Thursday, March 26, 2015

Laid to Rest

King Richard III, last Plantagenet king of England, has been laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral, not far from the car park where his remains spent the last 520 years or so.

All Publicity is Not Good Publicity

The Italian-American Museum in NYC owns several buildings on Mulberry Street in the area still called Little Italy - even though there are hardly any Italian Americans living there. Like the rest of Manhattan, it is gentrified and apartments are extremely expensive.

One of the few remaining is 85-year-old Adele Sarno, who has lived in the same apartment since the mid-1960s. She was born in the area and has lived there for most of her life.

The museum is trying to evict her so that they can raise the rate from the current rent of $820/mo to market rent, which would be $3500 to $4500. The apartment isn't subject to rent control or rent stabilization laws.

I am sure that they are legally within their rights. They're still assholes, or they come off as such. Making the Times in this particular way is very likely to cost them patrons and money.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Oleg Bryjak and Maria Radner, RIP

Bass-baritone Oleg Bryjak and contralto Maria Radner died in today's GermanWings plane wreck in France. The two had just sung Alberich and Erda, respectively, in the Gran Teatro Liceu's Siegfried production, according to tweets sent by the opera house.

Update, Wednesday: The NY Times follow-up on the crash contains the following:
The baritone sang at the prestigious Bayreuth Festival last year and was expected to perform there again in August. 
Ms. Radner, a rising star of Wagnerian opera, made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in “Götterdämmerung” in January 2012, and at La Scala in Milan in “Die Frau Ohne Schatten” in March 2012. She had been expected to perform at Bayreuth this summer in “Das Rheingold” and “Götterdämmerung,” according to a biography on her management company’s website. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Compare & Contrast 29: Boulez Wows the Critics

I missed Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich's all-Boulez program in Berkeley, for which I will forever kick myself, especially given the rave reviews:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Intro to Jujitsu: Sign Up Now!

My intro to Dan Zan Ryu jujitsu class is starting on April 4. Sign up soon!

Here's my original posting:

Class covers rolling & falling, hand arts, basic kicks & strikes, pins,
and even a couple of throws (but not the advanced throw pictured above!).

Taught by Lisa Hirsch, a second-degree black belt with 20+ years of teaching experience.

Eight Saturdays, April 4 to May 23, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m
Convenient Berkeley location - suitable for age 16 and up.
$200 per student; open to all, regardless of ability to pay.

Any questions? Contact Lisa: / 510-842-6243

Friday, March 20, 2015

London Friday Photo

Norton Folgate Almshouses, Puma Court, Spitalfields, London, May, 2014

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Proof-Reading Redux

I got asked a while back about my "obsession" with typos and so on. Well, sometimes typos have expensive consequences: here are a few examples at Mental Floss. I have a memory, but cannot run it down, of legal papers settling a dispute that were filed and finalized with a typo that reduced a very large award by 90%, as well.

It's also true that I have a strong professional interest in accuracy. I really don't want some piece of expensive equipment damaged or a software installation hosed because I screwed up in a document.

Here's a comparatively minor example from the Times, an error in the obit for trainer Allen Jerkens:
Although known to fans as the Giant Killer, Mr. Jerkens, not given to hyperbole, preferred the more simple tag Chief, as he was called by track insiders. His horses won more than 3,800 races and garnered nearly $1.3 million in purses.
So I would hope that those numbers would raise the eyebrows of anyone who knows something about horse racing: 1.3 million divided by 3,800 = $342 and change. That won't keep a racehorse in oats and a barn for a week, and I sent email to the author alerting him to the issue. It's now been corrected, and Jerkens's horses' correct winnings are actually around $104 million, a much more impressive number.

I give the Times a break on this kind of thing; it is impossible to be 100% accurate in a fast-paced production environment where you publish a small book's worth of material on a daily basis. It's harder to give breaks to, for example, an opera company whose professionally written and produced program notes identify Liu, the seconda donna in Turandot, as a mezzo-soprano role.*

Updated: I fixed a typo.
Update 2: I added some snark.

