ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Dark, Thrilling Opera—San Francisco Symphony’s “Peter Grimes” runs Thursday, Friday, Sunday at Davies Symphony Hall

 

Michael Tilson Thomas leads over 200 members of the SF Symphony, the SFS Chorus in three semi-staged performances of Benjamin Britten’s  opera, “Peter Grimes,” which features engrossing panoramic floor-to-ceiling video projections by cinematographer/filmmaker Adam Larsen, directed by James Darrah.  Heldentenor Stuart Skelton sings the title role.  With this opera, Britten reinvented the possibilities of musical language—sea breeze, gull in flight, tempest and glittering dawn.  This is SFS’ first performance of the complete “Peter Grimes.” Photo: courtesy SF Symphony.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads over 200 members of the SF Symphony, the SFS Chorus in three semi-staged performances of Benjamin Britten’s opera, “Peter Grimes,” which features engrossing panoramic floor-to-ceiling video projections by cinematographer/filmmaker Adam Larsen, directed by James Darrah. Heldentenor Stuart Skelton sings the title role. With this opera, Britten reinvented the possibilities of musical language—sea breeze, gull in flight, tempest and glittering dawn. This is SFS’ first performance of the complete “Peter Grimes.” Photo: courtesy SF Symphony.

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) conclude the 2013-24 season and their celebration of the centenary of British composer Benjamin Britten with three semi-staged performances of his thrilling opera “Peter Grimes” (Thursday, Friday, Sunday) and a special concert, Four Sea Interludes (Saturday), accompanied by a video installation by Tal Rosner which is paired with excerpts from Britten’s exotic The Prince of The Pagoda Suite.

I’ve never heard Britten’s music performed live and I am very visually oriented, so I am looking forward to the enlivening projections which will add meaning of their own.  I first heard the name Benjamin Britten in a Keynesian macroeconomic theory course at Cal.  John Maynard Keynes, the influential British economist, thinker, and member of the Bloomsbury Group, was very keen on culture.  In the early 1940’s, he proposed (and chaired) an “Arts Council” that established the initial foundation for a system of permanent State patronage of the arts.  As you may recall, the premise behind Keynesian theory was that increased government spending (and lower taxes) would stimulate demand and pull an economy out of a Depression.  The Arts Council initially gave over half its money (grants of public funds) to music, especially classical music and opera.  Benjamin Brittan’s now famous opera, “Peter Grimes,” was first funded through a generous grant given to the Sadler’s Wells theatre to support its emergence as a national opera house charged with embodying the British national character and producing operas that were more accessible than prewar grand opera had been.

“Peter Grimes” had its premiere in June 1945, between VE Day and VJ Day, and the audience’s enthusiastic approval was taken for a political demonstration, so the curtain was brought down early.  The opera, which is based on a poem by George Crabbe, captured something new musically while depicting the epic psychic struggle of a man against his own destructive potential and the bitter sting of alienation, themes that became very familiar in Britain in the years to come.  How appropriate that Britten, who wrote for the people, and was somewhat under the radar before WWII, shot into the limelight with this story of a fisherman at odds with society.  The opera went on to immense success and Britten, as a result, became quite wealthy. The issues (from a macro theory perspective) were that Britten was part of the creation of a new state-funded system of arts patronage and he went on to invest his considerable personal earnings outside the country.  In researching Britten, this vivid memory surfaced.  Of course, SFS promises a revolutionary production of “Grimes,” dazzlingly staged—a grim but rapturous experience.

Sneak Peek of Peter Grimes with the SF Symphony

New Ground for SFS—Video projections, now commonplace in fully staged opera, are also trending in symphony halls across the country. The term “semi-staged” is not synonymous for “projection-based,” however, and “Peter Grimes” marks SFS’ first foray into an opera performance that combines video projections with minimal set staging.  Los Angeles-based director, artist and costume designer, James Darrah and New York-based artist, projection designer and filmmaker, Adam Larsen promise dramatic staging like a “big curved sail with scenes that capture the setting of an old-world fishing village and volatility of the sea.” The video will be projected onto a panoramic floor-to-ceiling scrim that encompasses the stage which has been extended and floated over a few rows of center seats to allow for extra performance space and proximity to viewers.

Darrah and Larsen collaborated in SFS’ January 2013 production of Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt,” creating vivid projections that evoked the vast Norwegian landscape and served to counterbalance the smaller stage which accommodated the orchestra and singing cast, one of whom was a dancer. The relative placement of the orchestra, singers and set props vis-à-vis the projection screens are just one issue involved in the production.  New York Times music critic Zachary Woolfe gives a very readable accounting of the state of semi-staged opera in “Giving a Semi-Hearty Cheer for Semi-Staged Opera,” NYT, June 13, 2014.  Attending a flurry of recent performances across the country led him to ponder where the drama is located in an operatic performance and what kind of production brings it out most effectively.  He asks, “Does paring a work down to the bare score make it more potent, or do theatrical trappings enrich the experience?” On numerous occasions, MTT has enthusiastically affirmed his commitment to using new technology to enliven performances. It all makes sense provided he can maintain his sensitivity to the music-making as people begin to factor in the look as well as the sound of a performance.

Timelapse video of the installation of immersive sets and panoramic video screens for Peter Grimes at Davies Symphony Hall

Performance Details:  Peter Grimes: A Multimedia Semi-staged Event is Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 8 PM; Friday, June 27 at 8 PM; and Sunday, June 29 at 2 PM with  a pre-performance talk by Peter Grunberg one hour before each performance.  Purchase tickets online here or phone SFS Box Office at 415.864-6000.

Britten: Four Sea Interludes with Video by Tal Rosner is Sat, June 28, 2014 at 8 PM with pre-performance talk by Laura Stanfield Prichard at 7 PM.  Purchase tickets online here or phone SFS Box Office at 415.864-6000.

