Friday, March 1, 2013

Chronicle of January 2013

January 6

San Jose Chamber Orchestra presents a Lou Harrison Tribute.  Le Petit Trianon, San Jose, CA.  "Besides a work of Harrison’s own, the concert featured memorial elegies to him by two composers who were Harrison’s associates at the university, plus an additional piece that has no direct connection to Harrison that I am aware of, which nevertheless fitted seamlessly into the same ethos. . . .  Harrison (1917-2003) is . . . [a] quintessential Northern California composer.  His style of contemplative meditation that doesn’t entirely conceal a hard, even caustic backbone; his technical obsession with scales, temperament, and intonation; and his trans-Pacific interest in mixing Western classical music with East Asian traditions, especially the Javanese gamelan, are all characteristic of our local compositional culture. . . . He wrote several works with titles similar to that of Sunday’s offering, Suite for Violin with String Orchestra. This one turns out to be the Suite for Violin and American Gamelan, composed in 1974 in collaboration with Richard Dee . . . as transcribed by Harrison’s student Kerry Lewis in 1977 for the more easily available string orchestra . . . .  In either form, the suite is a long . . . work of seven movements, some slow and melodic, others rough dances, all named for and evoking venerable Western or Eastern musical forms, from the dithyramb to the chaconne.  One movement is for orchestra alone. The rest of the time, soloist Cynthia Baehr, SJCO’s regular concertmaster . . . played almost constantly, carrying nearly the entire flow of the music. She played tirelessly in a dry, heavy tone, with extended double-stops and drones, appropriately for the casually wandering, often modal, ancient-sounding melodic line. In a few places the orchestral violins and violas joined in with Baehr.  Mostly the orchestra served for rhythm, punctuation, and held chords.  Despite the title, this was not just default strings.  Besides a prominent part for harp, often used to add a crisp attack to string chords, a piano and a celesta lurked percussively deep in the background. Especially at the end, where the keyboards spiced up large grand chords, the sonic resemblance to at least the spirit of the gamelan was pervasive. Bow tapping and knuckle rapping on the sides of the cellos and basses, heroically rendered . . . . Lewis . . . was on the program for an Elegy for Lou Harrison, commissioned by the [ensemble] in 2005 . . . . Written in a deliberate echo of Harrison’s style, it began in a slightly dissonant anguish of grief -- more astringent than anything in the Suite . . . though not as harsh as Harrison could get -- and passed through a slow melodic section before concluding with a gently primitive modal dance . . .  EKTA II by Brent Heisinger . . . [is] something of a piano concerto, and something just as much of a percussion concerto, requiring four performers to handle its . .   blocks, chimes, tapped cymbals, and . . . tam-tam. . . .  Western classical is mixed with Chinese -- and, in the homage to Harrison that closes the work, a bit of gamelan (The first EKTA . . . used musical material from India).  Like Harrison’s . . . it’s a succession of movements of alternating relaxed and lively temperament, in this case blended together without pause. . . .  The concert opened with the brief Pizzicato by Vivian Fung for the string orchestra. . . . Tapping and knocking on the bodies of the instruments tied the piece to the Harrison-Dee suite, offsetting a penchant for syncopation, intricate unexpected triplets, and cross-rhythms reflecting Fung’s own choppier and more glittery style" [David Bratman, San Francisco Classical Voice, 1/6/13].

