Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I think of orchestras, even the big ones, as being local organizations. San Francisco Symphony is a San Francisco organization, even with the odd run-out to Sonoma, Stanford, or Davis. The New York Philharmonic is a NYC organization, the BSO takes in Boston (and of course summers in Tanglewood).

So it was mighty strange to start getting email from the NYPO telling me about their new Ann Arbor, MI. Here's a slideshow from their "inaugural" residency in AA. (Note the tiny white type - okay, it sure looks tiny on a 15" MBP. Not good.)

Here's what the press release, such as it is, terms this:
....the inaugural performance residency of its five-year partnership with the University Musical Society of the University of Michigan, in conjunction with the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. 
I just don't understand what's going on here. Which way is the money flowing? Who benefits?  

Let's take a look at the distance from Ann Arbor to a few other cities with big-time orchestras, all as the Ford drives, and ask ourselves what, exactly, the relationship is between the University of Michigan and the New York Philharmonic:
  • Ann Arbor to Detroit: 43.5 miles
  • Ann Arbor to Cleveland: 167 miles
  • Ann Arbor to Chicago: 240 miles
  • Ann Arbor to Pittsburgh: 284 miles
  • Ann Arbor to Philadelphia: 582 miles
  • Ann Arbor to NYC: 613 miles
Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, and Pittsburgh aren't good enough? Don't have the dough for this? Or what? An awful lot of people in my area drive 40 miles to and from work every day.

Oh, wait: Cleveland has its own residency - in Miami, I seem to recall. And there's a photo in the slideshow of Matthew VanBiesen, the chief executive of the NYPO, giving a talk on 21st C. Orchestras and Social Impact. I wonder how that might sound coming from the chief executive of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, considering the very different circumstances of the cities where their orchestras reside.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Adler Fellows 2016

San Francisco Opera has announced the 2016 Adler Fellows:
The ten singers selected as 2016 Adler Fellows are sopranos Julie Adams (Burbank, California), Amina Edris (Christchurch, New Zealand) and Toni Marie Palmertree (Fleetwood, Pennsylvania); mezzo-sopranos Zanda Švēde (Valmiera, Latvia) and Nian Wang (Nanjing, China); tenor Pene Pati (Auckland, New Zealand); baritone Edward Nelson (Santa Clarita, California); bass-baritones Matthew Stump (Goshen, Indiana) and Brad Walker (Lake Zurich, Illinois); and bass Anthony Reed (Alexandria, Minnesota). 
The two pianists selected for Apprentice Coach Fellowships are Ron Michael-Greenberg (Montreal, Canada) and Noah Lindquist (Brooklyn, New York). The Adler Fellow apprentice coaches work closely with Mark Morash, Director of Musical Studies of the Opera Center, and John Churchwell, Head of Music Staff at San Francisco Opera. The coaches participate in the musical activities of both San Francisco Opera and the Opera Center, and they are involved in all aspects of the Adler Fellows’ training by acting as pianists for master classes, working with master coaches and preparing the Adler Fellows for concerts and mainstage roles.

Nonprofit Governance

Carnegie Hall, 1963, courtesy

It's a good day to think about nonprofit governance issues.
  • In this corner, we have the collapse of Gotham Opera, where the board had a little too much trust in the executive director, who evidently never recorded certain expenses, amounting to a cool $600,000, enough to sink a small-budget organization. The board of San Diego Opera ought to be feeling just a bit queasy right now.
  • In that corner, across town, we've got the kerfluffle at Carnegie Hall, where Board Chairman Ronald Perelman resigned after less than a year over issues with Clive Gillinson, the hall's executive director.
Russell Platt has an article up at The New Yorker about the situation at Carnegie Hall. I agree with Platt completely about the problems of having board members who somehow expect concert halls, which are nonprofit cultural institutions, to behave like profit-making businesses, especially financial sector businesses.

Platt raises an issue about which I don't completely agree with him:
But the reluctance of Gillinson and his staff to provide detailed information about profits and losses of particular concerts to Perelman and the board is entirely justified: if artists’ fees (which are often extremely high) at such a prominent venue as Carnegie were distributed to board members, the information would find its way to the Internet in a matter of days.
I agree that the Board should focus on raising money (and so on) so that Carnegie can continue be one of the great concert presenters of the world. It is very expensive to transport an orchestra from Boston, let alone from Vienna, for example. There is no way to make a profit on such a presentation.

But let's think for just a minute about the matter of artists' fees. This is a matter of great secrecy, though occasionally the curtain is lifted just a bit. Some years ago, for example, the tenor Roberto Alagna said that concerts were a great deal more financially beneficial to him than opera performances. He indiscreetly mentioned some numbers, and my recollection is that he said he could get paid $16,000 per performance in the US versus $60,000 for a concert in Europe.

I don't know a darned thing about what you get paid if an artist performing as a soloist with an orchestra or presenting a solo recital at Carnegie Hall. But I'm willing to bet that there's a big spread among newcomers starting out, big stars (think Placido Domingo or Lang Lang), solid performers, and legends such as Maurizio Pollini or Martha Argerich.

