Welcome to Play On, California! A daily update on how musicians here in the Golden State are keeping the music playing while sheltering in place. While the concert halls are dark, tune in to KUSC weekdays at noon as we shine the spotlight on our great California musicians. We’re also updating this blog daily, highlighting in detail some of the incredible efforts taken on by our arts communities to share music on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, their own websites and more! If you have any favorites to add, let us know in the comments. Music Heals. The Arts Unite. Play on!
It seems hard to believe, but there are plenty of California Summer Music Festivals making plans to return (slowly and carefully) this season. They’re subject to change, given all of the variables involved, but here’s a quick snapshot of the way some of them stand now.
- Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara will be having guest artists including cellist Steven Isserlis, composer and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey, and pianist Conrad Tao – Michael Tilson Thomas will also be a guest conductor. (June 28-Aug 7)
- [email protected] announced its season, called “Gather,” with nine live-streamed concert performances over three weekends, and they hope to be able to have in-person, reduced capacity and distanced audiences at the Spieker Center for the Arts, as well as the Menlo School campus lawn. (July 16-Aug 1)
- Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon Music Festival, with period instrument performances, have chosen the theme of “Love and Longing: Reaching Across the Distance.” They’ll have a series of virtual concerts, as well as a handful of in-person performances with limited seating which will also be livestreamed. (July 17-Aug 1)
- Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo plans an 8-day festival, with both indoor and outdoor venues. (July 24-31)
- La Jolla Music Society SummerFest in San Diego will have the theme of “Self and Sound,” with music that composers have infused with some of their own autobiographies, including premieres by Gabriela Lena Frank and Andrew Norman. (July 30-Aug 20)
- The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz will be presenting its second virtual season, free to the public, over the July 31st and August 7th weekends.
- The Ojai Festival will be delaying its live in-person events until mid-September.
The 24 Preludes and Fugues of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I explore all of the major and minor keys in turn – it’s a collection that every pianist is likely to have a relationship with, whether as pieces for practice, or competition, or recitals. Jeremy Denk had been in the midst of a long series of concerts playing the entire first book when the pandemic hit. The 300th anniversary of the collection is in 2022, and the concerts were by way of leading up to that celebration. He plays a Cal Performances At Home ticketed concert that premieres tonight, with a complete performance, and although he says “writing a program note for this landmark of music is like blurbing The Bible,” talented writer that he is, in his notes he says: “Its declared purpose was to be a helpful collection of teaching pieces. I’d argue it’s the most generous, rhapsodic, genial, heartbreaking set of lessons ever created.”
Scoring ‘Indiana’ over four decades… The fifth (so-far unnamed) and reportedly the final installment in the Indiana Jones saga will star Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and will have an original score by John Williams. The composer, who’s now 89, scored each of the previous films: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), …Temple of Doom (1984), … Last Crusade (1989), and 13 years ago, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008.) The new movie, which is going to be released in the Summer of 2022, will be directed by James Mangold, who directed Ford v Ferrari and Logan. The original March from Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most recognizable and played of his themes, although it lost its chance at an Oscar to Vangelis’s score for Chariots of Fire.
The Santa Barbara Symphony celebrates the common man… and woman, in a ticketed concert they’ll be streaming this Saturday at 7pm. It’s an all-American program, with Aaron Copland’s famed fanfare, as well as Joan Tower’s response, Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. The string section is spotlighted in works by George Walker, and late Santa Barbara composer Robin Frost, and the woodwinds in music by Samuel Barber for wind quintet. They’ll be led by Music and Artistic Director Nir Kabaretti, and joined by bass-baritone Cedric Berry for a selection of Old American Songs by Copland, and the world premiere of the orchestral version of a very new piece from a song cycle by LA-based composer George N. Gianopoulos.
Love & Secrets: A Domestic Trilogy is Opera San Jose’s exploration of romance in a time when new strains have been put on many relationships. It’s a performance of three short operas with love at their core. Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s early 20th Century comedy of errors Il segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s Secret) about suspected infidelity that’s actually something entirely other. Ned Rorem’s Four Dialogues follows a couple from their chance meeting through breakup in four episodes with words by American poet Frank O’Hara. And they’ll end with The Husbands by Tom Cipullo, from 1993, based on text by poet William Carpenter, which “summons visions of seasons long past in a stunning rumination on widows, tenderly keeping their departed spouses forever present in their hearts.” The performances were recorded in OSJ’s new multimedia studio, and for the first time since the pandemic, singers will be accompanied by members of the Opera San Jose Orchestra.
The return of a summer tradition: Hollywood Bowl has announced it’s going to be offering a 2021 Summer Season, which will include four free concerts for those who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic: healthcare and essential workers, and first responders. The full details will be announced on May 11, but Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil will play the first two free concerts on the 15th and 22nd of May, and there’s a Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular planned. They’ll be capping audience capacity at about 4,000, with the hope that that can increase when it’s safe to do so. And other safety protocols will include distancing, mask policy, and contactless ticketing. There will be a 14-week season for the Bowl, and a 15-week season for The Ford, which will begin in late July.
