.

This time, it's Bryan Hymel, who will fly in from Chicago to sing the tenor lead in tonight's performance! He's rehearsing Percy in Anna Bolena at LOC.

(I see that the conductor is Riccardo Frizza. Well, I liked him fine in Lucrezia Borgia and I Capuleti, but he was gruesome in last week's Tosca. I hope he is better in Boheme.)

Sunday, November 09, 2014


Taken out of two libraries today:
  • Curlew River, Britten, SF Public Library
  • Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, Britten (Oakland Public Library)
  • Quintet for piano and strings, op. 34, Brahms (Oakland Public Library)
Reports coming up on Saturday's Rubin Institute panel and also on Tosca, which I wound up seeing, rather unexpectedly.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Joshua Kosman Tells You What It's Like

To be a music critic, that is.


This week I am listening to Curlew River (English Opera Group/Britten, Pears, Shirley-Quirk, etc. natch) in preparation for seeing and reviewing it in a week; I am also reading the Noh play Sumidagawa, on which the Britten is based. Also revisiting a couple of the monuments of 19th c. chamber music. The Vogt, Faust, Tetzlaff, Eberle, Weinmeister performance of the Brahms piano quintet is very, very good.

Goings-On at the Rubin Institute Panels and Talks

Over at LiveJournal, frequent commenter Kalimac has been writing up the public events of the Rubin Institute for [Classical] Music Criticism. The postings that are up are here:
Big thanks to Alex Ross for the shout-out, which has now been reported directly to me by two friends, in addition to Kalimac's mention. From the time stamp, I think one of them sent email about three seconds after Alex finished talking. I wish I could have been there, and also at Tommasini's talk, but after missing more or less seven weeks of work while on sick and family leave, there was just no way I'd be attending events at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. in San Francisco. I do plan to come to tomorrow's firing, "Master Class in Classical Music Criticism."

I think for every critic who wanders into music criticism from another field, there is at least one with a music degree. In high school, I thought I would grow up to be a full-time critic. Robert Commanday was a flutist and chorus director before he became a music writer. Joshua Kosman has undergraduate and graduate degrees in music. Anthony Tommasini was a pianist and piano teacher, and I believe so was Bernard Holland before him. Alex Ross may not have majored in music, but it's clear that he took music classes in college. It is important to have technical knowledge of music if you're going to write about it, but you don't have to be a music major to acquire that knowledge.

As far as Gil French's question goes, okay, maybe they're not training writers for jobs that don't exist. There is still a shortage of outlets that pay, not to mention paying well, for classical music criticism and journalism. I am a very, very part-time writer, and I have never made more than $3,000/year for my music writing. I told Andy Doe earlier this year that I thought that with some effort I could probably make $25,000 - $30,000/year working half- to full-time. That would be fine as additional income after I stop working full time, but I am a technical writer and get paid more than that.

I am not sure what to say just now about Anthony Tommasini's keynote other than to mention that if you heard a loud noise last night, it was me banging my head against the wall as I read Kalimac's write-up.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

A Tweet I'm Really Rather Proud Of.

Thursday Miscellany

San Francisco Opera has appointed Daniel Knapp as director of production, a job where he'll be in charge of a budget of $22 million that is used for stage operations, production stage management, technical administration, scene construction, costume shop and wig and make-up services for all War Memorial Opera House stage productions, as well as concerts, recitals and special events. Read the press release here....Daniel Wolf has a great posting up about Alan Hovhaness, putting him in context as a sometimes-experimental composer working outside the New York/East Coast mainstream in a variety of styles. Be sure to click the link to the composer's Symphony for Metal Orchestra...Alex Ross had an article in The New Yorker last month discussing the trouble with Beethoven and several books about the composer....Care of Long Beach Opera, which is performing his Therese Raquin soon, meet composer Tobias Picker at the Colburn School of Music in LA, on Sunday, November 16, 2014, from 1:00pm to 3:00pm, in Thayer Hall. Colburn is across the street, more or less, from Walt Disney Concert Hall....Locally, Cal Bach has a December program called A German Christmas, which they perform on December 5-7 in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Berkeley...Magnificat performs Cavalli's Venetian Mass December 19-21 in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Francisco....On Sunday, November 23, Chora Nova performs Bruckner & Brahms at First Congregational in Berkeley.

Part of the Answer, At Least

Here's Alex Ross talking to Gabe Meline at KQED about classical music criticism, the job, in connection with the Rubin Institute.

And a Twitter exchange with Anne Midgette:

(That should be Joshua Rifkin, of course.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

International Orange Chorale

The excellent chorus IOC has exciting concerts planned for December; the web site is a little sparse on details, but here's what I know:

They're performing works written by and for IOCSF, including works by Caroline Shaw (Pulitzer Prize winner), Elizabeth Kimble, and a world premiere performance of music from composer Nico Muhly.

Note the starting times:

Saturday, Dec 13, 7:30pm
 All Souls' Episcopal Parish
 2220 Cedar St, Berkeley, CA 94709

 Sunday, Dec 14, 6:00pm
 St. Mark's Lutheran Church
 1111 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94109

 (Admission to both concerts is free, with voluntary donation requested.)


The people of the US apparently think that Republicans can handle the economy better than Democrats, and yet:
  • U.S. unemployment rate, October, 2009: 10.0%
  • U.S. unemployment rate, September, 2014: 5.9%
  • Federal deficit, fiscal year 2009: $1.414 trillion
  • Federal deficit, fiscal year 2014: $483 billion
Unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014


Economist Paul Krugman has occasionally cast a skeptical eye on, Freakonomics, and other sites that attempt to draw large conclusions from smallish data sets. In most cases, the writers of these articles aren't experts in the field they are trying to analyze.