The leaked material from the Sony hacking case showed that female movie stars often get paid less than their male co-stars. I am sure that you are shocked, shocked to hear this: the case that I specifically recall is that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams got paid less than Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper in American Hustle.

So you've got to wonder about what we might learn if there were more transparency about artist fees, especially at a famous and important venue like Carnegie Hall. I've heard an awful lot of good music at Old First Concerts in San Francisco, played mostly by local musicians. I'm willing to bet that they are deeply underpaid compared to the groups and soloists appearing at Carnegie.

 Of course I'd like to know whether Daniel Barenboim gets paid more or less than Martha Argerich, or whether Christian Tetzlaff gets paid more or less than Leila Josefowicz. That's a fairer comparison than Barenboim and Argerich; he spends most of his time conducting, she doesn't play solo recitals any longer.

And speaking of investors, and profit and loss, here's something of interest to people in the Bay Area:
"We want people's first experience in the opera house to be resonant and to be exciting and to be to some degree comfortable, so that they will come back," Shilvock said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "So I think we have to treat the 'Traviatas' and 'Bohemes' very sensitively." 
 Unlike their European counterparts, U.S. companies have very little government assistance, which factors into decisions on operas and directors. 
[paragraph deleted] 
"Our patrons are also our investors, and because many of our core subscribers are also our most generous philanthropists, we need to make sure that our programming jibes with their expectations, what they'd like to see onstage," Shilvock said. "That doesn't mean that we have to be conservative. Many of them have very adventurous tastes and interests, but I think it does mean that we have to be careful about what happens on our stage."
That's Matthew Shilvock speaking, in an interview he gave to the Associated Press the week that he was appointed General Director Designate of San Francisco Opera. It's a little hard to parse what he means about treating the Traviatas and Bohemes "very sensitively;" he could mean no naked orgies on stage, or he could mean something different, like, we're going to perform one of them in alternate years.

But I am very concerned about "our patrons are also our investors." That is much too close to Ronald Perelman's apparent expectations or beliefs about how Carnegie Hall should operate, with both eyes firmly on the money. Patrons aren't investors; they are audience members. They support institutions because they trust the artistic mission of the organizations and trust the administrators.

I am also concerned about meeting the expectations of investors, I mean, patrons. Despite the protestations that we don't have to be conservative, that clause after the "but" certainly implies that the company doesn't want to upset anyone. And you should certainly think about how an opera by Gordon Getty might have made it to the stage at San Francisco Opera.

Ticket Buying Hell

Okay, more evidence of why staff and board members and members of the press should go through exactly what the public goes through to buy tickets.
  1. The organization's web site doesn't have a choose-your-own-seat option.
  2. The box office's hours are during weekday working hours only.
  3. Even if you call during those hours, you get an answering machine (and you hear about how to buy ticket on line - see 1 above).
I'd really like to see this concert, even though it's at a logistically difficult time for me, but my companion has some specific seating needs and the seating software didn't make the right guess in 10 tries. Also, the concert is selling poorly enough that there's a two-for-one offer. Maybe, just maybe, people aren't buying because they are having problems buying - and the first rule of selling tickets is "Make it easy for people to give you their money."

Gotham Opera: The Other Shoe Drops?

Gotham Opera is blaming its former director, David Bennett, for the terrible discovery that the company had $600,000 in debt that apparently nobody knew about. Read that article, which contains gems such as the following:
According to Gotham staff and a board member, a cache of unpaid bills, invoices and fines totaling $600,000 were never put on the books or reported to the board, and were discovered after Bennett left for San Diego last spring. The Gotham’s annual budget was $1.8 million, according to the company’s most recent tax filings. 
“There was one person who had full access to the books. One person. And it was the responsibility of that person to input all of these invoices,” said Edward Barnes, the current executive director at Gotham. He was hired to replace Bennett in May.
I see more than one person at fault here. Why on earth did only person have full access to the books? Was there no outside accounting firm that saw the company's books? Ever? Did no one on the Board read whatever information Bennett provided carefully enough to ask more questions?? Apparently not:
 They never questioned the financials because they had faith in Bennett.
That's negligent, to say the least.

Bennett, of course, is saying "Now they get it!" Um, it was your job to make sure that the Board fully understood the company's financial situation.

Dell to Buy EMC

Really? This makes about as much sense as HP buying Compaq, and I'm sure you all remember how well that worked out, since Carly Fiorina is in the news again. Of course, Dell will get VMWare, which is doing well.

Maybe I'll drop Joe Tucci a note about how EMC managed to kill the spirit of Documentum, or maybe about how there was a period when people were getting promoted....but not getting the raises that should have gone with those promotions. Yes, you could say that I have some very good reasons for working elsewhere now.

UPDATE: And Joe Tucci will get a remarkably nice payout. Anyone want to guess how many layoffs there will be when the purchase goes through?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Robert Koff Celebration at Brandeis

Robert Koff's family, the Brandeis music department, and the Lydian String Quartet present a celebration of the late violinist and teacher. All proceeds benefit the Robert Koff Scholarship Fund.

Where: Slosberg Music Center, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA

When: Saturday, October 17, 2015, starting at 7 p.m.