* I'm looking at you, San Francisco Opera. This was a couple of bring-ups ago.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

They're Here!

Now if only the Festival would announce who is singing this year.

Castrovillari's La Cleopatra in San Francisco

I first heard about Ars Minerva just a few months ago, at the end of November, when intriguing email whispered to me that a new opera company would be staging an unknown work, La Cleopatra, which had been written in the 17th century for the Venetian carnival season. Well, the combination of 17th century, Venice, and unknown is completely irresistible, so this past Sunday, March 15, I took myself to Marine's Memorial Theater for the second of two shows.

If you weren't there, or at the Saturday show, darlings, you missed a huge treat. La Cleopatra, with music by Daniele da Castrovillari, to a libretto by Giacomo dall'Angelo, hasn't been heard since it was performed back in 1662 at Venice's Teatro San Angelo. Celine Ricci, the moving force behind Ars Minerva, found a microfilm of the score at the UC Berkeley Library, if I have this correctly, and was able to obtain rights to perform it.

La Cleopatra's libretto is a hoot and a half. It takes the romance between Antony and Cleopatra, makes Antony's wife Octavia a major character, throws in another suitor or two of Cleopatra's (and the lover of one of the suitors), a timid assassin, and a travesty nurse. Oh, did I mention that it's a comedy? Spoiler alert: at the end, everybody is still alive and most are paired up.

The production was billed as semi-staged, which is fair enough, though I would have guessed it was fully staged. There isn't that much action; characters come on, sing a solo or duet, and leave. Celine Ricci was responsible for the imaginative mise-en-espace, doing a lot with very little in the way of props, in front of projections that provided the only scenery. Each character (except the travesty nurse, I believe) wore plain black, with a crown or circlet or other jewelry.

The tiny orchestra, which played beautifully - with spirit, rhythmic point, and good tuning - was visible on stage throughout the three acts. A big hand to harpsichordist/conductor Derek Tam, Adam Cockerham on theorbo and...vilhuela?, Gretchen Claasen on cello, and violinists Natalie Carducci and Laura Rubenstein-Salzedo; you all played like champs.

And getting to the heart of the matter: the music is extremely beautiful, in that austere, 17th c. Italian style. If you've heard any of the Monteverdi operas, well, you have some familiarity with what La Cleopatra sounds like. I counted three separate rage arias, which might be some kind of record, not to mention love duets, quite a bit of hilarious flirtiness from the nurse, and a gorgeous lament from Cleopatra.

I liked all of the singers a great deal! Ricci herself sang Cleopatra in a rich, dark, almost contralto mezzo-soprano, which made a fine contrast with countertenor Randall Scotting's Antony. He has an exceptionally fine strong voice, with plenty of character. Nell Snaidas was an appealing Ottavia, Jennifer Ellis Kampani a spirited Coriaspe and one of my favorites in the cast. Molly Mahoney sang a touching Arsinoe, Coriaspe's paramour. Tenor Mike Desnoyers clearly had a great time with Filenia, the nurse; baritone Igor Vieira played the other comic role, the timid assassin Clisterno. Both were hilarious and sang with character and verve.

Spencer Dodd, baritone, ably sang both Dollabela and Arante, and baritone Anders Froelich ultimately settled everything as Augustus. Lastly, a singer to watch: the young and handsome tenor James Hogan as Domitio, who sang gorgeously in a very tiny part.

I'm looking forward to hearing more of each singer, and especially to Ars Minerva's next productions. It's important for lesser-known operas to be staged: we need to know the context for the greatest composers and the eras in which they worked. Can you name any late 18th c. opera composers other than Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart? That's the point. The more we know about their contemporaries, the better we can understand them. Similarly, we can't fully understand 17th c. Venetian opera if the only composer we know is Monteverdi. And you never know what gems are lurking in manuscripts untouched for 300 years.