Indre Viskontas brings together the world of neuroscience and music, teaching both at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the University of San Francisco. She has the added advantage of not just studying how the brain uses and recognizes music, she’s also a soprano who’s been on the other side of the footlights. She’s written a book called “How Music Can Make You Better,” and tonight will be the guest on a free virtual “Behind the Book” event through CaltechLive!, speaking about the book and being interviewed by Caltech’s director of chamber music, Maia Jasper White. Here’s a TEDx talk she gave a few years ago at Herbst Theatre:
A 5-million dollar gift to the Los Angeles Opera from Terri and Jerry Kohl will fund a summer outdoor production of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, the first live, in-person staging the company will have mounted since March of last year. It’s the largest contribution during the COVID-19 era, and one of the largest ever in the history of the Opera. The Kohls will also be funding a challenge grant to support the company’s endowment, which will benefit the orchestra’s core group of musicians, making them sole underwriters for the LA Opera Orchestra. This windfall comes after 13 months of dark stages, and the company hopes and expects to be able to return to performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in September.
They’re calling it A Celebration of Musicians Around the Bay, and tomorrow night, four groups will take part in a virtual showcase, hosted by the Bay Area Music Consortium. That’s an umbrella group formed by Berkeley Chamber Performances, Gold Coast Chamber Players from Lafayette, Mill Valley Chamber Music Society, and San Francisco’s Noe Music. They joined forces a few years ago to be able to be more effective in drawing performers while keeping costs low. The ensembles on tomorrow night’s program are the Friction Quartet, Quinteto Latino, Indian music virtuoso Alam Khan, and the four members of the Breshears family who make up the Stars Aligned Siblings quartet (who range in age from 8 to 14). For a young ensemble, they’ve already toured extensively, won competitions, and appeared on such shows as “From the Top.”
Yo-Yo Ma, in addition to playing performances for decades, has been acting as a cultural ambassador, and interacting with artists and people all around the world. He chronicles some of his experiences in a new release through Audible called Beginner’s Mind. The title refers to the importance of having an open mind if one wants to learn. He shares stories about reaching across borders, and the need for empathy in doing so. It’s part of their “Words + Music” series, and will also include some musical performances too. There are several other artists in the series who are best known for pop music, like Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, and Sting, but pianist Jonathan Biss has also released Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven. It’s part of the Audible Plus catalog, but Beginner’s Mind will be offered to listeners in the U.S. free of charge.
A wedding present serves as a centerpiece for a recital by flutist Catherine Gregory and pianist David Kaplan, presented by the LA-based Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra. The piece that the composer Timo Andres gave them on the occasion of their marriage is called Steady Gaze, which Andres describes this way: “Steady Gaze is a catalog of hundreds of different ways – from offhand to effusive – of saying the same thing.” There are other duets by Amy Beach, William Grant Still, Prokofiev, and David Lang, as well as two solo works (one for each of them) by Debussy and Caroline Shaw. The flute solo Syrinx is introduced by Catherine Gregory with the mythological story of unrequited affection that inspired Debussy… and David Kaplan plays Shaw’s Gustave Le Gray, a work named for an early pioneer in French photography, which draws on quotations from a Chopin Mazurka. The concert was recorded in Santa Monica in February.
As the Adler Fellows at San Francisco Opera prepare for their “drive-in” concerts that take place at the end of the month and early in May, they’ve got a bit of equipment helping them in their rehearsals. It’s a hardware and software combo, “Aloha By Elk.” (The company Elk is based in Sweden.) It minimizes the inherent lag that you get using a regular video chat or conferencing application, to the point where it’s unable to be perceived by the users. That allows singers and pianists to work together at a distance, and still be in sync. The device is pocket-sized, and the Opera is helping beta-test the system, which will be able to take advantage of 5G as it’s rolled out (currently there needs to be a direct wired connection). The name of the app was inspired by Elvis’s 1973 concert, “Aloha From Hawaii,” which was broadcast internationally using then state-of-the-art satellite technology.
The very first time the Los Angeles Philharmonic played at the Hollywood Bowl was on Easter Sunday of 1921. They celebrated that centennial anniversary by releasing a new episode of their Sound/Stage series, called “Easter Sunrise at the Hollywood Bowl.” Gustavo Dudamel and members of the orchestra are joined by soprano Nadine Sierra, who sings Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate, and the sister duo of gospel singers who perform as “Mary Mary.” They close the performance off with a hymn that was part of the original concert a hundred years ago.
The latest edition of “Currents” from the San Francisco Symphony is called Thundersong, and is an introduction to some of the ways traditional American Indian music has influenced classical repertoire. Hosted by composer and pianist Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, who’s a member of the Chickasaw Nation, the works combine the spirit and storytelling tradition with instruments found in a symphony orchestra. The title work, by Tate, is a timpani solo, paying tribute to the Chickasaw lore that tells of ancestors residing in the clouds, arguing to make thunder. There are several movements from Louis Ballard’s Katcina Dances for cello and piano, and some historical context for the works. It’s part of the SFSymphony+ streaming subscription service, which includes “Soundbox” programs, as well as free digital concert events.
The Verdi Chorus is presenting their second virtual concert featuring the Fox Singers this Sunday night, kicking off their 38th season with “Amore della Vita”… Love of Life. The Fox Singers is the smaller professional ensemble from within the Chorus, and six of them and their accompanist will appear in the program that’s viewable on the Verdi Chorus website from April 11th through the 25th. The repertoire will be Neapolitan and Italian songs (earlier in the pandemic, they presented Amor y Odio, Songs of Spain and the New World). The repertoire that artistic director Anne Marie Ketchum and the full ensemble have made their mainstay are the choruses from grand operas, as here, in “Va Pensiero” from Verdi’s Nabucco.