What: Preconcert talk, performance, reception

Tickets: $20 adults / $15 Seniors & Brandeis community / $5 students (Buy tickets in advance at Brandeis Tickets.)

Friday, October 09, 2015

And Even More.

Two additional issues with the new SF Opera web site:

  • If there's a season calendar with a month-by-month layout - like a wall calendar, you might remember those - I can't find it. There is a scrolling calendar, but you can't see more than maybe a week at a time.
  • The new skin for Tessitura, which handles on-the-web ticket sales, is ghastly. It loads slowly, the seat labels are unreliable for the last row of a section, and the graphical display is much smaller than the old display. This is a serious problem for anyone with poor eyesight, which might be the cases for older audience members, who may be more likely to be using a desktop machine than a smartphone.

Figlia! A Tal Nome Io Palpito!

And her name is: Lianna Haroutounian.

You may recall that Haroutounian had been announced for one performance as Amelia Grimaldi in Simon Boccanegra, with the balance TBA. Today, the Met said that the Armenian soprano will sing all of the performances, on April 1, 5, 9, 13, and 16, 2016.

Lucky Met audiences! I heard her in Tosca about a year ago in SF, and how I would love to see her in this.

London Friday Photo

Fleet St. near Royal Courts of Justice
May, 2014

Thursday, October 08, 2015


Okay, I have wandered around the new SFO web site, and can report a couple more things.

  • The mobile web site has exactly the same content and layout as the desktop site; that is, they've used responsive design.
  • On the good side, this means the type is very large and readable on the desktop. On the down side, this means you scroll an awful lot.
  • It's very easy to read on a smartphone, and mine doesn't have an unusually large screen.
  • Cast & Creative team is too far down the page. Maybe get that above the trivia, which includes something about....The Barber of Seville? And get it above the place where you're touting subscriptions.

You Might Be a Little Confused.

A recent trend in web site style is to have a home page that scrolls, and scrolls, and scrolls, largely robbing you of any sense of location on the site, and hiding stuff, because you don't know how far you need to scroll. They look splashy, and to my mind they don't actually work very well.

SF Opera has gone and provided us with one of these on their redesigned web site.

I happen to have a rather strong preference for a web site where you see a bunch of links and can tell what will happen when you click one. So....this will take some getting used to.

I can report that the press photo presentation is greatly improved over the old web site, though.

And by the way, that's Brian Mulligan in the blond wig and beard, as Enrico in Lucia. That definitely confused me.

Met Musicians: Tannhauser Survival Guide

In the run-up to last year's unfortunate labor dispute at the Met, its orchestral musicians started putting out a regular newsletter on the web. After everything settled, more or less, they've kept it up and really done a terrific job of it, providing lots of insight into how an opera orchestra works and what its members do. They had an article on the oldest living former orchestra member, they've had memorials to recently deceased members.

Now they've got a survival guide to the Met's upcoming Tannhauser production, done as a hangout this coming Saturday, October 10. Six orchestra members will tell you all about the opera, its orchestra, and how to survive a Wagnerian marathon.

For details, and to reserve a space in the hangout, read this web page.

Cal Bach's Zelenka

California Bach Society will be performing the Missa Votiva of Jan Dismus Zelenka next week. I've sung some Zelenka myself; he was a great composer whose work seriously deserves many more performances than it gets. Kudos to Paul Flight for getting him on the local radar, at least. The soloists are Rita Lilly and Elizabeth Kimble, soprano; Gabriela Estephanie Solis, alto; Chris McCrum, tenor; and Sepp Hammer, baritone.

Dates & Locations:

Fri, Oct 16, 2015, 8pm at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in San Francisco
Sat, Oct 17, 2015, 8pm at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Palo Alto
Sun, Oct 18, 2015, 4pm at *First Congregational Church* in Berkeley

General tickets are $28 in advance, or $33 at the door; senior tickets are $20 in advance or $24 at the door. Students and patrons under 30 always pay $10. The advance prices are available until 5 pm on Thursday before concert weekends. To order tickets, go here.

Spirited Light: Sacred Music for the New Millenium

That's the title of an upcoming program by North Star Vocal Artists, led by Sanford Dole. It'll be performed in SF and points north later this month and in early November.

The program includes works by Einojuhani Rautavaara, Frank Ferko, Jake Runestad, Ivo Antognini, Sanford Dole, Ola Gjeilo, Joseph Gregorio, Pavel Lukaszewski, and Roxanna Panufnik, a great lineup in my book.

Dates & locations:

Friday, October 30, at 8:00pm
St. Gregory of Nyssa Church, 500 DeHaro Street, San Francisco

Sunday, November 1, at 4:00pm
St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, 16290 Arnold Drive, Sonoma

Saturday, November 7, at 8:00pm
First Presbyterian Church, 1510 Fifth Avenue, San Rafael

Sunday, November 8, at 4:00pm
Paul Mahder Gallery, 222 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Volti Open Rehearsal, Wednesday, October 7

Volti, the Bay Area's superb new music chorus, is having an open rehearsal tomorrow in San Francisco. They'll be reading through a new work by Tonia Ko, who is their Choral Arts Laboratory (CAL) composer for the 2015-16 season.