January 9

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony in a belated celebration of the 150th anniversary of Claude Debussy's birth, featuring Jeux and La Mer.  Davies Hall, San Francisco, CA.  Through January 13.  "[The] subject of Debussy’s 1913 score for the Ballet Russes — a love triangle on a tennis court — hardly prepares the listener for the energy and endless invention of this densely textured seventeen minutes of [Jeux]; from the first bars of its silken introduction, Tilson Thomas elicited its beauties, its turbulence, and its astonishing moments of clarity in a splendid performance. Everything -- the swelling string parts, the subtle shadings from woodwinds and brass, the radical dissonances and remarkably forward-thinking rhythms -- registered in abundant detail. From the first bars of its silken introduction, Tilson Thomas elicited its beauties, its turbulence, and its astonishing moments of clarity in a splendid performance. . . .  The conductor savors the [La Mer]’s formal structure, summoning each section of the score in massive blocks of sound; the shimmering violins seemed to breathe organically, and the cellos played with magnificent poise and weight. The alert brass statements, and the silvery contributions from the woodwinds, were exemplary' [Georgia Rowe, San Francisco Classical Voice, 1/9/13].

January 11

Gala opening of Bing Concert Hall.  Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony in Claude Debussy's La Mer, John Adams's A Short Ride in a Fast Machine, and music from Leonard Bernstein's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, with Frederica von Stade; Stanford Chamber Chorale in Jonathan Berger's A Place of Concert.  Stanford University, CA.  "[A] delicate, rather orientalist performance [of La Mer was paired with] John Adams’s manic Short Ride in a Fast Machine . . . . The San Francisco Symphony’s sound was amazingly vivid, so much so that it could become too large. In many halls, if the volume of an orchestra overwhelms the space’s carrying capacity, the sound breaks up and goes fuzzy. This doesn’t happen at Bing. Instead, it remains piercingly clear . . . .  Beauty was also on display in Frederica von Stade’s rendition of Take Care of This House, an appropriately-titled song for opening a new hall, from Leonard Bernstein’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. . . . There was true magic in the caressing effect that the acoustics gave to the 25-strong chorus as it sang Jonathan Berger’s specially-composed A Place of Concert, a lyrical setting of phrases from philanthropist Peter Bing’s remarks at the hall’s groundbreaking ceremony two and a half years ago. Smooth lines and held notes reverberated perfectly" [David Bratman, San Francisco Classical Voice, 1/11/13].

David T. Little's Soldier Songs.  Michael Schimmel Center, New York, NY.

January 16

Quiet Rhythms: Works by William Susman and Demetrius Spaneas.  Spectrum, New York, NY.

January 19

Linda Bouchard: New Works, including Unspoken, 2013;  Sonic Forecast, 2009; Black Ice, and Low Wind.  119B East Pender Street, Vancouver, BC.

Alexander String Quartet presents The String Quartet at a Time of War: Their Finest Hour. including Bela Bartok's String Quartet No. 6 and Benjamin Britten's String Quartet No. 1.  Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, CA.  "Britten, a pacifist, left England in 1939, while Bartók, an anti-Fascist, fled Hungary in 1940 as it moved increasingly rightward, eventually becoming an ally of Nazi Germany.   Desperately homesick, Britten returned to England in 1942; Bartók died in 1945, still an exile in the U.S.  The two quartets differ greatly, both in mood and in the circumstances of their composition. Bartók composed his quartet during his mother’s final illness, at a time when he was already contemplating leaving his native land. The resulting quartet is somber, ironic, and perhaps bitter; some commentators associate its second movement, an exaggerated military march, with the war and Hungary’s militarization. The work is knit together with a theme, marked Mesto (sad), that recurs in varied form as the introduction to the first three movements and the substance of the last, perhaps a reflection of Bartók’s deep (and deepening) sadness as the war approached.  In any event, the Alexander Quartet gave the Bartók a restrained and poised, even introverted, performance, without in any way neglecting the work’s varying moods. The march had the appropriate swagger, the Burletta (burlesque) a dry wit and a hint of the grotesque. The Mesto introductions provide each member of the quartet with a solo, and each played his beautifully. . . .  As for the Britten quartet . . .  Expansive, joyous, even exalted, it feels like a young man flexing his compositional muscles . . . . [and was] written while the composer and his companion, Peter Pears, spent a summer in Escondido . . . .  The quartet’s sound positively glowed in the eerie still of Britten’s first movement opening, as well as in the gorgeously intense third movement.  Despite that familiar style, the quartet contains many novel features. In the first movement, alternating and contrasting sections hide a sonata-form structure, and in both the first and third movements Britten miraculously suspends time through harmonic stasis, though the music never loses its forward momentum. And the instrumental textures are varied, stimulating, beautiful" [Lisa Hirsch, San Francisco Classical Voice, 1/19/13].