As the father of the string quartet as a form, Haydn is naturally very special to the ensembles that continue to play them. The St. Lawrence String Quartet is no exception, and wanted to make some of their favorite works of Haydn available to audience members who wouldn’t be able to see them live in concert as performing venues were closed. Last summer they made available for free on their website a recording of his Opus 20 quartets, recorded in an empty Bing Concert Hall. And this Friday afternoon, they’ll begin a series of six concerts playing the Opus 76 quartets. They’ll stream first from the Bing, and then over the course of several Friday afternoons from other Stanford locations, where they’ve long been in residence. The final concert will be streamed on May 28th from Charleston, South Carolina, where Geoff Nuttall directs the chamber music program at the summer Spoleto Festival.
For their “Symphony Thursdays” video this week, pianist Olga Kern is featured in a concert performance led by Carl St. Clair that opened the Pacific Symphony’s season in 2016. She’s playing Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, an audience favorite which she loves in part because of a family connection. Her great-great grandmother was a mezzo-soprano who not only sang Rachmaninoff’s music, but was accompanied by the composer in concert. Kern played his Piano Concerto No. 3 when she shared the gold medal at the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Her son Vladislav Kern accompanied her to the Bay Area last year just before the shutdown, and played in recitals with her through Chamber Music San Francisco.
The first of a series of video concerts by members of Berkeley Symphony is called “REAL Berkeley: Rad Women.” The word REAL in the name actually stands for “Rad, Edgy, Audacious, and Loving.” It’s introduced by author Kate Schatz, who wrote Rad American Women A-Z. It begins with a chamber work called Tessellations by Bay Area native Gabriella Smith, followed by a movement from a piano trio by Clara Schumann. The final piece is by Los Angeles-based composer Reena Esmail, called Meri Sakhi Ki Avaaz (My Sister’s Voice). It takes as its starting point the Flower Duet from Delibes’ opera Lakme, which as Esmail points out, is supposed to be two Indian women singing together by a river. In her piece, two South Asian women with different specialties sing together: one with the language of traditional classical Indian music, and the other, in a western operatic tradition. Esmail describes the piece as “bringing different strands into dialogue with one another.”
Among the many sketches that Mozart left uncompleted when he died, were four violin sonatas. To the casual listener, they just sound like Mozart. But to a musicologist like Timothy Jones, it was a challenge that he set for himself – to complete them in the style that Mozart would have. He tried to determine exactly when they were written, so he could know their context: what other pieces were written at the same time, and where along Mozart’s growth and path as a composer did they fall? The “Violin Sonatas Fragment Completions” have just been released on a new recording with violinist Rachel Podger (who had already recorded all of the sonatas that Mozart himself finished) and Christopher Glynn on fortepiano. Showing that Mozart could have gone any number of directions, Timothy Jones wrote a couple of different endings to several of them, which appear on the new recording beginning the same way, before they diverge.
Brown Sounds is the latest digital short by the LA Opera, featuring mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis (who recently appeared in their productions of Eurydice and Roberto Devereux). She’s singing a piece of music that was written for her when she was a graduate student. The text, a poem by Henry Dumas, had made such an impression upon her when she recited it for a Black History Month celebration, that she asked a friend, composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson to set it for a recital. She was joined onstage by a dancer from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center when she gave its first performance eight years ago. The digital short has the same spare piano part, and a dancer, this time Lateef Williams, in a spacious greenhouse – big enough to fit trees – that is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Bryce-Davis describes the project as a “joyous celebration of Black art, Black bodies, and Black consciousness.”
For centuries, the parts of a violin have come from all over the world – there are certain types of wood that are frequently used that only grow in exotic locales. But a Santa Rosa-based luthier, Andrew Carruthers, is in the midst of a project he calls The Redwood Violin. He’s going about creating a violin using materials that all come from within 25 miles of his workshop. From the instrument’s top, made from a Redwood, to its back, made from Gravenstein Apple wood, plus all of the “tendon glue,” (from Sonoma county cows), varnish and turpentine, Carruthers is locally-sourcing the materials, and documenting the process. Ultimately, the finished instrument will be a reflection of the area, and he has plans for the instrument to play music composed locally, with local ensembles.
In a sign that it’s looking forward to the eventual return of live shows in its venues, The Music Center has announced that it’s the first performing arts organization to earn the “UL Verified Healthy Buildings Mark” for indoor air quality. Among the modifications that led to the rating, they’ve made upgrades to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in their four venues: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum, and the Ahmanson Theatre. (They’ve also upgraded their administrative buildings.) The air in the spaces will be filtered and circulated every ten or fifteen minutes, and they’ve made several additional changes, including an enhanced cleaning program, contactless environments and procedures, added hand sanitizer dispensers and signage to enforce social distancing and mask wearing guidelines. They’re also subject to continued inspections to ensure that they remain in compliance with the UL verification standards.
“Double Bass Dimensions” takes a look at one of the lowest and biggest instruments of the orchestra, from the point of view of California Symphony Principal Double Bassist Andy Butler. In the four-part series of videos, he’ll explain a little bit about his instrument, the repertoire that is associated with it, and then play a work that is usually performed by other, higher instruments. The first was Saint-Saens’ “The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals, which is a mainstay for cello; then it was Bach’s “Air on the G String,” generally a showstopper for the violin. Butler began playing with the ensemble in 1992, as a substitute, and has been Principal since 2007, as well as playing with half a dozen other orchestras in the Bay Area.