Here are the details:

Volti: Open Rehearsal with 2015-16 CAL Composer Tonia Ko

DATE & TIME: October 7, 20157-9pm


1187 Franklin St
San Francisco, CA 94109

Monday, October 05, 2015

Post-Weekend Miscellany

Sweden has issued a series of arts-related bank notes, and the individuals pictured include Ingmar Bergman, Greta Garbo, Astrid Lindgren, and Birgit Nilsson. Can't the US have pretty currency illustrated with people other than politicians??.....Ethan Iverson interviews tenor Mark Padmore...After consideration, I'm convinced that Alex Ross is right about Andris Nelsons, the BSO, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus...also see Alex's post on the performing arts in America....Patrick Vaz lists "Fun stuff [he] may or may not get to" for October (I also might or might not get to that stuff)...San Francisco Symphony has appointed Matthew Spivey, currently Vice President and General Manager of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO), to the position of Director of Artistic Planning. The press release says this about the job:
As Director of Artistic Planning for the San Francisco Symphony, Spivey will work closely with Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas in setting the Orchestra’s artistic direction and act as a member of the executive management team. He will oversee programming for the Orchestra’s 31-week subscription season, recording projects, commissioning programs, tours, festivals, and provide artistic direction for the SF Symphony’s 200+ concerts and presentations each season. The San Francisco Symphony serves one of the largest concert-going and music education audiences in the U.S.   
That means that he's the guy to complain to when we get a season that looks like this.

Festival Opera, stepping out of its usual habitat in Contra Costa County, will visit Oakland with an interesting double bill next month: Gustav Holst's Savitri and Jack Perla's River of Light. They'll be performed November 14-15, 2015, at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center Arts, 388 9th Street, Oakland, CA. Both chamber operas will be sung  in English. For more information, visit Yes, I'll be thinking about the fact that they're staging a pair of operas, composed by white men, about India.

Saturday, October 03, 2015


I opened the season brochure for Symphony Silicon Valley and found a program called Prokofiev & Sinfonietta, but the composer of the Sinfonietta was listed as...well, see the scan:

Janácfi? What? 

The description sure sounds like the great Janacek Sinfonietta: blazing brass, indeed. The piece calls for 4 horns, 9 trumpets in C, 3 trumpets in F, 2 bass trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 euphoniums, and a tuba.

Aaaaaand the web site has it right: Janáček. Looks like the graphic designer didn't know a hacek from whatever the heck is over the c in the brochure - but how many people did this little goof get past to make it into print?

That said, I'm putting this concert on my calendar. Whatever the Martinù is, I'll enjoy it; I'll enjoy the Prokofiev, and hey, you don't get to hear the Sinfonietta very often owing to the cost of hiring all the extra brass.

Friday, October 02, 2015

October is Hell Month

Groan. I can't go to four concerts every week.

SFS dates are the first day of a 3-4 concert run.
All month: SFO, Lucia di Lammermoor, Magic Flute.
Mariinsky is more than one date. I left Twyla Tharp off.

10/3 - Mariinsky
10/4 - Andras Schiff
10/4 -   Phil Baroque: Scarlatti discovery (other dates as well)

10/11 - SFS Chamber Music: Arensky, Martinu, Paulus
10/12 - Pavel Haas Quartet
10/12 - Bloch Lecture I, UCB: Saariaho, etc.
10/14 - Berkeley Symphony, Ravel, Berlioz, Saariaho

10/15 - SFS/Susanna Malkki, Christian Tetzlaff: Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich
10/16 - UCB: Regents’ Lecturer Anssi Karttunen in Composers Colloquium
10/18 - Anonymous 4
10/18 - Cal Bach: Zelenka Mass
10/18 - Paul Jacobs & Christine Brewer, recital, Davies
10/21 - Bloch Lecture II, UCB:  “Making Music, Sharing Music:“ Kaija Saariaho in conversation with conductor Susanna Mälkki, cellist Anssi Karttunen,

10/22 - SFS/Malkki, Trpceski: Chopin, Sibelius, Tiensuu

10/23 - eco ensemble, UCB: Saariaho composer portrait
10/24 - SFCMP, SFJCC: lots more Saariaho
10/25 - Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Marin County
10/26 - Left Coast Chamber Ensemble
10/28 - Noon concert at UCB: More Saariaho

10/30 - Ades/Cheng concert
10/30 - UCB Symphony: Saariaho, Sibelius, Debussy
10/31 - UCB Symphony: Saariaho, Sibelius, Debussy


In My Book, This was the Wrong Choice.

James Levine has dropped out of conducting the Met Lulu in favor of Tannhaueser.  Draw the obvious conclusions about his energy reserves. I'd certainly rather hear him in Lulu.