Marnie Breckenridge.  San Francisco Conservatory of Music, San Francisco, CA. "Breckenridge launched a program whose first songs, An die Nacht (To the Night) and Amor (Love) from Richard Strauss’s Brentano Lieder (1918), were both the oldest compositions on the program and the only ones in a language other than English. From there, it was to songs by the Bay Area’s Henry Mollicone, Kurt Erickson, Jake Heggie, David Conte, David Garner, and Gordon Getty, with . . . the longest work on the program, Samuel Barber’s . . . Knoxville: Summer of 1915. . . .  [H]er two encores [were] Barber’s Sure on This Shining Night and Heggie’s I Will Not Have Lived in Vain . . .  [The] Mollicone’s setting[s were of] Walter de la Mare’s The Snowflake . . . [and] Emily Dickinson’s I Never Saw a Moor and If You Were Coming in the Fall . . . .  [Other works included] Heggie’s settings of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Not in a Silver Casket and Gini Savage’s Joy Alone (Connection), Garner’s Star Light, Star Bright, and Getty’s setting of Dickinson’s The Going from a World We Know . . .  Mollicone’s The Front Pane, Conte’s . . . Sexton Songs, and Getty’s . . . Dickinson songs from The White Election.  The final bouquet came with . . . [a] perfect, and perfectly touching, encore . . . : Barber’s setting of James Agee’s Sure on this Shining Night" [Jason Serinus, San Francisco Classical Voice, 1/19/13].

January 20

Cremaschi/Goodheart/Ingalls Trio.  Berkeley Arts Festival, Berkeley, CA.

David First presents Live Drone Performance w/Acupuncture.  Worksong Chinese Medicine, New York, NY.

Ars Futura presents works of Cleveland composers.  Ethical Society, Philadelphia, PA.

January 24

Pamela Z and Marty Walker.  Art Share - LA, Los Angeles, CA.

January 25

Oakland East Bay Symphony in Richard Danielpour's A Woman's Life (Maya Angelou).  Paramount Theatre, Oakland, CA.  "Danielpour tracks the heart-on-the-sleeve directness of Angelou’s lines with his open-hearted, colorful and sometimes frankly sentimental settings. His melodies unfold from the lush, spacious innocence of childhood through the calypso agitation of dawning sexuality to the woozy, jazzy fever-dream of barrooms and those big cars. . . .  The orchestra, under Music Director Michael Morgan’s sensitive hand, played with tenderness, verve and expressive grace throughout.  Danielpour composed the piece in 2007 for soprano Angela Brown, who performed at the Paramount with dramatic . . . flair" [Steven Winn, San Francisco Classical Voice, 1/25/13].

The San Francisco Tape Music Festival 2013.  ODC Theater, San Francisco, CA.  Through January 27.

ZOFO Duet in Keisuke Nakagoshi's Synæsthesia, Allen Shawn's Fantasy, Stefan Cwik's Acrobats (Etude-Variations), Nicholas Pavkovic's Chimaera, and Gabriela Lena Frank's Sonata Serrana No.1.  Old First Church, San Francisco, CA.