And what do you know, at the Washington Post's WonkBlog, we've got a guy making exactly that mistake. Based on just one of composer Suby Raman's excellent graphs, Christopher Ingraham has reached the conclusion that Opera is Dead, in One Graph.

For crying out loud. It is no secret that the Met is not in any way, shape, or form a hotbed of new music performance. The operatic behemoth has commissioned a tiny number of new operas in the last 25 years and picks up works by living composers only rarely, usually if your name happens to be John Adams or Philip Glass.

Raman's graph would look a lot different if the data set were Houston Grand Opera or even San Francisco Opera, both of which have commissioned a notable number of new works in the last 35 years (and not just under David Gockley, either, at SFO).

It's also not exactly a secret that an awful lot of new and recent operas are first performed, or revived, at the local or college or conservatory level, where smaller-budget organizations with loyal followings can take more chances than the Met or another big-budget US company. And European houses, many of which have government support, are also in a better position to produce new work.

Christopher Ingraham shouldn't be basing broad conclusions about an art form on one graph, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that he doesn't follow the business of opera very carefully, and very likely not at all.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Making It Legal

 Photo linked from SF Chronicle; photographer uncredited.

After 38 years together, Michael Tilson Thomas and Joshua Robison have gotten married! Adorably, they have known each since junior high school.

Congratulations, you two, and I'm glad to have lived to see the day when this would be possible.

Reviewing the Hagen Quartet

My review is up at SFCV.

Several friends of mine are very big on the Hagen; a couple have specifically praised Clemens Hagen, the cellist. I liked his playing, and that of violist Veronika Hagen and second violinist Rainer Schmidt, a great deal, but the quartet's overall interpretive profile is...or was on this occasion....not very interesting.

They don't seem to appear often in the US, and those past reviews that I could find are decidedly mixed, although, once again, Joshua Kosman tells you exactly what he thinks.
  • Joshua Kosman, CD review in the Chron
  • James Oestreich was impressed with their Beethoven in the Times
  • Tim Page wasn't thrilled, also in the Times ("..little sense of vortext" in a program that included K.387) 
There are more, older CD reviews at the Times.

More Dominos in the Met Boheme

You might remember this posting, about Sonya Yoncheva: she took on some Traviata performances, owing to the withdrawal of Marina Poplavskaya from the role of Violetta, and in doing so, surrendered some performances in which she was to sing Musetta in La Boheme.

Deep breath; there's more:
  • Anna Netrebko has withdrawn from the title role in a run of Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper.
  • The Met has released Kristine Opolais from her December appearances as Mimi in Boheme so that she can sing Manon Lescaut in Munich. Opolais will sing Mimi at the Met on January 15, 19, and 24, 2015, however.
  • Sonya Yoncheva will sing her first staged Mimi performances in Boheme, taking over the role from Opolais on November 14, 20, 24, 28, December 1 and  5, 2014.

And Why We Write Daily Reviews

My previous posting doesn't get into the specific reasons for writing performance reviews, but they exist and they are important to musical life:
  • To keep the audience informed about what's going on
  • To create a historical record of who was doing what when and how well they did it
Commentary is a basic part of cultural life, as it is of political and scientific life.

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Well, maybe two.

From a press release about a new $100,000 prize to be awarded by the Warner Music Group to "a classical musician aged 18 to 35 who demonstrates exceptional talent and promise, regardless of any label affiliation." 

The press release goes on to say:
In its inaugural year, the prize will be presented in association with Carnegie Hall, with the nominees drawn from those young singers and instrumentalists presented by the venue in significant solo roles during the 2014-15 concert season, who meet specific eligibility criteria.
The young artists under consideration, and the dates of their Carnegie Hall performances, are: sopranos Sarah Shafer (Feb 22) and Jennifer Zetlan (Dec 4); mezzo-sopranos Jamie Barton (Feb 17), Rachel Calloway (Dec 4), Cecelia Hall (Jan 17), Alisa Kolosova (Feb 1), and Peabody Southwell (Dec 4); bass-baritones Aubrey Allicock (Dec 4) and Evan Hughes (March 8); tenor Dominic Armstrong (Dec 4); violinists Augustin Hadelich (Dec 28) and Itamar Zorman (Nov 5 & March 26); cellist Brook Speltz (March 26); double bassist Roman Patkoló (Nov 11); harpist Sivan Magen (Oct 21); and pianist Behzod Abduraimov (Jan 27 & Feb 18).
You can read more about the prize at the prize's web site.

Anyone want to take a guess as to which young musicians are not like the others?

Why We Write About the Arts

So I'm getting some comments and quotations, and (I think) not just from the Pelleastrian and his other pseudonyms, claiming that criticism is worthless, and criticizing or writing about or analyzing music is worthless. (Or something like that.) All you have to do is listen to it!

First, I'll repeat what I asked earlier: if you believe that, why are you reading this blog? Why are you bothering to comment on my words about music or criticism?

Second, I'll ask everyone to consider the anti-intellectualism that's inherent in these claims, where analyzing and thinking about a work of art, whether an opera or a painting or a poem, are dismissed as unimportant.

I am not in any way trying to downplay the experience of seeing an opera, listening to a string quartet, or finding yourself in the same room as, say, the Portinari Triptych. But if these works of art don't inspire some curiosity or interest in learning more about them, you have missed something important in the experience. I mean, there are good reasons that there are libraries full of musical analysis and history, art history, and literary criticism. Yes, reading that stuff does enhance my experience of the works themselves, and the experience of millions of other people. If that's not true of you, fine; don't read about or discuss your favorite works of art. But don't denigrate the enterprise of intellectual attempts to understand these works, either.