Getting to Davies:  Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall.  The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.  Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently congestion from Sausalito through the toll-plaza.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends.  Recommended Garages:  Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larkin Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

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June 24, 2014 Posted by | Art, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Luscious Lavender—Matanzas Creek Winery’s 18th Annual Days of Wine & Lavender is Saturday, June 28th

Matanzas Creek Winery hosts its 18th Annual Days of Wine & Lavender this Saturday, June 28th, from noon to 4 PM.  The special afternoon celebrates the vineyard’s exclusive wines and its rustic lavender gardens and benefits the Ceres Community Project.  Photo: courtesy Matanzas Creek Winery

Matanzas Creek Winery hosts its 18th Annual Days of Wine & Lavender this Saturday, June 28th, from noon to 4 PM. The special afternoon celebrates the vineyard’s exclusive wines and its rustic lavender gardens and benefits the Ceres Community Project. Photo: courtesy Matanzas Creek Winery

Tucked in the hillside of beautiful, hidden Bennett Valley, the Matanzas Creek Winery and vineyard is also home to 3 acres of lavender gardens planted in 1991.  To celebrate the beauty of this remarkable rustic estate and the special knack that its caretakers and designers have for coaxing beauty from its fertile soil, the winery hosts its 18th Annual Days of Wine & Lavender this Saturday, June 28th, from noon to 4 PM.  The wonderful afternoon celebrates Matanzas Creek’s special wines, including its newest releases of crisp, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc and its exclusive, hedonistic, Journey label.  Guests stroll the expansive property, taking in the vibrant bust of purple and heady fragrance of lavender fields in full bloom while eating and drinking to their heart’s content. Live music keeps the tempo celebratory.

New This Year:  The festival will offer three sensory seminars with winemaker Marcia Monahan-Torres and Matanzas Creek wine experts: Sauvignon Blanc and Seafood Pairings; Merlot and Mushrooms Exploration; Exclusive Tasting of our Journey wines.

There will also be special food and wine pairing stations throughout the event, a tour of the Lavender Barn showcasing how its luscious lavender products are made, photo booths, exceptional views and much more.

Good Deeds: The event benefits the Ceres Community Project, a non-profit that involves local teens as gardeners or chefs.  Ceres aims to bring 88,000 nutrient-rich meals to those with serious illnesses or to those in need in Sonoma and Marin counties this year.  For more information about Ceres and its wonderful classes, visit http://www.ceresproject.org/.

Details:  Saturday June 28th, noon to 4 p.m. Tickets: $95 General Public and $75 Wine Club members.  Advance ticket purchase is essential as the festival sells out in advance each year.  To purchase tickets, click here. Matanzas Creek Winery is located at 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA  95404   For more information, phone: 800 590-6464

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Food | , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Saturday—For ART’S SAKE a benefit for Petaluma Arts Center at rustic Beaumont Farms

ForArt'sSake

Live music of Sonoma Driftwood, dancing, art and artists at work, petanque, pickle ball, horseshoes, line dancing lessons and a superb silent auction are among the fun activities planned at upcoming event, FOR ART’S SAKE, a benefit for Petaluma Arts Center, Saturday, June 28th, 2014 from 12 to 4.

The rustic Beaumont Farms (5580 Red Hill Road, Petaluma) will open its gates for an exclusive afternoon of art,music and games, or, if you prefer, to sit back and relax in a chair by the pond, watch the clouds float over olive trees and Petaluma hills beyond and listen to ranch residents – horses, donkeys, chickens and alpaca. Sumptuous barbeque, wine and other beverages will be available for purchase. Lunch served by Rasta Dwight’s Barbeque.

Silent auction items include A Week at the Arts Community of Bisbee, AZ; Riding Lessons; Reserve Tasting Room VIP Barrel Tasting and Light Bites for 10-14 at Roche Winery; Dinner and Jazz at the Bailey’s; A Sunset Segway Tour of Schollenberger Park; A Weekend in Tahoe; A Week at the Arts Community of Bisbee, AZ; Riding Lessons; Classes at PAC; 4 Rounds of Golf at Sonoma and Napa’s best courses; and so much more.

FOR ART’S SAKE sponsors and supporters include, Denis & Bridget Twomey of Beaumont Farms, McNear’s Restaurant & the Mystic Theatre, Kari Ontko Design, Teresa Barrett, Janet & Dan McBeen, Crown Trophy, Out West Garage and Riley Street Art Supply.

Tickets, $30 per person, are available from Petaluma Arts Center (online purchase) or at the Center, 230 Lakeville St., call 707-762-5600. Guests are asked to leave their dogs at home and to be respectful of the benefit and not bring food and drinks to the premises.

 

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Art | , , | Leave a comment

Interview: British Composer Adam Gorb on his sex trafficking opera, “Anya17,” which has its American premiere with Opera Parallèle Friday

British composer Adam Gorb says that he was “completely swept up and in love with the characters” he was writing for in “Anya17,” his first stab at opera. "Anya 17" is the story of a young woman from an unnamed Eastern European country who's lured by love to the West and forced into prostitution.  The one-act chamber opera, set to a libretto by Ben Kaye, has its North American premiere in an Opera Parallèle production June 20-22, 2104 at Marines' Memorial Theatre in San Francisco. Photo: courtesy Adam Gorb

British composer Adam Gorb says that he was “completely swept up and in love with the characters” he was writing for in “Anya17,” his first stab at opera. “Anya 17” is the story of a young woman from an unnamed Eastern European country who’s lured by love to the West and forced into prostitution. The one-act chamber opera, set to a libretto by Ben Kaye, has its North American premiere in an Opera Parallèle production June 20-22, 2104 at Marines’ Memorial Theatre in San Francisco. Photo: courtesy Adam Gorb

Amidst a summer opera season offering Francesca Zambello’s production of “Show Boat” at San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony’s semi-staged production of Brittan’s “Peter Grimes;” Opera Parallèle hopes to put British composer  Adam Gorb firmly on the Bay Area map, presenting the North American premiere of his first opera, “Anya17,” at Marines Memorial Theatre this Friday through Sunday.  “Anya 17” is a dark chamber opera that is Gorb’s third collaboration with Dorset-based librettist Ben Kaye.   The opera unfolds through the eyes of Anya, a naïve young girl (sung by soprano Anna Noggle) who falls in love with the wrong guy who persuades her to follow him to the West. Instead of a better life, she is betrayed and coerced into sexual slavery. In order to survive, Anya must find an ultimate inner strength as she struggles to adapt to the humiliation and brutality of her brothel existence.

Adam Gorb was born in Cardiff in 1958 and started composing at the age of ten.  His first work to be broadcast on the BBC was written when he was fifteen.  He studied at Cambridge University (1977-1980) and at the Royal Academy of Music (1991-1993), where he graduated with the highest honors.  He has been on the staff at the London College of Music and Media, the junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music and, since 2000 he has been the Head of School of Composition at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music.  He is acclaimed for his wind ensemble works.  His 2007 “protest cantata,” “Thoughts Scribbled on a Blank Wall,” a collaboration with Dorset-based librettist Ben Kaye, was based on the experiences of the British journalist and broadcaster, John McCarthy, Britain’s longest held hostage in the Lebanon hostage crisis.  Then working for UPI, McCarthy was abducted in Beirut in 1986 and held for five years before his release.  Gorb and Kaye’s mutual interest in current affairs led them to collaborate again in 2010 when they created “Eternal Voices,” a commission from the Royal Marines Service Band about contemporary war.  The 30 minute long choral work told the story of a Royal Marine who loses his life in Afghanistan and the effect it has on his family. BBC newscaster Trevor McDonald acted as a narrator and interjected by reading current news headlines relevant to the story.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Adam Gorb at his home in the UK, as he was preparing to travel to the Bay Area for this week’s series of “Anya17” events and performances. He was excited about the opera’s relevancy as well as the fun he had in composing its music, which contains passages inspired by his family’s ancestral roots in the Ukraine.  (To read ARThound’s previous coverage, an overview of “Anya17,” click here.)