From the Met:

James Levine Will Focus His Energies on Tannhäuser This Fall;
New Production of Lulu Will Now Be Conducted By Lothar Koenigs

New York, NY (October 2, 2015) – Faced with the demands of rehearsing and performing two large-scale operas simultaneously this fall, Met Music Director James Levine has decided to lighten his workload by removing the new production of Berg’s Lulu from his schedule so that he may focus his energies completely on Wagner’s epic drama Tannhäuser. Levine has long been identified with Tannhäuser at the Met, having conducted 62 performances of the opera with the company since 1977. Lothar Koenigs, who made his Met debut in 2008 conducting Mozart’s Don Giovanni, will now lead the first 5 performances of Berg’s Lulu, a work he recently conducted at Welsh National Opera. The conductor of the final three performances will be announced at a later date.
“Conducting evening performances of Tannhäuser while rehearsing Lulu in the daytime would be an ambitious undertaking for any maestro, let alone for someone who only recently returned to full-time conducting,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. “I’m pleased that Jim will now be able to concentrate his energy onTannhäuser and that Lulu will be in the capable hands of Mr. Koenigs.”
Tannhäuser opens October 8 and plays seven performances through October 31, which will be a worldwide transmission as part of the Met’s Live in HD series. The cast features Johan Botha in the title role, Eva-Maria Westbroek as Elisabeth, Michelle DeYoung as Venus, Peter Mattei as Wolfram, and Günther Groissböck as the Landgraf.
The new production of Lulu, directed by William Kentridge, opens November 5 and plays eight performances through December 3, including a worldwide Live in HD transmission on November 21. The cast features Marlis Petersen in the title role, Susan Graham as Countess Geschwitz, Daniel Brenna in his Met debut as Alwa, Paul Groves as Painter and African Prince, Johan Reuter as Dr. Schön and Jack the Ripper, and Franz Grundheber as Schigolch.

UPDATE: Perhaps you found yourself wondering who Lothar Koenigs is, since the Met only bothers to mention his Met Don Giovanni performances and Wozzeck at the Welsh National Opera. The press release should have mentioned that Mr. Koenigs is the Music Director of the Welsh National Opera.

Met Cast Changes

Too late for Stephen Costello's withdrawal from last night's Anna Bolena, but here's an upcoming cast change for Tosca:
Roberto Aronica will sing Cavaradossi in the first five performances of Puccini’s Tosca at the Met this season—October 16, 21, 24 matinee, 29, and November 2—replacing Massimo Giordano, who is ill. As originally scheduled, Aronica will also sing the role on November 25, 28 matinee, and December 1 
Aronica adds a role to his Met repertory this season with his first company performances of Cavaradossi, a role he has recently sung with Greek National Opera, Opera di Genova, and Deutsche Oper Berlin. His other recent performances include the title role in Verdi’s Otello and Alvaro in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino at Teatro Regio di Parma; Radamès in Verdi’s Aida with Opera Australia; and Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Arena di Verona. The Italian tenor made his Met debut in 1998 as Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata. His other roles with the company have included the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto, Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème, and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. This season’s performances of Tosca are conducted by Plácido Domingo and Joseph Colaneri and alsofeature Oksana Dyka, Angela Gheorghiu, Maria Guleghina, and Liudmyla Monastyrska in the title role; Marcello Giordani as Cavaradossi; Roberto Frontali, Željko Lučić, James Morris, and Marco Vratogna as Scarpia; and John Del Carlo as the Sacristan. For more information, including casting by date, please click here.
Debating which particular combination of these singers I might want to see; also...surprised to see Guleghina's name in there, for some reason.

London Friday Photo

Peterborough Court, Fleet Street
May, 2014

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Saariaho Month

Kaija Saariaho is in residence at UC Berkeley this semester, and there will be quite a few performances and discussions of her music. Here's a press release from UCB, plus an addition by me, as they omitted the October 14 Berkeley Symphony program.


Monday, Oct. 12, 8-9:3 pm. Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Bloch Lecture 1, “Secret Gardens and Public Persona:“ Kaija Saariaho in conversation with
UC Berkeley’s Matias Tarnopolsky, Mary Ann Smart, and Edmund Campion

Wednesday, October 14, 8 p.m. Berkeley Symphony, Zellerbach Auditorium, UC Berkeley Campus, including Sarriaho's Magica Lanterna

Friday, October 16, 3-5pm, 125 Morrison Hall, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Regents’ Lecturer Anssi Karttunen in Composers Colloquium

Wednesday, October 21, 8-9:30 pm, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Bloch Lecture 2, “Making Music, Sharing Music:“ Kaija Saariaho in conversation with conductor
Susanna Mälkki, cellist Anssi Karttunen, UC Berkeley’s David Milnes and Matias Tarnopolsky

Friday, October 23, 8-10pm, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus, Tickets:
Cal Performances/ECO Ensemble, David Milnes, director
Kaija Saariaho Portrait Concert with guest soloist, cellist and Regents’ Lecturer Anssi Karttunen,
soprano Lauren Snouffer, and baritone Nikolas Nackley.
Program to include: /Sept Papillons/ for solo cello, /The Tempest Songbook/ for ensemble with soprano and baritone, /Notes on Light/, for cello and chamber orchestra.

Saturday, October 24, 7:30pm, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, Tickets:
San Francisco Contemporary Music Players Concert perform works for solo instruments and
video by both Kaija Saariaho and Jean-Baptiste Barrière, including /Six Japanese Gardens/ & /Time Dust./

Sunday, October 25, 8pm, Mill Valley and Monday, 10/26, 8pm, Tickets:
Left Coast Ensemble Chamber Music set including /Miroirs/ and /Sept Papillons/.