Lučić Withdraws

Says the Met:
Željko Lučić has withdrawn from his spring Met engagements due to illness. In his place, George Gagnidze will sing Alfio in the new production of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. Gagnidze, who will also sing Tonio in Pagliacci as originally scheduled, will join Marcelo Álvarez in performing in both halves of the evening’s double bill; Álvarez sings both Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana and Canio in Pagliacci.  
Mark Delavan will replace Lučić as Amonasro in this April’s performances of Verdi’s Aida.
This seems to apply to performances from April 9 to May 8.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

NYPO Suggestions & Speculation from the NY Times

Well, this isn't either surprising or particularly interesting: the Times classical music critics put forth some thinking about who should lead the NY Phil. Michael Cooper, who wrote the introductory section, tactfully refers to the "sometimes willfull" musicians, who have long had a reputation for being ornery, stubborn, resistant, and generally a difficult bunch to corral and direct. Whether that reputation is deserved or current, I do not know.

So who comes to mind?
  • Tommasini: Esa-Pekka Salonen (Note the photo placement, which has Ludovic Morlot's photo next to Tommasini's section)
  • Fonseca-Wollheim: Tells you who not to hire, in rather broad strokes, with hidden references to real events. I believe that was Jaap van Zweden who demoted a musician right before a performance. The Revolutionary sounds an awful lot like Pierre Boulez, who left the orchestra decades ago: the tip-off is "Who needs seats?" which might be a reference to Boulez's legendary rug concerts. Look, it was the 1970s and an attempt at informality. How does that differ from today's SoundBox and Poisson Rouge concerts? I attended one and it was a lot of fun! Anyway, stop fighting old battles, please.
  • Woolfe: Vote No. 2 for Esa-Pekka Salonen, but he does come up with some additional interesting names, Morlot, Susanna Malkki, James Gaffigan, and Daniel Harding.
  • Allen: "Perhaps" Salonen, perhaps Pablo Heras-Casado or Malkki, but if we're looking for someone more traditional, Manfred Honeck, currently MD of the Pittsburgh Symphony.
  • Schweitzer: A lot of blather and a mention without antecedent of "Mr. Robertson" that makes me suspect an editing error.
About what you might expect, plus Tommasini lauds the appointment of Alan Gilbert. The critics are united in nominating conductors under age 60, though there's no one under 30 listed. 

Adès/SFS Media Roundup

Monday, March 09, 2015


Thomas Adès made his San Francisco Symphony conducting debut last week, and led what might be the most interesting program of the entire season.

It opened with Ives's The Unanswered Question, and I am deeply embarrassed to say that I have obviously never heard it before, because, you know, I would have remember a work consisting of offstage strings, four flutes, and one trumpet. The string ensemble was positioned somewhere at the back of Davies at orchestra level, perhaps in the little air lock between the lobby and the hall itself: I know this because I chatted briefly with one of the double-bass players before the program started, admiring the instruments themselves. (What I didn't say: on stage, the double-bass players and their instruments all look eight feet tall. They are actually typical heights and the instruments are big but not enormous.) You can guess that the playing was gorgeous, with the solemn hymnlike strings the most conventionally beautiful, Mark Inouye out front, all alone with his lyrical trumpet, and the chattering flutes at the back of the stage. Adès conducted the flutes, Inouye conducted himself (without music), and Christian Baldini conducted the strings.

What a marvelous and enigmatic work! I don't have the answer, either.

Next came Darius Milhaud's famous jazz/classical mashup, La Creation du Monde. Someone forgot to tell me how Klezmery it sounds, but since Milhaud was Jewish, why was I surprised? I sound the performance slower and a little duller than I was expecting; it sounded closer to 20 than 16 minutes, but I was not timing it, either. There were some balance issues, which may have been the fault of the enormous hall, but maybe it's just not reasonable to expect to hear the tiny number of strings over the sax, brass, and piano. Again, fabulous performance from all involved.