Here is our conversation—

 

When did you first become aware of and interested in the trafficking topic and whose idea was it to use that as a basis of an opera?

Adam Gorb:   It was the librettist, Ben Kaye’s idea.  We had worked together on two previous pieces—one of them (“Thoughts Scribbled on a Blank Wall,” 2007) about a political hostage from the UK and the other (“Eternal Voices” 2010) about war in the 21st century—and we both realized that we get on quite well and that we like working with up-to-date subjects.  We both really wanted to do an opera. I was very interested in displaced peoples and wanted to do something that addressed the concept of people moving from one country to another because that has so many musical possibilities. We batted about the idea of the sex trade and Ben did a lot of research and he came up with the story.

What is the significance of the number 17 in the title “Anya17?

Adam Gorb:   She could be 17, of course. But the reality is that there are these actual places that offer girls’ photos on a menu and clients look that menu over and order— ‘I want number 17.’   The actual title “Anya17” was taken from an episode of an award-winning British-Canadian TV miniseries, “Sex Traffic” (2004).  There was a character, Anya, in it who was 17.  We went with the name, Anya, because it’s a generic name associated with any Eastern European girl.

There’s good and bad in everyone…Have you gone the route of completely demonizing the pimps, or, do we also see the desperation in their situation as well, even some humanity? Likewise, do we see any unappealing traits in the girls?  

Adam Gorb:  The opera is very much through Anya’s eyes and she’s a sweet, innocent, young girl but she’s also naïve. She likes money and she loves people buying things for her and goes into raptures about meeting this guy who is taking her shopping.  You sometimes want to shake her and say ‘Come on, you’re crazy, don’t you realize you’re going to have to pay a high price for this later on.’   And Victor, her pimp, is certainly an awful character but he sees himself as a businessman who is providing a valuable service.  This comes out in his aria, “I only give you what you want,” and there’s a certain truth in that.  He’s charming in the beginning—to get what he wants—but he’s completely amoral at his core.  One of the crucial characters is Natalia, who is very friendly at the beginning but she’s actually someone who has come full circle from being trafficked herself to working for Victor, her lover.  So she’s this cabaret jazz singer who gradually loses all of her warmth to becoming cold and calculating.  Her tragic history comes out in this Sondheim-like song about how she was raped by her father.  I felt the only way to handle those horrific words she was singing was with a cheerful upbeat song that dehumanized the entire experience and showed her dissociation from her history.

How are brutalization, violence and sex handled?

Adam Gorb:   Parts of the music are quite brutal and there is a harsh dissonance to the music that builds.  At the climax, where one of the characters is beaten to death, there’s a long remorseful melody with the whole orchestra playing that’s extremely moving.  Of course, those very harsh parts are foreshadowed by the music of seduction that goes along with building sexual tension.

Some things were difficult to be too graphic about.  There’s more than one rape scene and quite a lot of grotesquery.  The music that accompanies this becomes almost like noise with certain instruments out of their registers.  In the German production, when the rape occurred, the curtain came down and there were no projections and it was carried out in the dark.

Beyond raising awareness about the topic, do you want the audience to do something with their experience?

Adam Gorb:   My awareness is less political and more artistic. Yes, I do want to raise awareness but the thing that I do well is write music.  Without ducking responsibility, if someone came to see “Anya17” and afterwards said ‘That’s a really interesting story’ and could tell me something about it, I’d be pleased.  There are so many causes completing for people’s attention these days. I hope people are drawn along by the story and can relate to the characters and, frankly, aren’t bored. I try and keep up with new opera and have a problem with a lot of the operas that I attend holding my attention. I’m asking myself a lot of whys—Why is this taking so long? Why are they singing that?   I wanted to do something that I wouldn’t get annoyed by and that would tell a story that makes an important and lasting impression. At its core, this is a story statement about a young girl who comes to a new country and falls in love for the first time and it all falls apart and she is tricked and humiliated and her spirit is almost broken but still there is hope for the future.

Were changes made after the last (German) production that will be in play for the first time in San Francisco?

Adam Gorb:   I fiddle with little things but tend to do one big brain surgery and then leave it.  The opera was semi-staged in Liverpool and Manchester in March 2012 and the first performance outside the UK was in Romania in October 2013 at the National Opera of Timişoara, with a mixed UK and Romanian cast.  I made the big changes for the fully staged German production, at the Meininger Theater in October 2013. By then, I had a recording and was able to go through the opera and make more sense of the feel and continuity of it overall as well as determine whether the singers themselves were clear enough.  I made some cuts to some of Anya’s arias that had to do with her interaction with one of characters because it didn’t feel dramatically right the way it was.  I haven’t made any changes since then and don’t intend to do any more tinkering, otherwise I’d never move on to something new.

I read that you had been particularly moved by Britten’s “Peter Grimes,” which will be performed by San Francisco Symphony later this month. What in particular about that opera moved you?

Adam Gorb:   I saw “Peter Grimes” when I was a kid, when Britten was still alive—he was quite ill by then— and he was in the audience. It was a very moving experience that caught me at a very impressionable age. The subject matter—the lone fisherman fighting alone against everyone—gripped me. What I admire in opera and what I admire in composers like Britten and Puccini is that sense is that they are really writing for the theatre. They’re not writing comfort pieces—they’re getting to the core of these deeply human tendencies that fascinate us all and I respect that. I’ve wanted to write an opera for years, because, before I was working in the conservatory, I was worked in musical theatre and I’m very interested in what you can do with music on the stage.

What’s next?

Adam Gorb:   Well, I’d love to do another opera and am very keen to write the music. “Anya’s” probably the biggest thing I’ve done and I was completely swept up and in love with the characters I was writing for. I also really enjoyed the collaborative aspects of it—it can get quite lonely sitting at home and writing music alone. I’m most interested in recent history—something that people are close enough to that they can really identify with. I’m glad that it’s come together the way it has but, next time, I’d want it to be commissioned. I’ll also write a lot for wind ensemble. I travel to the US a lot for that because it’s so big there.