Wednesday, October 28, 12-1pm, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus, Free and open to the public
Free Noon Concert featuring Saariaho’s music with live video works of prize-winning Parisian
composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière; “/Chréode; Violance/, featuring guest soloists Camilla Hoitenga;
/Ekstasis/, for soprano, electronics & video on two texts by Simone Weil & Louise Michel featuring
soprano, Raphaële Kennedy.

Friday, Oct. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 31, 8pm, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
University Symphony Orchestra Concert, David Milnes, conductor
Jean Sibelius, Symphony No. 4
Kaija Saariaho, /Leino Songs/ (2007), featuring soprano Ann Moss
Claude Debussy, /Jeux/
Tickets: $16/12/5, 510.642.9988

Friday, November 6, 3-5pm, Department of Music, 125 Morrison Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Bloch Lecture 5, “Continuing Thoughts on Music:” Kaija Saariaho in conversation with Jennifer Koh
and UC Berkeley’s Matias Tarnopolsky
Free and open to the public

Wednesday, October 28, 8-9:30 p.m., Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus, Free
Bloch Lecture 3, Intuition, Collaboration, Discovery: Kaija Saariaho in conversation with, flutist,
Camilla Hoitenga and UC Berkeley’s Matias Tarnopolsky

Friday, October 30, 3-5pm, 125 Morrison Hall, Elkus Room, UC Berkeley campus, Free
Bloch Lecture 4, “From the Avant-Garde through IRCAM, to the Present Moment:” Kaija Saariaho in conversation with composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière and UC Berkeley’s Adrian Freed, Edmund
Campion, and Deirdre Loughridge,

Friday, November 6, 3-5pm, Department of Music, 125 Morrison Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Bloch Lecture 5, “Continuing Thoughts on Music:” Kaija Saariaho in conversation with Jennifer Koh
and UC Berkeley’s Matias Tarnopolsky

Free and open to the public

California Impact of Gotham Chamber Opera Collapse

Press release received a little while ago:


Gotham Chamber Opera is ceasing operations and will be closing. The Board of Directors of Gotham Chamber Opera voted today to shut down the organization. 

"We regret to announce that Gotham Chamber Opera will cease operations," said Beatrice Broadwater, president of the Board of Directors of Gotham Chamber Opera. "In early summer, the company's new executive director, Edward Barnes, uncovered a significant deficit that was not previously disclosed to the board.  We do not have, nor do we anticipate having, sufficient donations and pledges that would enable continued operations of the company." 

"I am proud to have founded Gotham Chamber Opera," said artistic director Neal Goren. "The company's fifteen year lifespan has been an extraordinary run, and we have been fortunate to be a part of New York City's cultural landscape. We are grateful to all of our generous donors, collaborators and attendees, and thank them for their support."
The company's future productions have been cancelled, and the board is meeting to determine the steps to wrap-up the organization's affairs.
And here is the money graf from Michael Cooper's NY Times article; emphasis mine:
Company officials declined to say exactly how large the deficit was, but described it as being in the “mid six figures.” Gotham’s annual budget was under $2 million, according to its most recent tax filings, which the company said it would have to amend to reflect its true finances. Mr. Barnes — who took over as executive director from David Bennett, who left to become general director of the San Diego Opera — said that it was unclear whether “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” which it planned to put on in May as a production with the Apollo Theater and Opera Philadelphia, could be performed without its participation.
And further down in the article:
Mr. Bennett, the former executive director, denied that he had kept the board in the dark about Gotham’s debts. “Some of the internal controls could have been better, but they weren’t undisclosed,” he said, noting that he had produced opera with a shoestring staff. “We sat on the razor’s edge for years, but we created some amazing things.” 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rant, Followed by Public Service Announcement

I can feel a rant coming on about terrible music world web sites, having just been horrified by the redesigned Met and NY Phil web sites. The Met redesign....I mean, what I can say? My tweet says it all: It went from being homely but functional to being pretty but useless.

Homely but function is always preferable, because selling tickets is more important than looking good. Always make it easy for people to give you money, as my web site basics page says.

And also: I must report that the Met's IT staff (or whoever does the web design; could be an outside design company) neglected to check how it looks and works on mobile phones. I know this because I tried the site on my phone and it just didn't work. I didn't get a mobile-adapted site, and if they think they have "responsive design," which adapts automatically to your device, they are just wrong. I saw a lot of code instead of the web site, and, well, that is not want you want your customers to see. Removing the ? from the end of the initial URL did help, but after that? Completely useless. I could not find the fucking calendar!

Note: I am a user of the most popular mobile operating system in the world. There are about a billion Android phones out there. It's better if Android users can view your web site correctly! I mean, it can't be possible that they checked this, but only on iOS? No.

And also: board members, staff, and critics should be required to use the web site to buy tickets at least annually so that they experience exactly the same pain that audience members, aka your customers, experience. I am looking at you and you and you and you and you, big-city reviewers, who can call the press department and bypass this crap. You are advocates for the audience, and calling out terrible orchestra and opera web sites is one concrete and important way to advocate for the audience.