The love that grows over the course of the opera Pepito is between an older rescue dog in a shelter, and his new adoptive family. The LA-based New Opera West has released an animated video of the scene in which they meet. The full work is a comedic one-act by composer Nicolas Lell Benavides and librettist Marella Martin Koch – commissioned originally by Washington National Opera, and performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC during the 2018/19 season. This adaptation is co-produced with San Francisco’s Muttville Senior Dog Rescue; Emily Thebaut, co-founder of NOW, had originally hoped to have a performance of the work at a concert where pets would be welcome, to be followed by animal adoptions, but COVID prevented that. One of the aims of New Opera West is to expand opera audiences by working with other art forms, and Thebaut had wanted to explore animation before circumstances made it necessary.
At the beginning of the pandemic, L.A.-based composer Richard Danielpour was told by his doctor that his asthma put him into the higher-risk category, and that he should keep entirely at home. He spent the early days with frequent insomnia, finding himself waking up at 2 a.m. each night. He did write the libretto to an opera during those night hours, but he really needed to be able to sleep. He began listening to the recordings of Simone Dinnerstein, and found they were able to help him calm down and finally get rest. He had already begun thinking of a work he wanted to write – an hour-long solo piece of gratitude for the heroes of the pandemic: nurses, doctors, first responders, teachers, scientists, as well as those who didn’t survive. Oregon Bach Festival had earlier commissioned his The Passion of Yeshua, and when he was talking with them about this new project, they suggested Dinnerstein as a perfect match. The result is An American Mosaic, a recording of which (recorded at her Brooklyn home) is being released this week.
Violinist Gil Shaham joins the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Friday evening (for his debut performance with them) on their next “Close Quarters” performance. The audience will have a different point of view this time around, because the cinematographer will be filming from amid the players, giving a musicians’-eye view of the concert. There are two works on the program, Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, as well as a violin concerto by Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The free concert premieres Friday at 6:30 on their website and YouTube channel, and there’s a Zoom conversation with Shaham an hour earlier (requiring an RSVP).
A nostalgic musical tour around some of San Francisco’s landmark locations… Quartet San Francisco’s latest video is called Ives Been Thinking About You. That’s not a typo, since embedded in the piece is a tribute to Charles Ives, who used to layer tunes from his childhood amid complicated harmonies. Violinist and quartet founder Jeremy Cohen wrote the piece, which is described as a “Barbary Coast Bluegrass Blowout.” And the video, with the quartet’s members at such iconic locations as the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the Ferry Building, the Painted Ladies houses and a Redwood grove, is intercut with archival footage from the same sites. It was produced by the non-profit Music in Place, which early on in the pandemic stepped up to help musicians who were unable to perform get their music to a wider digital audience.
The Ojai Music Festival has decided to delay its season from the traditional June to September, in the hope and expectation that it will allow their 75th Festival to take place in person. There will still be an online buildup to the celebration over the summer, as well as events in other locations in anticipation of the season. Music Director John Adams has a lineup of composers and performers who will continue the “Ojai spirit” of adventure and exploration in music. There will be the premiere of a work by Dylan Mattingly, Sunt Lacrimae Rerum (These Are the Tears of Things) played by members of the LA Phil New Music Group. Samuel Carl Adams will have the West Coast premiere of his Chamber Concerto, and Rhiannon Giddons will collaborate with the Attacca Quartet, as well as solo in music by John Adams. Timo Andres will perform the 11-work collection for piano by a who’s who of composers called I Still Play, and there will be educational outreach through the BRAVO program, including a free community concert.
To launch their “Close-Up” online recital series, Opera Parallèle is presenting “Celebrating the Spring Equinox” – the first of four programs that coincide with Spring celebrations (there’s also Earth Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day ahead.) The inaugural recital has soprano Shawnette Sulker, with pianist Zachary Gordin this Thursday at 5pm. The performances are free, and as they say, “with a spirit of new and light,” to allow the company to show off some of the talented performers they’ve worked with in their stage productions. The next full work that Opera Parallèle has planned is a “graphic novel opera” called Everest, about the 1996 disaster. It’s by composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer, and illustrated by Mark Simmons.
On Wednesday, two milestones will be celebrated in Monterey: exactly 300 years ago, J.S. Bach presented the six Brandenburg Concertos to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. As a job application, it’s pretty much unrivaled in history. But there’s at least one other bragging right Bach would be able to claim. When NASA was sending the Voyager spacecraft out to explore the unknown in 1977, they included onboard the “Golden Record” and player, which could carry information about the Earth and its culture to the far reaches of space. The very first track on that album was the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, and Voyager 1 is currently the farthest man-made object from Earth. In celebration of both the birthday and the inclusion on Voyager, there will be an afternoon and evening livestream with music, art, photography, and a panel discussion about the concertos’ significance. Since the Carmel Bach Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival have taken place in the region for decades, the music will be both traditional performances as well as jazz reimaginings.
A musical collaboration to help new and expectant mothers experiencing homelessness… “The Lullaby Project” began at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute about ten years ago, and has since appeared in communities across the country. The Bay Area’s program, at Noe Music, began just this January, and has already gone through its first cycle. It pairs the new, or soon-to-be mothers with songwriters who work with them to tailor make a lullaby for their child. The goals, they say, are supporting maternal health, helping in childhood development, and strengthening the bond between parent and child. It’s working with San Francisco’s Homeless Prenatal Program, which has more than 30 years of experience helping mothers deal with the demands of having children under difficult circumstances. Here’s an example of one of the finished lullabies:
A new “re-granting” initiative from YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) and the LA Philharmonic will fund a half-million dollars of music education programs across the country during its first grant cycle. It’s called Partners in Music Learning, and the goal is to both support existing organizations that teach and mentor young people in music, and also create a network that teachers can use to share best practices and collaborate with each other. The first year they’re targeting specific underserved areas of the country, including Southern California and some of the Southwestern states, along with the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Plains and Midwest. How much funding the organizations receive is based on their budget, goals and needs. The application deadline for “Partners in Music Learning” grants is the end of April.