Performance Details:

Cast: The role of Anya will be sung by soprano Anna Noggle, whose portrayals have been described as “sensitively drawn and heart-achingly sung” (Opera News). Viktor is baritone Victor Benedetti, lauded by the Chicago Tribune for his “confident and commanding stage presence and strong, dark baritone.” Local favorites are mezzo-sopranos Catherine Cook (who sang Julia Child in OP’s La Bonne Cuisine) and Laura Krumm, soprano Shawnette Sulker, and tenor Andres Ramirez (whom OP audiences enjoyed in Trouble in Tahiti and Ainadamar).

Creative Team: Directed by Brian Staufenbiel; Conducted by Nicole Paiment; Composed by Adam Gorb; Libretto by Ben Kaye; Media Design by David Murakami

Free Stage Rehearsal, Friday, June 20: An open stage rehearsal, after which Opera Parallèle Artistic Director and Conductor, Nicole Paiement, and stage director Brian Staufenbiel (Paiement’s husband) will lead the cast and audience in a Q & A question-and-answer session, takes place at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street (at Mason) second floor, San Francisco. The event is free and the public is encouraged to attend.

Dates, Tickets: “Anya17” is at 8 p.m. in Friday, June 20, 2014 and Saturday, June 21, 2014 and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 22, 2014 at Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street (at Mason) second floor, San Francisco. Tickets: $80 to $30, are available online here or phone City Box Office at 415-392-4400. For more information, visit www.operaparallele.org.

 

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Anya17,” a new opera that explores sex trafficking and slavery, opens Friday at San Francisco’s Marine Memorial Theatre

In “Anya17,” a powerful contemporary opera which has its North American premiere this week at Opera Parallèle, naïve Anya is trafficked into Britain and forced into prostitution by a man pretending to be her boyfriend. The opera is a collaboration between British composer Adam Gorb and librettist Ben Kaye.  Watercolor by Evan Wright.

In “Anya17,” a contemporary opera which has its North American premiere this week at Opera Parallèle, naïve Anya is trafficked into Britain and forced into prostitution by a man pretending to be her boyfriend. The opera is a collaboration between British composer Adam Gorb and librettist Ben Kaye. Watercolor by Evan Wright.

Those who know her, have come to expect great things from Nicole Paiement, Opera Parallèle’s valiant Artistic Director and Conductor. But her timing of the American premiere at Opera Parallèle of “Anya17”—British composer Adam Gorb’s opera about sex trafficking and human slavery—couldn’t have been better.  On June 10, news broke that two San Francisco women (sisters) had been arrested for allegedly operating a sex trafficking ring out of several locations in San Francisco, bringing in young new girls weekly.  Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry and the US State Department estimates that between 20,000 and 40,000 people are trafficked into the country each year as modern-day slaves.  San Francisco and the Bay Area rank among the top 20 destinations, according to the FBI.  Kudos to a composer brave enough to humanize these devastating statistics and base his first opera on the insidious subject.  Gorb teamed up with librettist Ben Kaye and together they created “Anya17,” a dramatized interpretation of the lives of four very different young women trafficked from Eastern Europe and sold into sexual slavery.  The opera, performed twice before in Europe, unfolds through the eyes of Anya, a naïve and vulnerable young girl who falls in love with the wrong guy who persuades her to follow him to the West. Instead of a better life, she is betrayed and coerced into slavery. In order to survive, Anya must find an ultimate inner strength as she struggles to adapt to the humiliation and brutality of her brothel existence. The number 17 in the title comes from the practice of numbering girls on a “menu” in brothels. Last week, I interviewed Adam Gorb who definitely believes that opera can help change the world.  I’ll be posting our interview shortly, so stay tuned.

Free Stage Rehearsal, Friday, June 20: An open stage rehearsal, after which Opera Parallèle Artistic Director and Conductor, Nicole Paiement, and stage director Brian Staufenbiel (Paiement’s husband) will lead the cast and audience in a Q & A question-and-answer session, takes place at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street (at Mason) second floor, San Francisco. The event is free and the public is encouraged to attend.

Cast: The role of Anya will be sung by soprano Anna Noggle, whose portrayals have been described as “sensitively drawn and heart-achingly sung” (Opera News). Viktor is baritone Victor Benedetti, lauded by the Chicago Tribune for his “confident and commanding stage presence and strong, dark baritone.” Local favorites are mezzo-sopranos Catherine Cook (who sang Julia Child in OP’s La Bonne Cuisine) and Laura Krumm, soprano Shawnette Sulker, and tenor Andres Ramirez (whom OP audiences enjoyed in Trouble in Tahiti and Ainadamar).

Details: “Anya17” is at 8 p.m. in Friday, June 20, 2014 and Saturday, June 21, 2014 and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 22, 2014 at Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street (at Mason) second floor, San Francisco. Tickets: $80 to $30, are available online here or phone City Box Office at 415-392-4400. For more information, visit www.operaparallele.org.

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FAMSF ancient art curator, Renée Dreyfus, speaks Thursday, June 12, 2014, at the de Young on “Masters of Fire: The Copper Age in the Holy Land”

Renée Dreyfus, FAMSF curator in charge of ancient art and interpretation will speak at the de Young Museum on Thursday, June 12, at 1 PM about “Masters of Fire:  The Copper Age in the Holy Land,” the exhibition which opens June 28, 2014 at the Legion of Honor.  Curator lectures, which provide insight into exhibition conception and artifacts, are a wonderful way to get the most out of an exhibition.

Renée Dreyfus, FAMSF curator in charge of ancient art and interpretation will speak at the de Young Museum on Thursday, June 12, at 1 PM about “Masters of Fire: The Copper Age in the Holy Land,” the exhibition which opens June 28, 2014 at the Legion of Honor. Curator lectures provide insight into exhibition conception and artifacts and are a wonderful way to get the most out of an exhibition. Image: Hedgehog Highlights

Renée Dreyfus, curator in charge of ancient art and interpretation at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) will speak at the de Young Museum on Thursday, June 12, at 1 PM about Masters of Fire:  The Copper Age in the Holy Land, the exhibition which opens June 28 at the Legion of Honor.   Dreyfus, who always has lots of historical information readily at hand, will speak about artifacts that especially intrigue her and will set the stage for the anitquities that arrive later this month.  If you do go, check the front rows for Colin Bailey, the new FAMSF director (he celebrates one year at the helm this month).  He’s been at the several of the recent talks I’ve attended and it’s a pleasure to see him supporting and motivating museum staff and visiting scholars by engaging with their scholarship.