I am not looking at myself because I buy most of my own tickets, so I do go through the pain. And then I complain about it here and everywhere else I can, sometimes in letters to musical organizations.

And also: the Tessitura web site lists the NYPhil as a customer. Man, they have the ugliest Tessitura display I have ever seen. Pony up for something better and more functional, guys. What you have looks like Brown Paper Tickets, a ticketing provider used by many smaller organizations (that is, the ones who can't afford Tessitura). It works just fine, but using a Tessitura display of that type is...really very strange for the country's oldest symphony orchestra.

Oh, gosh, I went ahead and ranted.

So, public service announcement. If you hate the search function on an organization's web site, use Google instead. There is search help, believe it or not. You have to search for it, because somehow Google is allergic to context-senstive help, that is, having a link to that help center on the search page. That would make sense, right? And I should know.

Anyway, here's the syntax for using Google to search a specific web site:

site:web_site_URL "your_search_term"

For example, if you want to find the sole performance Maurizio Pollini is giving at the NY Philharmonic, type this into the Google search box and hit return: "maurizio pollini"

If you want to see Semyon Bychkov's concerts, use this: Bychkov

For the BSO's Elektra programs at Carnegie: Elektra

Or substitute Goerke or Nelsons or "Boston Symphony" for that last term.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Demon Barber Media Roundup

Let's see what everyone else thought. I will include amusing headlines playing off the plot.
  • Joshua Kosman, Chron. "S.F. Opera delivers a 'Sweeney Todd' that's a cut above." Note the less-amusing URL when you click through.
  • Greg Freed, Parterre Box. "Leave It to Cleaver."
  • Steven Winn, SFCV. "SF Opera Attends to Sweeney Todd with a Vengeance."
  • Opera Tattle, overwhelmed by the firehose of words, reports that meat pies were served in the press room. Did anyone on the SFO staff lose a cat recently?
  • SF Mike, SF Civic Center
  • Lisa Hirsch, here.
Joshua's review reminds me that I thought the first act sagged at the beginning, then picked up in whatever the last number or two were ("A Little Priest," most likely.)

Attend the Tale

Baritone Brian Mulligan in the title role of Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." 
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Before I get to talking about what I saw and heard last Friday in the War Memorial Opera House, I need to review some history.
  • December, 2012. At the season announcement for 2013-14, David Gockley announces Show Boat and, as far as I can tell from my report of the press conference, tells us the show will not be amplified ("I believe we were also promised that it would not be amplified ("not dependent on mikes stuck down their throats")).
  • June, 2014. Show Boat opens. All of the dialog is amplified and some of the singers are amplified when they sing, those with the smaller - non-operatic - voices. Everybody sounds amplified because of "ambient microphones" in use; there is a nasty halo around the voices of Patricia Racette and Morris Robinson, for example, because of the ambient microphones. I wrote:

    Considering that part of the reason for doing a show like this in an opera house is that Broadway houses don't use full orchestras and don't use singers who can, you know, sing, maybe SFO should only be hiring singers with operatic voices when it does musicals.
  • January, 2014. Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, one of the greatest shows ever, is announced. No press conference; we get press releases instead, so we can't ask on the spot whether there will be amplification or not. Seeing that the cast is all opera singers (Gerald Finley, Stephanie Blythe, Heidi Stober, etc.). I make a bad assumption and don't send a question in email.
  • September 12, 2015. Sweeney Todd opens and everybody is equipped with body mikes, soloists and chorus alike. And it does basically no good at all.
I haven't asked SF Opera why everyone in the production is amplified, because the results are more important, at this point, than the reasoning. It might be something like "we need the dialog amplified and we can't switch the mikes on and off depending on the stage action because the audience would have to adjust its listening so often."

Well, the amplification sounds awful. The chorus is smallish for this show and the amplification makes them sound shallow and the sopranos shrill. They are not either shallow-voiced or shrill. The amplification is distracting, and because microphone technique is somewhat different from full-out vocal technique - or so said Sid Chen years ago when he started singing in Meredith Monk's vocal ensemble - there's a sense that the singers are holding back.

The dialog and song lyrics are very tough to make out, for these reasons:
  • Sondheim's lyrics are incredibly clever and difficult to parse, and there are a lot of words packed in. You don't often catch him writing long melismas; oh, okay, in "Johanna" and probably some of the other songs. But my brain was consistently behind the singers.
  • British accents. Inconsistent British accents, from singer to singer. Brian Mulligan's accent doesn't sound that much like Stephanie Blythe's, and hers is perhaps the broadest and most consistent in the show.
  • The theater is just too damn big for musical theater. (It's too damn big for opera.)
  • The amplification is not done well. It is much too obvious.
  • Terrible balances between the stage and pit. Especially at the beginning of the show last week, the orchestra was too loud.
A big, big sigh from me. I love this show, for its macabre plot, its wonderful songs, and its endlessly inventive lyrics. I have no doubt that the cast is doing its absolute best under the circumstances, but I wish SFO would just turn off the microphones. Maybe the show wouldn't sound better, but maybe it would. At least these great singers could sing out without fear.