Available for live chatting while it’s underway, members of the chamber music ensemble One Found Sound present a listening party tonight, with three music videos of contemporary works in live performance. The program, called “Ocean,” features pieces by composers 40 and under: Kevin Day, Angélica Negrón, and Ivan Trevino. And there’s a watery theme that runs throughout their season – after “Ocean” there will be events called “Spring” and “River.” The concert will open with Kevin Day’s The Mind is Like Water for violin and percussion, followed by Negrón’s Marejada for string quartet (the word for surge, or tidal wave). Ivan Trevino, who’s a percussionist, wrote Song Book Vol. 3 for wind quintet and percussion. There’s an original performance by choreographer and dancer Babatunji Johnson, and there are also conversations with two of the composers. The comfortable and relaxed atmosphere that One Found Sound has always maintained for their live concerts extends into the virtual concert world, as chatting with performers during the performance is encouraged. The premiere streams live at 6pm.
A ballet based on a cult classic film about love and obsession, which in turn was inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale… Choreographer Matthew Bourne, perhaps best known for his male-centered retelling of Swan Lake, made a ballet of The Red Shoes in 2016, and a performance was filmed live in 2019 at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre. There will be five streaming performances this Friday through Sunday through Center Theatre Group’s Digital Stage. Although there’s an extended dance sequence in the film that’s fully accompanied, and composer Brian Easdale won the Academy Award for his score, there wasn’t enough music to make a full ballet – so the score is an adaptation of a few early film scores by Bernard Herrmann, before he began to team with director Alfred Hitchcock.
It might sound like a contradiction for an early music orchestra, but after several successful collaborations with other contemporary composers in the past few years, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale has named Tarik O’Regan as its first official Composer in Residence. Over the course of three and a half years, he’ll write three major works for the ensemble: a concerto for the oud (a middle eastern traditional lute), an operatic production, and a new piece for the Philharmonia Chorale. He’s also going to be commissioning ten to twenty short pieces for the ensemble from others, and hopes to launch a composition contest as well. The aim, according to O’Regan and Music Director Richard Egarr, is to make their repertoire a continuum of music that runs fluidly from old to new. Egarr says that new music should be “an extension of what all the old music has taught us.”
After his second COVID vaccine injection over the weekend, Yo-Yo Ma spent the “observation” time giving an impromptu solo recital for the other people who had received their shots. It was at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, near Tanglewood, and the concert lasted about 15 minutes, including Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and a bit from a Bach solo cello suite. He began the pandemic with a social media post of a similarly simple recording of himself playing Dvorak, with the hashtag “SongsOfComfort,” and played a series of pop-up concerts with Emanuel Ax for first responders.
Tonight Zuill Bailey will be giving a masterclass for two young cellists from the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra and Young People’s Chamber Orchestra. The class, presented by the Santa Rosa Symphony Institute for Music Education, will be free for audiences to watch as a Zoom webinar. He’s no stranger to teaching – in addition to his recordings and performance career, Bailey is a Professor of Cello at the University of Texas at El Paso. He’ll be joining the Santa Rosa Symphony for the concert that they’ll stream on March 28th, playing the Cello Concerto by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich that he premiered in March of 2020 with the South Florida Symphony Orchestra, just before concerts started to be cancelled.
The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was, famously, an enormous fan of opera. So today, on what would have been her 88th birthday, there’s a concert planned that will include arias from some of her favorite operas, in a virtual event by the National Museum of American Jewish History, Opera Philadelphia, and the Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. The program, called “For the Love of Opera: Celebrating RBG’s 88th Birthday” will have both commentary and performances. Many of the arias feature strong, independent female characters, or people seeking justice and equality. The program streams at 5pm, and then will be available for on-demand viewing thereafter.
A newly-designed mask is going to make the experience of rehearsals a lot more comfortable for San Francisco Opera singers. It was designed by a Professor of Surgery at UCSF Medical School, Sanziana Roman, (who also happens to be a singer), and then constructed by the SFO Costume shop. It’s got an interior supporting frame that keeps the cloth away from the mouth and nose, and allows singers to have free movement of their jaws – something traditional masks don’t do – as well as an accessible flap that lets singers drink water through a straw without taking the mask off. It’s all the more important because the CDC has singled out singing in indoor spaces as an activity that can increase the spread of COVID-19. Singers are projecting their voices – and aerosols – strongly, and inhaling more deeply than the average non-singer. When San Francisco Opera performs in The Barber of Seville in late April, it will be in a ‘drive-in’ outdoor performance.
Pianist and actor Hershey Felder has created a dramatic history of music with performances that focus on the music and life of individual composers: Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy, Chopin, Leonard Bernstein and more. The latest addition to the genre is Hershey Felder, Puccini, which is going to have its world premiere this weekend, in a livestream from Florence. It’s presented through San Diego Rep. Felder will play the role of the operatic composer, and will be joined by a quartet of opera singers: Nathan Gunn, Gianna Corbisiero, Charles Castronovo, and Ekaterina Siurina. There will be on-location footage from Lucca, where Puccini was born, as well as Pisa and Florence. Felder was given permission to film in locations that were important in the composer’s life, including the theater where he saw his first opera. And Felder plays the piano on which Puccini composed Turandot. The ticketed event is this Sunday at 5, with on-demand access for a week after.
Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale tells the story of a young man who makes a deal with the devil, and in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s next “Close Quarters” presentation, they’ll be joined by members of L.A.’s Robey Theatre Company, including (as narrator) company co-founder Ben Guillory, and actors playing the soldier and the devil. It’s an economical orchestration, with only seven instruments, but chosen to be able to cover a wide range: violin and bass, clarinet and bassoon, trumpet and trombone, and timpani. An evocative work of conceptual art will provide some of the visuals for the performance. Wang Huimeng was inspired by the Stravinsky piece for “To Have Still the Things You Had Before.” She brought a baby grand piano to the desert, with a firearm specialist, shot 400 bullets into the instrument, then “fully dismantled, flocked, reassembled, and reinforced the piano.” The reconstructed instrument is coated with a delicate red velvety covering that contrasts with the violence of the bullet holes.
The acoustics and space provided by the historic 16th Street Station in Oakland come together as dancers from Post:ballet perform to music played by the San Francisco Symphony’s Associate Principal Second Violin, Helen Kim. The performance of seven contemporary works (including several digital world premieres) is called “Playing Changes.” It’s described as “an exploration of collaborative art during a time marked by isolation and uncertainty, and a celebration of the resilience and creativity of the Bay Area artistic community. The composers include Philip Glass, Samuel Adams, Daniel Bernard Roumain and Mary Kouyoumdjian, and the choreography is by Robert Dekkers in collaboration with the dancers in his company.
A year after their last live concerts, Carl St. Clair and the musicians of the Pacific Symphony have returned to Segerstrom Concert Hall for a series of Thursday evening concerts. (The free programs are available on demand for a month after they premiere.) For the first segment, members of the winds and strings sections played serenades by Richard Strauss and Tchaikovsky, with plexiglass separating the wind players, and masked string players spread the full space of the stage. In the second program, the spotlight was on the brass and percussion sections, with works by Morton Lauridsen and Michael Daugherty. The concerts will be running each week through April 8th, called “Symphony Thursdays @7,” as part of their Pacific Symphony+ offerings.
Jonathan Biss has spent almost 10 years concentrating on the music of Beethoven, recording the 32 piano sonatas, and until it was interrupted by Covid, he had planned on spending Beethoven’s 250th anniversary season last year playing nothing but sonata programs. He’s been obsessed by Beethoven much of his life, and actually released an audiobook through Audible late last year called Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven, centering on that obsession, and the relationship his anxiety has with the repertoire. Having all of the sonatas in his fingers at once is quite a feat, and in programs like this one, for San Francisco Performances’ “Front Row Premium” series, he provides a musical guide through Beethoven’s growth as a composer, with works from his early, middle, and late periods.
The new Artistic Director and Chief Creative Officer at Long Beach Opera is James Darrah, who has been very active with other Southern California arts groups during the pandemic – overseeing the visuals of LACO’s “Close Quarters” series, and working with LA Opera on their Digital Shorts series. His debut with LBO will be this May, in a drive-in staging of Philip Glass’s Les Enfants Terribles, based on the novel by Jean Cocteau. It’s an energetic “dance opera,” which he previously staged as part of Opera Omaha’s One Festival (where he’s also Artistic Director). When the new position was announced, Darrah said, “The future of opera is both cinematic and live. I’m excited to continue my exploration of operatic cinema with the amazing team at Long Beach Opera, creating diverse, robust streaming content while also building towards a safe return to live performances.”
30 years ago, during another pandemic, a requiem by Kristopher Jon Anthony called When We No Longer Touch was dedicated to those lost to AIDS. It was commissioned by the Artistic Director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, Dr. Timothy Seelig, who is now the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. A streaming concert this Thursday evening called “Angels” will feature the work, sung by the SFGMC in a 2018 concert at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco. Seelig says, “Those of us now living through the second pandemic of our lives know on an even deeper level that we are surrounded by angels… This extraordinary work has proved itself to be timeless. Having been performed all over the world, it still brings a very personal message to each listener. All of us have experienced all of this in our lives. Yet, we can stand and sing or say as the music soars to its triumphant end, ‘Through all the tears, pain and sadness, comes the one thought that can make me smile again: I have loved.’” The concert will stream on their online platform SFGMC TV on Thursday at 6, as well as their Youtube and Facebook pages.
A confluence of things French led to Hilary Hahn’s new album, fittingly called “Paris.” A few seasons ago, she was an artist-in-residence with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, working with their conductor Mikko Franck. Even before the end of the residency, they began considering what pieces they might include on an album, if they were able to record one. Hahn says she’s always loved Prokofiev’s 1st Violin Concerto, saying even if she hadn’t played it in five years, she could perform it with a day’s notice. The piece was written in Paris when Prokofiev was working with the Ballet Russes, and combines the Russian soul with French ambience. When Ernest Chausson’s Poeme was first played in Paris, the soloist was Eugene Ysaye (whose pupil Jascha Brodsky was one of Hahn’s teachers). The violin she plays was made in Paris by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume about 30 years before Chauson’s Poeme. The last work, “Two Serenades,” was written for her by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, just before his death. Hahn was unaware that he had been writing it; she had been hoping to commission a full concerto from the composer, but was told by Mikko Franck that he was in poor health. It wasn’t until after his death that his widow let them know of the score’s existence.