In 1961, Israeli archaeologists discovered over 400 copper objects wrapped in a straw mat at Naḥal Mishmar (West of the Dead Sea) hidden in a natural crevice that would be called the “Cave of the Treasure.”  One of the greatest hoards of antiquity, these objects were so spectacular that they define an important era in Southern Levantine (modern-day Israel and surrounding lands) history now called the Chalcolithic (copper-stone) or Copper Age (5500–3500 BC).

Masters of Fire is the first comprehensive U.S. exhibition that explores the metallurgical revolution that produced these objects and how this led to significant changes in the technology, ritual, and especially the lifestyles of the Levant.  The exhibition is organized by NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) and the Israel Antiquities Authority in collaboration with The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

“The copper crowns and maces, or standards, found here testify to the amazing technical skill of the ancient smiths and artists who already knew the lost-wax process of casting,” said Renée Dreyfus who will address unknownswhether or not the people who created these objects considered them as arts or ritual objects.  “Of the 80 copper standards found in the Cave of the Treasure, no two are identical, proving that each was cast separately in an individual mold.  This astonishing hoard of 429 remarkable objects also reveals the growth of prestige, status, and social rank.”

Dating to more than a millennium before the pyramids of Egypt were built, the treasures in the Legion of Honor’s upcoming exhibition “Masters of Fire” come from a brief transformative moment.  They were made in the southern Levant, a region known today as Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and their surrounding areas, which was at the forefront of human development from 4500–3600 BC.  Pictured: ritual hoard of copper objects from the Cave of the Treasure, Nahal Mishmar, present-day Israel, Late Chalcolithic period (4500–3500 BC). Copper.  Israel Museum, Jerusalem.  Photo: courtesy FAMSF

Copper objects from the Cave of the Treasure, hoard Nahal Mishmar, Late Chalcolithic period, 4500–3600 BC. Copper, lost wax technique. Israel Antiquities Authority, Israel Museum. Photo: courtesy FAMSF

“The term “Copper Revolution” has been used by scholars to describe the changes in social organization that occurred at this time,” continued Dreyfus. “Archaeologists have tracked the fragments of ore that were mined in Jordan and traced how they were carried almost one hundred miles into southern Israel to be crushed, repeatedly heated, and carefully smelted into small ingots.  Once the copper was extracted, it was heated again and cast in open molds to make simple tools or weapons.  However, the extraordinary discoveries in the Cave of the Treasure at Nahal Mishmar represent a very different path in metallurgy.  The copper objects found there were made using the complicated lost-wax casting technique.  These works are far more elaborate than any other copper creations known from this period.  Whatever the original source of this hoard—whether a major religious or political center—the intricate scepters, crowns, and other copper objects must have been the accouterments of an elaborate ceremonial display.  The Copper Age is therefore an early example of a society in which the ruling elite could afford prestige objects that were produced as symbols of its power.”

Originally from New York City, Dreyfus is a celebrated curator of ancient art. She graduated from Boston University with a degree in philosophy.  She then went on to Brandeis University to receive her M.A. in Ancient Mediterranean Studies and finished her doctorate in Ancient Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley.  She speaks several ancient languages, is very active in the FAMSF’s Ancient Arts Council.  She was recently appointed to the newly formed visiting committee of the J. Paul Getty Museum that appraises the J. Paul Getty Trust  on the museum.  Some of Dreyfus’ publications include: deYoung: Selected Works (2006);  Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series) co-authored with Catharine H. Roehrig, and Cathleen A. Keller (2005); Pergamon: The Telephos Frieze from the Great Altar, Volume 2 (1997) co-authored with Ellen Schraudolph; California Palace of the Legion of Honor (1995); The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1994) co-authored with Melissa Leventon.

Details: Talk by Renée Dreyfus is Thursday, June 12, 1 PM at the Koret Auditorium at the de Young Museum.  Tickets are $3 members, $4 non-members. No advance purchase or reservations required.  It is not necessary to have an entry ticket to the de Young to attend the lecture. If you would like to enter the de Young Museum, tickets are $10 adults, $7 seniors, FAMSF members free. Tickets to Modernism from the National Gallery of Art are $24 to $11 for non-members and free for FAMSF members. The exhibition, Masters of Fire:  The Copper Age in the Holy Land  is June 28, 2014-January 4, 2105 at the Legion of Honor.

Directions/Parking: The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, at John F. Kennedy Drive, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.  Enter Golden Gate Park (JFK Drive side) at 8th Avenue for 4 hour free street parking.  For direct access to the Music Concourse Parking facility, turn right on Fulton and then left on 10th Avenue.

June 10, 2014 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review—Cinnabar Theater’s fabulous“Figaro”—Mozart’s playful and tangled web of matrimony

Mozart’s music soars at Cinnabar Theater as (l to r) Kelly Britt, Cary Ann Rosko, and Bharati Soman star in a hilarious production of "The Marriage of Figaro," through June 15, 2014.  Photo: Eric Chazankin

Mozart’s music soars at Cinnabar Theater as (l to r) Kelly Britt, Cary Ann Rosko, and Bharati Soman star in a hilarious production of “The Marriage of Figaro,” through June 15, 2014. Photo: Eric Chazankin

A big Figaro, up close and personal in Cinnabar’s intimate schoolhouse theater is a treat you can’t pass up.  After last season’s sold-out run of Carmen, Artistic Director Elly Lichenstein and Music Director Mary Chun reunite to close Cinnabar Theater’s 41st season with Mozart’s glorious marriage of music and theater.  The opera opened last Saturday to a sold-out house and closes June 15 but it has been so successful that an additional performance has been added on Wednesday, June 11.

For those who haven’t experienced Mozart’s magical farce, The Marriage of Figaro which premiered in Vienna in 1786, Cinnabar’s is a wonderful introduction.  It has all the special touches that we associate with Cinnabar’s bankable perfectionism and it’s in English.  Jeremy Sams’ smooth translation of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto eliminates the fuss of subtitles and lays out all complex plot twists, of which there are many. For those who know Figaro, here’s a chance to sit back and enjoy the scheming, with a new twist—it’s set in the 1920’s rather than the usual 18th century.

The performance takes place on a small ground-level stage with gorgeous sets by Wayne Hovey that take their inspiration from a well-appointed Downton Abbey-like estate. Wherever you’re seated at Cinnabar, you’re just a few feet from the action, so you can take in the expressions on the singer’s faces and the fine details in the costumes and props, making it intense and immersive, just as opera should be. You’re in for a visual treat with the 1920’s inspired costumes created by Lisa Eldrege, who outfitted the entire cast of 22 in hues of black and white, gray, and gold.  The gents sport country tweeds and linens and the ladies, lavish evening attire and gowns appointed with delicate lace.  The chorus members wear individualized servant’s uniforms.