January 26

The Opus Project presents Opus 1:  Claude Debussy's Symphonie, Arnold Schoenberg's Danke, Op. 1, No. 1; Bela Bartok's Rhapsody for Piano, Op. 1; Igor Stravinsky's Symphony in Eb, Op. 1; Anton Webern's Passacaglia, Op. 1; Alban Berg's Piano Sonata, Op. 1; Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 1; Dmitri Shostakovich's Scherzo in F-Sharp Minor for Orchestra, Op. 1; Samuel Barber's Serenade for String Quartet, Op. 1; Alan Hovhaness's Oror (Lullaby), Op. 1; Benjamin Britten's Sinfonietta, Op. 1; Allan Crossman's Song, Op. 1; Don Howe's Samurai Geese, Op. 1, No. 3; Harry Bernstein's  Flute Duet, Ric Louchard's Waltz; Mark Alburger's Psalm 6, Op. 1; and Rachel Condry's For BART Train and Performers.  Berkeley Arts Festival, Berkeley, CA.

Eco Ensemble's in Harrison Birtwistle's Secret Theater and Ivan Fedele's La Chute de la Maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher).  Hertz Hall, The University of California, Berkeley, CA.  "Fedele, an Italian academic reportedly much admired by . . . Pierre Boulez, was there . . . . What was it about the music that was so effective in troubling listeners and developing an atmosphere of foreboding? With Birtwistle, it was the contrast of one group of instruments (mostly woodwinds) continually playing characteristic melodies on one side of the stage -- angular, not especially happy ones -- while another group of instruments (primarily strings, brass, and percussion) played mostly gruesome rhythmic gestures.  The figures sounded at seemingly unpredictable and instrumentally independent intervals, only rarely related to any beat in the melodic line, but with just enough relation to the line to keep you poised in anticipation of the occasional concurrence.  Then instruments would come up and join the melodic group from time to time, abandoning their previous roles in the 'gesture' group and take up another weird melody.  Strong punctuations from percussionists would gradually increase in frequency, like madmen trying to get out of their asylum, leading to periodic climaxes every five minutes or so. And there was no relief from the delicious agony, for the brief respites would only lead to a subsequent, stronger buildup of instrumental density and beat intensity. Like the torturer who keeps victims conscious by throwing water in their face, Birtwistle’s fiendish variety, with just enough predictability to make you want to keep anticipating what might happen next, kept you so absorbed in the project there was no hope for escape.  Fedele’s music did just what it was supposed to do -- give me an hour of the creeps. Semipredictable blows and anguished semi-tunes, conjured by genius, made for an unforgettable new-music experience. Never have I so craved being disturbed again after the nearly 30-minute masterpiece subsided away.  The foreboding in Fedele’s music was not as structural or rhythmic as Birtwistle’s. Rather, it was focused on tone color and hollow dissonances. It was more subdued, underpinning Epstein’s striking images in the best possible way" [Jeff Dunn, San Francisco Classical Voice, 1/26/13].

12 Nights: Sonic Rollercoaster.  GAB Gallery, Miami, FL.

Ecstatic Music Festival: Carla Kihlstedt's At Night We Walk in Circles and Are Consumed by Fire, with ICE, Causing a Tiger, and Face the Music.  Merkin Concert Hall, Kaufman Music Center, New York, NY.

January 27

Joe Lasqo's SP/piano: The Mirror of Non-Existence, on a double bill also featuring Gestaltish, with Gretchen Jude, Jacob Pcck, Jennifer Wilsey, and Rachel Condry.  Berkeley Arts Festival, Berkeley, CA.

January 28

Culturemart 2013.  Soomi Kim's Chang(e) and Yvan Greenberg's Genet Porno.  Here, New York, NY.

January 31

counter)induction presents Etudes and Studies.  Claude Debussy's Etudes: Book I (excerpts), Sergei Rachmaninoff's Etudes-tableux, Luciano Berio's Study for String Quartet, Luigi Dallapiccola's Two Studies, George Benjamin's Viola Viola, Toshio Hosokawa's Vertical Time Study I, and the world premieres of Douglas Boyce's Book and Ryan Streber's Etude for Viola and Clarinet.  Bruno Walter Auditorium, Lincoln Center, New York, NY.