Sibelius's Luonnotar got its first SFS performances, with Dawn Upshaw taking the soprano solo. It's only ten minutes long, an extremely beautiful and expressive ten minutes. I wish they'd played it again, because when will we ever hear it again? The vocal line swoops around a lot and has lots of little appogiaturas; Upshaw sang very expressively, her voice sounding both bigger and quite a bit darker than when I last heard her years ago. It also seems to have some late-career loosening of the vibrato, alas. I chatted briefly with my seat neighbor during intermission, and he said he'd heard it (on record, I think), with Karita Mattila, who would be absolutely perfect for it.

The entire second half of the program was devoted to Adès's newish piano concerto, In Seven Days, with the solo played by Kirill Gerstein.

The first thing we do, let's kill all the videographers: this is fifth time I've seen classical works accompanied by video, and of the several hours of video involved, I thought about 1/5th in any way enhanced the music.

In this case, Tal Rosner's videos were simpleminded, obvious, and hugely distracting. The trendlet toward doing video with music must be some kind of an attempt to meet the real or imagined desire of younger people for visual stimulation to go with the music. I wound up closing my eyes for quite a bit of the piece, in any event, because the music was a hell of a lot more interesting than the videos. I had exactly the same opinion of Tal Rosner's video the last time his work accompanied a piece by Adès, so again: just stop.

(Or if you have to continue, get the artists who did the video and camera work for last month's SoundBox, because that stuff really worked and was just artistically far superior to what I saw on Friday.)

I wish I had taken notes during In Seven Days, because it is a big piece, around 35 minutes long, and there is a whole lot going on. It sort of has movements, or at least, the composer has assigned names to the different sections, but there are no pauses or breaks, just connections and continuations. The opening, called "Chaos - Light - Dark" was anything but chaotic, to my ear; it was lightly scored with upper strings and, I think, a flute or two, polyphonic, and delicate. I suppose I should not base my expectations on Haydn's extremes, eh?

After that, I more or less lost track of the sections, between the complexity and density of the piece and having my eyes closed. I liked what I heard, which was imaginative and colorful and, at times, overloaded enough that I think the central sections might benefit from a little pruning of the orchestration: fairly typical Adès, in other words. Gerstein had quite a long and difficult part and played beautifully throughout. But, you know, Tom, that sonority with the crotales and high piano? I know exactly where you stole it from and I can't be the only one. (Stravinsky's placement was better, by the way.)

And speaking of the composer, he conducted very well; I can't tell whether the issues I sort of heard with the Milhaud could be more attributed to the piece, Davies, or his conducting. Everything else seemed fine.

Here are the program notes for In Seven Days, which I plan to read.

Tattling: Perhaps a number of audience members lost track of the fact that this was a 6:30 program. There were quite a few empty seats for the Ives, including the four or five to the left of me in Row M. Between the Ives and Milhaud, several young women sat down there, but I can't say they were very attentive: during the Sibelius, as I was debating a chat with an usher during intermission, my neighbor to the right very quietly asked them to please put away their phones. They did so - and then did not come back for In Seven Days.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Thursday, March 05, 2015

James Feddeck Replaces Semyon Bychkov at SFS

I bought a ticket for the SFS performances of Bruckner's 8 exclusively to hear what Semyon Bychkov could do with a composer I don't really care for much. A press release from SFS brings bad news:
SAN FRANCISCO, March 5 – Conductor James Feddeck will replace Semyon Bychkov in concerts with the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) performing Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, March 25-27 at Davies Symphony Hall. Maestro Bychkov recently underwent hip replacement surgery and while he is recovering well, his doctors have advised him to delay long distance travel for a short time. These concerts provide a rare opportunity to hear Bruckner’s final completed symphony—it was most recently performed by the SFS in 2005 led by Herbert Blomstedt. A work of complexity and magnitude, Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 uses an expanded instrumentation, complete with eight horns, four doubling on Wagner tubas. It is approximately 80 minutes long and will be performed with no intermission. This will be Feddeck’s conducting debut with the SFS.
If you have heard Maestro Feddeck, I'd like to hear your opinion of him. 