Figaro is one of my favorite operas because of the wonderful match between Mozart’s lively music and the onstage drama.  Mary Chuni and her small but ample orchestra of ten outdid themselves AGAIN.  Snuggled between two walls and sitting in a snaking line, they opened with a gorgeous overture and proceeded to play beautifully for all four acts, in perfect sync with the action.

Soprano Kelly Britt, as the young maid Susanna, glows with bright energy and has natural chemistry with her fiancé, Figaro (Eugene Walden), and with Countess Rosina (Bharati Soman) and a palpable revulsion for the skirt-chasing Count.  Susanna does the most singing of all the characters and Britt’s powerful voice carried her through the opening night performance, growing lovelier and more nuanced as she relaxed into her role.  Her Act III duet with the Countess, about a letter intended to the dupe Count, was a wonderful blending of two naturally lyrical voices.  Her Act IV garden aria, “Come Here” (“Deh vieni”), where she sings of love and confuses Figaro, was touching.

Soprano Bharati Soman has her debut at Cinnabar as the pained Countess Almaviva.  Shes loves her husband, the Count, but knows that he wants to cheat on her with Susanna, her maid, who is engaged to Figaro, the Count’s servant.  Photo: Eric Chazankin

Soprano Bharati Soman has her debut at Cinnabar as the pained Countess Almaviva. Shes loves her husband, the Count, but knows that he wants to cheat on her with Susanna, her maid, who is engaged to Figaro, the Count’s servant. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Soprano Bharati Soman has her debut at Cinnabar as the Countess Almaviva and what a lovely voice and countenance she has.  She’s in love her husband, the Count, but knows that he wants to cheat on her with gorgeous Susanna, her maid, who is engaged to Figaro, the Count’s servant.  At times regal and at times terribly vulnerable and regretful, Soman sang the Countess’s two great arias with poise and great tenderness— Act II ”Oh Love give me some comfort!” (“Porgi, amor”) and Act III “Where are the beautiful moments?” (“Dove sono I bei momenti”). 

Baritone Eugene Walden, as Figaro, has a natural comedic flare and excelled in his solo arias and in the wonderful ensembles. In the Act I duet, “Five, ten, twenty” (“Cinque, dieci, venti”), where he’s taking measurements in the bedroom, his endearing chemistry with Susanna set the tone for the rest of opera.

Charismatic baritone Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek sang the role of the scheming lord of the manor, Count Almaviva, impressively, revealing his brooding insecurity.  Almaviva fancies himself a wild womanizer but without his money and position, he’d be washed up. Smith-Kotlarek’s Act III revenge aria, “Shall I live to see” (“Vedro, mentr’io sospiro”), is an incisive commentary on class, revealing the Count’s seething anger about his vassals Susana and Figaro outwitting him and finding the happiness that has eluded him.

The cheating Count Almavira (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) tries to woo his suspicious wife Countess Almaviva (Bharati Soman). Photo: Eric Chazankin

The cheating Count Almavira (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) tries to woo his suspicious wife Countess Almaviva (Bharati Soman). Photo: Eric Chazankin

Standouts in the ensemble include the wonderfully animated mezzo soprano Krista Wigle as Marcellina (Dr. Bartolo’s housekeeper) who claims Figaro owes her money and, if he doesn’t pay, he will have to marry her.  Wigle has the “it” factor—it’s  impossible to take your eyes off her and she’s a delight in every scene she’s in.

Mezzo-soprano Cary Ann Rosko shines in a pants role as Cherubino, the Count’s flirtatious young page, whom the Count suspects is having an affair with his wife.  Rosko’s impish antics are delightful, especially when Susanna and the Countess dress him in girl’s clothes as a disguise. Rosko’s Act II aria “You ladies know what love is” was well sung and the leap out the window that followed comically executed.

Cudos to Wayne Hovey, who spent years doing Cinnabar’s lighting, and is now applying his engineering skills to set design. His set of fluidly shifting walls get top billing, right along with the music and singing—they expand, contract and pivot to create a garden and three beautifully appointed rooms replete with period paintings and portraits.

(l to r):  Kelly Britt, Cary Ann Rosko, and Bharati Soman.  Mezzo-soprano Rosko is delightful in the pants role of Cherubino, the Count's flirtatious young page.   Photo: Eric Chazankin

(l to r): Kelly Britt, Cary Ann Rosko, and Bharati Soman. Mezzo-soprano Rosko is delightful in the pants role of Cherubino, the Count’s flirtatious young page. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Details: Cinnabar Theater is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA, 94952.  The Marriage of Figaro has 7 remaining performances—June 6 (sold-out), 7, 8, 11, 13, 14, and 15.  Buy tickets online here.   ($40 General, $25 under age 22, $9 middle-school and high-school.)

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview: Pianist Kirill Gerstein on the eve of his performance at Weill Hall with the San Francisco Symphony

Pianist Kirill Gerstein performs Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto on Thursday, June 5, at Weill Hall as part of “Dutoit Conducts Beethoven and Shostakovich,” the final concert in the San Francisco Symphony’s 2013-4 Weill Hall performance series.  Gerstein is the Winner of the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition and the recipient of a Gilmore Artist Award.

Pianist Kirill Gerstein says it’s a “special thrill and a tickle” to come to the Wine Country and perform at Weill Hall. The virtuoso performs Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto on Thursday, June 5, as part of “Dutoit Conducts Beethoven and Shostakovich,” the final concert in the San Francisco Symphony’s 2013-4 Weill Hall performance series. Gerstein is the Winner of the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition and the recipient of a Gilmore Artist Award.