All of that said, the production is decent-looking and effective and reasonably well directed. I can't say too much about the acting except at the highest level, because I was in the Dress Circle without my binoculars, a clear case of user stupidity on my part, because even if you have great eyes, you just can't see that much facial detail from that close to the back wall of the theater.

The singing was all very good, as you might expect with Brian Mulligan (Sweeney Todd), Stephanie Blythe (Mrs. Lovett), Heidi Stober (Johanna), Elizabeth Futral (Beggar Woman), Elliot Madore (Anthony), and Wayne Tigges (Judge Turpin). I like Stober more every time I hear her; ditto Mulligan (and I'll be happy to hear him unamplified in Lucia and the Poe double bill). Blythe has great comic talent and of course a hell of a voice, which she does not get to put on display in this show. (And no, I could not understand every word and thank Lotfi for the Supertitles.)

Madore is a newcomer to the company and I was a bit surprised to hear a baritone in this role; I thought it was written for tenor, but a perusal of the show requirements at the licensing company includes vocal ranges rather than voice types.

To wrap this up, a friend asked me whether it was worth seeing the show, and I could not give her an enthusiastic yes. I offered these options:

  • Pay a lot of money for a seat in the orchestra, first 15 rows, dead center.
  • Pay a lot less money for a seat in the balcony, on an OperaVision night.
  • Rent the video with Angela Lansbury and George Hearn.
Next time SFO performs a musical, I'll ask about amplification before I buy my tickets.

Milhaud's Médée at Mills

The worst-publicized event of the week is a performance at Mills College, Oakland of a rarity, Darius Milhaud's Médée, from 1938. Milhaud taught at Mills for many years and the college continues to perform his music.

Here's the cast and other information; anything that Nicole Paiement is involved is likely to be excellent.

Composer: Darius Milhaud
Libretto: Madeleine Milhaud
Conductor: Nicole Paiement
Director/Concept/Lighting Designer: Brian Staufenbiel
Master Electrian: Kevin Landesman
Choral Conductor: Lucik Aprahamian
Project Director/Stage Manager: Laura Anderson
Associate Stage Manager: Saskia Lee 

Créuse: Maya Kherani, soprano
Médée: Marnie Breckenridge, soprano
La Nourice: Mariya Kaganskaya, mezzo soprano
Créon: Eugene Brancoveanu, bass
Jason: Jonathan Smucker, tenor

Friday, September 25, 2015
8 p.m.
Littlefield Concert Hall, Mills College
Tickets: FREE

The performance web page has a link for making reservations, which are highly recommended.

Saariaho at Berkeley Symphony

Berkeley Symphony opens its season on Wednesday (not the usual Thursday!), October 14, 2015, with a luscious program:
  • Berlioz, Les Nuit d'été, for those of you still longing to see Les Troyens again; Simone Osborne is the soloist.
  • Saariaho, Lanterna Magica. She has fans around here, despite the impression you might get from some Bay Area reviewers. 
  • Ravel, Bolero
Lanterna Magica was done at the Proms in 2012 and a video is posted on YouTube. Here it is, complete with a brief interview with Saariaho.

October 14 happens to be Saariaho's birthday, so perhaps you should be prepared to sing a song recently declared to be in the public domain.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

SFO Cast Change AND Opera Medal Announcement

It's two, two, two posts in one!

Patrick Summers will be heading back to Houston a bit early; he will conduct tonight's Sweeney Todd, then return to Houston for an "urgent professional obligation." The two remaining performances in the run will be conducted by James Lowe.

But before Summers gets on the plane, he'll receive the San Francisco Opera Medal, honoring his 25 years of service to the company, during which he has conducted a wide variety of repertory with distinction. Congratulations, Patrick!

And congratulations to the member of the communications staff who included this gem in the press release:
Currently thrilling San Francisco Opera audiences with razor-sharp performances of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Yes, I did chortle over that.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Personnel Changes, San Francisco Symphony

A press release from SFS contains information about personnel changes this season:
  • Eugene Izotov joins the orchestra as principal oboe.
  • Chris Gaudi continues as acting associate oboe, as a one-year substitute.
  • Dan Carlson has received tenure as principal second violin. 
  • Paul Brancato continues as acting associate principal second violin. Members of the section will rotate as acting assistant principal. 
  • Sarah Knutson continues as a one-year substitute member of the second violin section.
  •  SFS principal bass Scott Pingel is on a partial leave of absence this season to teach at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 
  • Associate principal bass Larry Epstein retired at the end of the 2014-15 season, after 41 years with the Orchestra. 
  • Jeremy Kurtz-Harris, principal bass of the San Diego Symphony, will fill the position of acting associate principal bass, as a one year substitute.
  • Mark Grisez continues as acting associate principal trumpet, as a one-year substitute.
  • Tim Owner continues as acting associate principal trombone, as a one-year substitute.
  • Michael Israelievitch will fill the position of acting principal timpani, as a one-year substitute. (I loved Israelievitch when he filled in for a couple of concerts in the 2012-13 season, including David Robertson's Carter/Gershwin/Ravel program.)