Sound/Stage, the online video concert program of the LA Philharmonic, begins its second season today, with a presentation of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals. The piano soloists are Yuja Wang and David Fung, and Gustavo Dudamel is joined by his son Martín as co-host. The series includes musical guests like soprano Nadine Sierra, who will take part in a centennial anniversary of the first concert at the Hollywood Bowl in April; and John Adams, who will be in conversation with Dudamel alongside a performance of Grand Pianola Music. There’s a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and other guests like Carlos Vives, Common, and José Andrés. Their website will have additional videos, essays, and background materials, and from May into June there will be weekly chamber music performances that were recorded at The Ford and Walt Disney Concert Hall.
The path that brought Cynthia Black of the American Bach Soloists to her chosen instrument of viola almost took a large brass detour… as an elementary school student starting orchestra, she was hoping to take up the tuba. And then, because her sister was already playing the violin, she opted for the viola. In this artist profile video, we find out a little about her background, and other interests, before she plays a transcription of a lute sonata by Sylvius Weiss. Playing with a special tuning that changes the sound of open strings and increases the possible range of the instrument, she says the viola “sings and resonates” in new ways.
Lowry Yankwich has played classical piano from an early age, but there’s one piece in particular that he’s been focused on for the past several years, even though he’s not playing professionally. It’s Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the subject of a podcast that Yankwich is producing called “30 Bach.” The title comes from the 30 variations that are sandwiched between a theme called an Aria, and its repeat, which comes at the end of the work. He’s spoken with a wide variety of guests who have been similarly engrossed in the work, either as performers or listeners. Just in the first few episodes, there are artists as varied as Simone Dinnerstein (who funded her own recording of the piece, which launched her career) and Dan Tepfer, who created a set of jazzy variations on Bach’s variations. There are also interviews with people from very different professions – like architect, nanotechnologist, and software engineer – who use the Goldbergs to prepare themselves for, or to accompany their day.
A short documentary that links a young composer’s love of music to his grandfather’s cross-country travels during the Jim Crow era has been shortlisted for an Academy Award. “A Concerto is a Conversation” tells of the world premiere of Kris Bowers’ violin concerto called “For a Younger Self,” which took place at Walt Disney Concert Hall at the end of January 2020. The composer, who has written the score for 2018’s Green Book and Netflix’s Bridgerton series, wanted to get to know more about the life of his 91-year-old grandfather, Horace Bowers, Sr. He built a career in the clothes cleaning business, after coming to Los Angeles to try to leave the racism he encountered in Florida behind him, and avoid the cold weather of Northern cities. It’s a loving tribute from a grandchild to the grandfather who enabled him to follow his dream.
The audience is virtual, but the members of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra streamed a concert program this past weekend, led by conductor Michael Morgan. The masked players were spaced apart on the stage, and the number of players was reduced, especially in the winds and brass. But the program of works by Revueltas, Mozart, Adolphus Hailstork, and Ibert went on, and they were joined for Hailstork’s “Two Romances” by faculty violist Dimitri Murrath.
Longtime Los Angeles Philharmonic administrator Gail Samuel, has taken on many roles in her more than 25 years there, from being the Orchestra Manager to Executive Director; she’ll be heading east this Summer to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Her most recent position in LA was as President of the Hollywood Bowl and Chief Operating Officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. She’ll be the first woman to be President and CEO of the BSO in its 140-year history. And she’ll also oversee their performances at their summer home in Western Massachusetts, Tanglewood, as well as the Boston Pops. The new job begins in mid-June, around the time there’s a (currently) planned Tanglewood performance with Keith Lockhart and the Pops, rescheduled from last year.
Wotan, Siegfried, Brünnhilde, the Norns and the Rhine Maidens all return as San Francisco Opera begins a month-long Ring festival. Each weekend, they’ll be streaming the sold-out performances from the 2018 production for free, beginning this Saturday at 10am with Das Rheingold. On Friday, the Festival kicks off with the “Opening Salute” – a ticketed Zoom event with Director Francesca Zambello, conductor Donald Runnicles, and Greer Grimsley, who sang Wotan. Each week there are panel events with scholars, critics, and singers discussing the long and complicated history of the Ring. There have been seven cycles staged by San Francisco Opera, with the first in 1935, and five from 1972 to 2011. The spectacle of 16 or so hours of storytelling and music, with characters made up of powerful and vengeful gods makes for an unforgettable experience.
Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor was just beginning a US and World Tour when the pandemic hit, forcing the cancellation of every remaining concert, beginning with an appearance in Santa Barbara. He says that it was such an upending of everything, he decided to do something he hadn’t done since he began playing piano… He took some time off, about a month and a half, the longest he’d ever been away from the keyboard. While in lockdown, once he returned to practicing and playing, he also “rediscovered the joys of simply sight-reading” random repertoire. Last September, when circumstances allowed, he was able to set up a chamber music festival where he lives in South East London, and have live performances with small audiences. He’s given some concerts – some with, and some without audiences. But he’s also just released a new album from Decca of music by Liszt, dedicated to his grandfather, who died at the beginning of last year, and was the source of all the music in the family. Grosvenor’s first teacher was his mother, but it was her father who introduced the young pianist to the music of Franz Liszt with “Liebestraum.” Here’s Grosvenor playing Liszt as part of the “Proms” in 2011.
It’s clear that in the world of Classical Music, women have historically been far less represented than men, but a British pianist and composer is claiming that she was able to conduct an experiment to show ingrained sexism. Annabel Bennett says she was being largely ignored when she’d sent her works to radio stations in the UK – until she began submitting them with the male pseudonym, “Arthur Parker,” and those works were accepted and played more frequently. The BBC denies the allegation, pointing out a number of local stations around the country had played her music under her own name, but Bennett kept up the false identity for several weeks, by communicating via email rather than telephone. Although the experiment will likely be skewed by the news coverage of her claims, she’ll have an opportunity to track the success of “Arthur Parker” soon, when she releases an album under that name later this month.
A new “GPS-enabled work of public art” makes its debut in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park tomorrow, as Soundwalk becomes available. It’s a piece of music that you listen to through an app on your phone, and it changes from moment to moment… and place to place, depending on where you are. The music and sound design is by composer Ellen Reid, who is joined in parts by Kronos Quartet. Since the performance you hear is based on your position and route, no two listeners’ experiences will be identical. It’s able to be enjoyed while getting fresh air and remaining socially distant. (There are also sonic “Easter eggs” to discover.) This is the third of these projects to have been ‘installed’ – there’s one in New York City’s Central Park too. CAP UCLA commissioned the L.A. version of the piece and, with Ellen Reid, chose Griffith Park as the location.
It’s a return to live performances from San Francisco Opera, gradually and carefully. They’ve announced there will be 11 “drive-in” performances of a new adaptation of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in April and May. It will be without intermission, and sung in English, with performances at the Marin Center in San Rafael. There will also be three performances of “The Adlers: Live at the Drive-In,” a recital by the Adler Fellow resident artists, which will be held in the open-air. SF Opera also announced that they’ll be offering more digital content, with a series called “In Song” of 10-minute video profiles of six singers known to San Francisco audiences. The “Atrium Sessions” will have art songs and arias recorded in performance at the Atrium Theater. “North Stage Door” will be a new behind-the-scenes podcast. Also planned for the spring is a free stream of their 2018 sold-out production of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
It’s an opportunity for Opera and New Music fans to have a chance to hear what life – and composing music – is like for Jake Heggie these days, as performances have been curtailed because of the pandemic. This Saturday at 2pm, the Amateur Music Network hosts a conversation called “At Home with Jake Heggie” (composer of Dead Man Walking and Moby Dick) moderated by “long time friend and self-proclaimed music wannabe”, David Landis. The Amateur Music Network is a (currently virtual) meeting place where music lovers of all abilities can come together to learn more and make connections within the musical world. The hour-long chat should be casual and an interesting perspective; among the many cancellations and postponements (in an industry that makes plans years and years ahead of schedule) there was to have been a new production of Dead Man Walking at the Met in New York this Spring. In addition to his busy composing schedule, Heggie is also in demand as a pianist and accompanist (as seen in this collaboration with cellist Matt Haimovitz and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton):
LA Opera’s new Artist-in-Residence is getting off to a running start, as tenor Russell Thomas curated his first program in the newly returning After Hours recital series, called “Black Love.” It offers a selection of love songs by African-American composers, including H.T. Burleigh, Undine Smith Moore, and Margaret Bonds. Singers Ashley Faatoalia, Tiffany Townsend and Alaysha Fox performed in the Valentine’s Day-inspired program. Thomas will be returning to the LA Opera stage as part of his residency, with starring roles at least once per season, beginning with a performance as Radames in Aida, in May through June of 2022. There are also two training programs that Thomas will be heading up, one for singers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and another mentoring young singers from LA public high schools in underserved communities.
The astronomical lunar new year is here already, but the San Francisco Symphony will be celebrating its annual musical celebration this upcoming Saturday afternoon. It’s called “Chinese New Year Virtual Celebration: Year of the Ox,” with musicians from the Symphony led by conductor Ming Luke, and joined by guest soloists playing traditional instruments. The digital concert event will be hosted by actress Joan Chen, and streaming for free on the new SFSymphony+ website, as well as on NBC Bay Area at 4pm. The program includes contemporary and traditional tunes that reflect the themes and qualities of the Year of the Ox: “prosperity, unity, and growth.”
The popularity of Netflix’s historical romance Bridgerton has also boosted the popularity, streams and downloads of an LA-based collective of musicians and arrangers known as Vitamin String Quartet. For more than 20 years, they’ve been taking contemporary songs, from Pop, Rock, and many more genres, and arranging them for chamber ensembles, primarily string quartet. And so when the society ladies and gentlemen are dancing in 1820’s London, don’t be surprised if the quartet in the corner is playing the 2019 song “Thank u, Next” by Ariana Grande.
If you’ve ever wondered what being serenaded by an opera singer feels like, Opera San Jose is offering (as part of its ‘Unique Experiences’ program) a Valentine’s Day-inspired virtual singing telegram, with five of their resident artists singing from a selection of romantic ballads. Not, strictly speaking, operatic love songs, although tenor Carlos Santelli will be singing the song “Be My Love,” made famous by Mario Lanza. His Valentine (and wife), mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon, will sing “La Vie en Rose.” The other tunes are “‘Til There Was You” from The Music Man, sung by Maya Kherani, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu with “As Time Goes By,” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” performed by baritone Nathan Stark. The performances will be accompanied by pianist Veronika Agranov-Dafoe. Here she accompanies Eugene Brancoveanu in some Mozart…
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