Born in Voronezh, Russia, in 1979, classical pianist Kirill Gerstein was the winner of the 2001 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv.  In 2010, he was awarded the prestigious $300,000 Gilmore Artist Award.  Gerstein first touched foot in the U.S.  at age 14, when he went to Berklee College of Music in Boston as a jazz pianist (their youngest student ever).  There wasn’t any live jazz to be heard in Voronezh, but Gerstein fell in love with it by listening to his parents’ extensive record collection and it was his skill at improvisation that led to a scholarship to Berklee.  He went on to tackle classical repertoire in summers at Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute and earned both his bachelor’s and master’s at the Manhattan School of Music at 20.  Gerstein, now 35, has spent his life balancing his love of classical music and jazz but chose to focus his energy on classical playing. And what a life he’s crafted.  With his technical prowess and ability to communicate his connection to the music, he’s emerged as one of the most respected and insightful pianists of his generation.  He manages a global touring schedule that includes recitals, chamber music and concerto solos and carves out time to teach.  Since receiving the Gilmore Award, he has commissioned boundary-crossing new works from Oliver Knussen, Chick Corea (Jazz), Brad Mehldau (Jazz) and Timothy Andres, and additional commissions are in the works.  This Thursday, at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, Gerstein performs Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 2” with Charles Dutoit and the San Francisco Symphony.  Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 10” is also in the program.  Composed after Stalin’s death in 1953, this piece, since the late 1970’s, has been seen as a depiction of the Stalin years in Russia and is considered one of the most devastating essays in the twentieth-century symphonic literature.   This is the final concert in the San Francisco Symphony’s 2013-4 Weill Hall performance series. The concert will also be performed at Davies Symphony Hall Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Gerstein’s latest album, Imaginary Pictures (Myrios Classics) which features Schumann’s “Carnaval” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” will be made available this week at Weill Hall and at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, before its general release on June 10.  Immediately after each concert, including Thursday’s performance, Gerstein will be greeting the audience and signing copies of the new cd in the lobby.  Gerstein’s recording in 2010 of the Liszt Sonata “Humoresque” and a piece by Oliver Knussen, also on Myrios Classics, was considered one of the best recordings of 2010.

Typically, a soloist as busy as Gerstein would perform one concerto and move on, but the Bay Area is in for treat because on Sunday, June 8, we will have the special opportunity to hear Gerstein perform Chamber Music with Members of the San Francisco Symphony.   This is gorgeous music that musicians love to play and audiences live to hear and Gerstein will be playing Dvořák’s “Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Opus 90, Dumky” and Shostakovich’s “Piano Quintet in G Minor, opus 57.”

Yesterday, in between rehearsals, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kirill Gerstein about his extraordinary career and his commissions.  Known for his fiery, dramatic playing, his vocal style is crisp and to the point.  In short time though, he demonstrated that his musical curiosity and insights are profound.

Here is our conversation—

You were born in 1979 in very interesting part of Russia, Voronezh—the intersection between Urals and Siberia and Caucasus and Ukraine…a real hinterland. What did you do for fun there growing up?  And when did your love of music really take hold?

I generally have fun and I don’t think, even as child, that I made a distinction between fun and non-fun—it was all fun and I didn’t have any realizations about something missing in Voronezh.  I enjoyed studying music and reading and my parents made sure that I spoke with a lot of people.  I wasn’t the tortured prodigy you sometimes read about.  I practiced but not those crazy amounts you hear about.

And when did your love of music really take hold?

Kirill Gerstein:  Music has always accompanied me.  My mother is a musician and she taught college but she also taught at home and the piano was there and she was my first teacher.  I don’t remember any time without music or the piano.  So it wasn’t a certain moment or lesson, it was just always there and my interest increased.   Most of my exposure was to classical music.  I went to a lot of concerts.  The jazz was only from recordings as there wasn’t really an active jazz scene in Russia.  There was a bit in Moscow, but not very much, and certainly not in Voronezh which was not a capital city.  I really liked Chic Corea and Keith Jarrett and listened over and over.

In reading about your life, it seems like praise has been heaped upon you since you were a child.  Who’s been the most influential teacher you’ve had and why and what hurdle did that person take you over?   Did you immediately win him or her with your playing, or was it more of a brutal relationship where you really had to strive? 

Kirill Gerstein:  There was a lot of praise and heaped is correct.  Studying music is a process where you encounter a lot of criticism that accentuates your weak spots as a player and as a person and that’s how you learn.  The process is to do justice to the music.  The two most important teachers I had were Dmitri Bashkirov in Madrid and Ferenc Rados in Budapest.  Both of them, especially the first time, were very harshly critical of what I did but it was clear to me that they had some very valuable information that I wanted and needed.  So, in spite of the ego bruising, I stayed with them and worked with them.  With Dmitri Bashkirov, who I had heard in Voronezh in concert as child, because he happened to give regular concerts there, I was transfixed, so that was particularly important.   I first played for him in Spain when I was about 17 and he was harsh but there was such insight.  I kept returning and, finally, I broke through and began to really develop my playing and took his class.  I worked with him for years.       

The lives and careers of Beethoven and Shostakovich were separated by over a century and in their works we can see how they wrestled with these big themes of freedom, liberty, and politics. The concert, I hope, will illuminate some of the subtler, musical traits that these composers have in common. What comes to mind for you in the pairing of the No. 2 and Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 10”?  

Kirill Gerstein:  I think this is a good pairing. In terms of Russian composers of the 20th century, Shostakovich was a composer of great symphonies. The symphonic composer was really defined, or let’s say redefined, by Beethoven in ways that impacted every subsequent generation from Brahms onwards, including Shostakovich.  Mozart and Haydn wrote very important symphonies but Beethoven with his nine symphonies is really a towering presence who went beyond classical music to impact all of Western culture. Shostakovich was aware of this and in many ways inspired by these symphonic models and the two do go very well together.  You could say that, in some ways, Shostakovich modeled his compositional ideals on Beethoven, not necessarily the style but concept behind it, and you have the important body of string quartets by both composers for which this also holds.

The two pieces on Thursday’s program are very different in sprit and mood because the “Symphony No. 10” is a later piece of Shostakovich whereas the Beethoven “Piano Concerto No. 2” was actually composed first. This is really the most youthful of his five piano concertos, where he’s just starting to depart form the models of Mozart and Haydn but it does so boldly, just as he lived his life.  In this concerto, he does show that he has studied and absorbed the great models of Mozart and Haydn but also that he has much to say that’s very original.  It’s also a piece filled with lots of humor and a beautiful second movement that’s very much inspired by the Italian operatic traditions because one of his teachers was Antonio Salieri, very influential.

On Sunday, at Davies you’ll be performing a very special chamber music concert which includes the Shostakovich “Piano Quintet in G minor, Opus 57 and the Dvorak “Piano Trio No 4 in E Minor, Opus 90.”  The third movement of the Shostakovich is this amazing scherzo and trio that has a kind of dark sarcasm to it.  What’s your favorite part of this piece?

Kirill Gerstein:  Well, I clearly like the entire piece.  You’re right, the third movement is a style of overt optimism, projected and fitting for the Soviet period but underneath anyone can detect this is not happy at all but quite the opposite.  This was a very common M.O. for Shostakovich…happiness on the face and darkness in the soul.