Hillary Clinton's Email Problem

I have been working in the high-tech business for nearly 20 years. When you sign up, you are told in no uncertain terms that company business is to be conducted only on the company's email system. You are not to send or receive work-related email on your personal account.

I've also noticed that I can't send email directly to my various Congresscritters. I have to use a form on each Senator or Representative's web site, and those sites are in the and domains.

So color me aghast that nobody in Hillary Clinton's circle of advisors told her that she shouldn't conduct business for the Department of State from her personal email domain.  And equally aghast that nobody at the Department of State told her this.

People. I can't tell you how unlikely it is that her ISP or system administrator had sufficient security in place to provide adequate protection for email coming from the Secretary of State.

Yes, that is the sound of me banging my head against the nearest wall, especially when I read the crap coming out of the mouths of people defending her. IMO, this amounted to a security breech on the part of the Secretary of State. The Secretary's work email belongs on mail servers owned, supervised, and supported by the Federal government.

News From Here and There

Conductor Kenneth Woods has some comments on Sir Simon Rattle's appointment to the LSO and on the possibility of a new concert hall in London. Read the comments and also the links....Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts to revive a festival closely resembling the late lamented Spring for Music...Jose Maria Condemi appointed Director of Opera at the SF Conservatory of Music. He will direct Elisir d'Amore in April....Bard SummerScape 2015 to be Carlos Chavez and His World. They will also be staging Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers (and I may have to go; that is well before my trip to Germany)....Baritone Quinn Kelsey has received the 10th annual Beverly Sills Award....The Leon Levy Digital Archives at the NYPO have release a fourth enormous batch of material. You can now peruse 13,300 programs from the orchestra's history on line....Eric Gibson has a superb op-ed piece in the WSJ saying that the destruction of cultural heritage should be a war crime (I agree).

How to Not Get My Business

I'm investigating postering services to get flyers posted for my jujitsu classes. My students and plastered various parts of Oakland and Berkeley with flyers in December, and frankly, it was exhausting and unsustainable: we probably put 10 or 12 hours into this total.

Here's the email explaining why one organization isn't getting my business:

Thank you for the quotation. I decline, for these reasons:

1. Your quotation is incomplete: it does not include the date by which you would post the flyers.

2. Your quotation assumes that I will give you an image to be copied and presumably includes copying costs. I have already copied the flyer, as my email above clearly states.

3. Your quotation is incorrect. I requested a quotation based on 100 flyers.

4. The cost is far over my budget. 

5. I completed your form on Saturday or Sunday and it took until today (four or five days) before you replied.

Thanks again.

-- Lisa

Ruskin on Meistersinger

Of all the bete, clumsy, blundering, boggling, baboon-headed stuff I ever saw on a human stage that thing last night -- as far as the story and acting went and of all the affected, sapless, soulless, beginningless, endless, topless, bottomless, topsiturviest, tuneless, scrannel-pipiest, tongs and boniest doggrel of sounds I ever endured the deadliness of, that eternity of nothing was the deadliest as far as its sound went. I never was so relieved, so far as I can remember, in my life by the stopping of any sound, not excepting railroad whistles as I was by the cessation of the cobbler's bellowing; even the serenadcr's caricatured twangle was a rest after. As for the great 'Lied' I never made out where it began or where it ended except by the fellow's coming off the horse block.
It is my least favorite of the mature Wagner operas; still I like Meistersinger more than Ruskin did. Even so, how I wish I'd written that.

No Way, Jose.

I knew this was coming: Jonas Kaufmann, still sick, has cancelled this Saturday's appearance as Don Jose in Carmen, and will again be replaced by Yonghoon Lee.