How do you prepare before a performance?  Is there some routine you adhere to?  

Kirill Gerstein:  I try not to subscribe to any routines because then you end up breaking the routine and it becomes all about that.  There’s a lot to coordinate—your own travel schedule, rehearsal times vary, the pieces are all varied.  Trying to have a routine is a very futile undertaking.  And the preparing, well, the performance is really a window into something that’s a very continuous process that I think about all the time.  I practice the piano whether there is or is not a concert.  Of course, a public performance brings a wonderful inspiration to the performer who has his life in music.

You have an ongoing collaboration with Charles Detoit, who will be conducting this Thursday.  You obviously have a special rapport.  What clicks? 

Kirill Gerstein:  Well, I met Charles probably ten years ago and he has been a wonderfully supportive collaborator and mentor in quite a variety of repertoire—German, modern pieces, and now the Beethoven Concerto No. 2.  I really feel an established musical and personal connection with him and can say that he is someone who is always inspiring to be with.  Professionally, he’s very accomplished and generous.

Your new album, Imaginary Pictures, to be released June 10 by Myrios Classics, features Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and Schumann’s famous “Carnaval,” both cycles of piano pieces in which the visual was the departure point that fired the composers’ imaginations—in one case actual drawings by Victor Herman and the other, masked revelers at a party.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on your pairing of these magnificent works.  Also, in preparing for the recording, was there anything new you found in these works?

Kirill Gerstein:  There are several reasons to pair the two.  Certainly, they both have overtly visual starting points but it’s not just ‘simple paintings in sound,’ which is the obvious parallel.  Both composers go much deeper to create a psychological portrayal of how they viewed the subjects and ultimately it becomes more about them as observers.  The composers themselves were both self-taught and they had this kind of wild unbridled imagination in common which led to unexpected wonderful things appearing from nowhere.  They knew the academic and classical traditions very well but were always pushing the boundaries, so even though their music sounds quite different, the creative spirit is a kindred one.  And yes, the pieces are very popular but that wasn’t sufficient—unless there was something new and somewhat subjective and different to bring to the piece, there was no point to record it.  I decided to record them because, when I looked at the score on the page, some things appeared differently to me than I was used to hearing.  For example, in “Pictures at an Exhibition”—one of the most played pieces in the piano and orchestral repertoire—some things felt like discoveries to be explored.  Of course, the process of recording itself stimulates this feeling of discovery.

I heard that you wrote the liner notes for this album too.

Kirill Gerstein:  I did that for my previous cd too by the way.  Generally, I enjoy writing.   I’ve written for the gallery section of the New York Review of Books website and that’s something I intend to do more of as I enjoy the process.  To me, that’s part of being a well-rounded expressive person not just a pianist pressing buttons on a keyboard. (Click here to read Kirill Gerstein “Tchaikovsky’s ‘Wrong’ Note,” NYR Gallery, August 13, 2013.)  Specifically, this was also an invitation to think more about the pairing and what the music is trying to express, the philosophical territory.

Speaking of visual inspiration, many composers embrace other art forms for inspiration with their music.  What other art forms have you found strong inspiration in?

Kirill Gerstein:  In general, movement is inspiring, so dance is influential, but so are painting, poetry, prose and performances from great actors as well.  Architecture is something that is inspiring for thinking about music.  But these aren’t direct influences; they are indirect and after some time.  It’s letting myself  be inspired by the many things I encounter, like seeing a great sushi chef cut the fish with a fluid movement that repeated by his hand time and time again—that’s an aesthetic pleasure that has inspiration.  In the end, it’s about walking with your eyes open.

You won the Gilmore Artist Award in 2010, which is given every four years—one of the most prestigious and generous awards a concert pianist can receive. The cash prize of $300,000 stipulates that $250,000 is to be put toward “career development.”  I understand that you are putting that to use by commissioning works by living composers, including jazz composers.  Can you tell us a little about the pieces you’ve commissioned so far and what is in the works?  Do you have ongoing interaction with these musicians?

Kirill Gerstein:  I’ve purposefully chosen very different individuals.  There’s a great figure in modern music, Oliver Knussen, the British composer and conductor.  On the other hand, there’s the young up and coming American composer and pianist, Timo Andres. Andres’ “Old Friend” had its world premiere at Boston’s Jordan Hall on Jan 31, 2014 and I played the piece.  There have been a couple of jazz-related commissions—the great jazz pianists, Brad Mehldau and Chick Corea, have both written pieces for me.  The idea was to pass this money on to other artists, in this case composers, and in return, to get an artwork that for the initial period is exclusive to my concert programs, an additional benefit.  Eventually, the pieces will be for each pianist to play and they will add variety and enrich the piano repertoire.  It’s been very rewarding being part of the impetus that gets new pieces created and out there.  The exchange between the music creator/composer is another source of inspiration and something that shows you how some of the great golden composers—Beethoven, Rachmaninoff—may have participated in that process of collaboration between composer and performer.

Did the composers you commissioned meet your expectations?

Kirill Gerstein:  I try not the have expectations.  I let myself be surprised not only by the composers but by life in general—it’s mentally more efficient.  I have been very satisfied with all of the works and inspired by the process.

Speaking of inspiration, what type of music do you listen to when you want to relax? 

Kirill Gerstein:  When I relax I don’t listen to music usually.  It’s such an intense process for me that it snaps me back into this very engaged mode.  And I don’t listen to background music either.

You started life in Russia, moved early to the States and now your parents live in Boston and you teach at Stuttgart’s Musikhochschule, and your wife, Noam, is from Tel Aviv.   Which place do you consider home and how do you define home?

Kirill Gerstein:  This is very philosophical and should be the subject of an entire interview but, having had this varied history, I feel at home in many places.  Obviously, you give up some feeling of being rooted but on the other hand what I’ve gained is being at home and comfortable in many places in the world and in different cultures and circles.  Something lost, something gained.

Have you ever been to the Wine Country where you’ll be preforming this Thursday?

Kirill Gerstein:  Yes I have.  I really enjoy the wine making region so this is a special dream and tickle. A lot of the wine that I particularly enjoy comes from this area.

 

Concert Details: For tickets and more information for Thursday’s Weill Hall performance “Dutoit Conducts Beethoven and Shostakovich”, click here.  Tickets can also be purchased in person tomorrow at the Green Music Center Box Office for this concert, at 7 PM, one hour in advance of the concert.  For the three San Francisco performances of the concert at Davies Hall, click here. For tickets and more information about Sunday’s Chamber music concert, click here.

 

 

June 4, 2014 Posted by | Chamber Music, Classical Music, Green Music Center | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment