ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

MTT, SF Symphony, and Mahler’s 9th—Friday magic!

MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas) stepping up to the podium for his third of four ovations at Davies Hall last night for Mahler’s Symphony No. 9.  San Francisco Symphony performs the Ninth two more times, on Saturday and Sunday, before MTT takes a leave of absence for heart surgery. Photo: Geneva Anderson

MTT delivered pure magic at Davies last night, directing San Francisco Symphony in a electrifying performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, that drew four ovations from the audience.  ARThound was lucky enough to have a seat in the front orchestra, third row, streaming the transcendent sound full on.  The Ninth, Mahler’s landmark last symphony, is a 90-minute-long emotional voyage through the passing of time that was composed when Mahler himself was coping with a serious heart condition.  He didn’t live long enough to ever rehearse or premiere it, passing in Vienna in May 1911 at age 50.  Of course, times are different now.  Two weeks ago, it was announced that MTT, 74, will take a leave of absence from June 17 through September 3 to have (unspecified) cardiac surgery in Cleveland for a chronic condition and to rest up before embarking on his 25th season with SFS.  This will be his final season before turning over the reins to Esa-Pekka Salonen.

MTT has often said that the whole purpose of his music-making is passing things on.  In January 1974, he made his conducting debut with SFS with Mahler’s Ninth.  Under MTT, SF Symphony has won seven Grammy Awards for its recordings of Mahler Symphonies 3,6,7,8, and 10.  Last night, he looked weary but connected deeply with his orchestra, often guiding them with ever slight gestures such as the wriggling of a finger and they responded with a performance that we felt in our hearts and bones. Good luck MTT!

Details:  SF Symphony performs Mahler’s Ninth on Saturday, June 15, at 8pm and Sunday, June 16, at 2pm.  For tickets and more information, click here.

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June 15, 2019 Posted by | Classical Music | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco Symphony performs at Weill Hall Thursday night—the magnificent Mozart “Sinfonia” is on the program

San Francisco Symphony principal violist, Jonathan Vinocour, will solo, along with Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik, in Mozart’s magnificent “Sinfonia concertante” on Thursday evening at Weill Hall. Vinocour joined SFS as Principal Violist in 2009, having previously served as principal violist of the Saint Louis Symphony and guest principal of the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig. He plays a 1784 Lorenzo Storioni viola, on loan from SFS. Vinocour and Barantschik have never together performed this virtuosic double Mozart concerto for viola and violin. SFS’s final concert at Weill Hall will also include Samuel Adams “Radial Play” and Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra.” Photo: Eyegotcha

It’s old news by now but, after two seasons of glorious performances at Green Music Center (GMC), San Francisco Symphony (SFS) is not returning to Weill Hall.  Our loss.  The reason, straight from SFS—despite the best efforts to build an audience for the series, attendance was very inconsistent and did not build to a level that could sustain further appearances at Weill Hall.  I can’t understand how we in the North Bay let this slip through our hands as every SFS performance in Weill Hall was magical, not to mention incredibly convenient.  SFS’ final scheduled concert at Weill Hall is this Thursday, “MTT Conducts Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra,” a wonderful mix of challenging classical and contemporary music featuring awe-inspiring solos and the famed MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas) at the helm.

SFS Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik and Principal Viola Jonathan Vinocour will solo in Mozart’s “Sinfonia concertante for Violin and Viola.”  Then, SFS will perform Bartók’s brilliant five movement “Concerto for Orchestra” in which each section of instruments solos. Rounding out the program will be Samuel Adams’ six minute “Radial Play,” which was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and premiered by the National Youth Orchestra in July 2014.  Adams, who lives in Oakland, is the son of composer John Adams and photographer Deborah O’Grady.   His modern “Drift and Providence” was performed at Weill Hall in 2012 and his career has been championed enthusiastically by MTT.

ARThound is particularly excited about the “Sinfonia concertante,” which Mozart composed in 1779, in Salzburg. Violists, who have been somewhat shorted in showcase repertory, have long sung the praises of this piece as the closest Mozart came to writing a viola concerto. The 30 minute piece is scored in three movements with very prominent viola and violin solos and is one of Mozart’s more recognizable works, showing up in several movies and even in William Styron’s famous novel Sophie’s Choice (when adult Sophie, who is plagued by PTSD, hears the “Sinfonia concertante” on the radio, she is transported back to her childhood in Krakow).

Principal violist Jonathan Vinocour, who has been with SFS for six years now, has never before played the Sinfonia with SFS.  He’s been practicing at home for hours on end for the past 10 days and the Weill Hall audience will be the second audience to hear him play it, after the Davies Hall performance on Wednesday evening. “All three movements of the piece are wonderful — it’s Mozart, after all — but it’s the second movement, the Andante, that people usually remember most,” said Vinocour.  “Mozart sets up an intricate conversation between the viola and the violin, almost like a couple talking. It’s very emotional, but also a quintessential piece of musical one-up-manship that continues into the third movement.”

Vinocour and Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik were soloists together in June 2013, when they played Benjamin Britten’s “Double Concerto for Violin and Viola” and they have also performed many chamber concerts together.  “Sasha [Barantschik] and I have such a familiarity with each other’s style, we enjoy the parts of the piece that are more spontaneous. We don’t plot out every detail, because the Sinfonia should come out sounding elegant and graceful, but also free-feeling and very natural.”   

It took SFS Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik about a year to get comfortable with

It took SFS Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik about a year to get comfortable with “David,” the famous1742 Guarnerius del Gesú that was Jascha Heifetz’ favorite fiddle on stage and in the recording studio. Barantschik admires the way sound projects from the violin so that even while he is playing softly, the instrument can be heard throughout the concert hall. The violin rarely leaves Davies Symphony Hall, EXCEPT when it travels to the Green Music Center or to the Mondavi Center. Photo: Geneva Anderson

For more insight, ARThound turned to San Francisco Symphony violist Wayne Roden of Cotati, who auditioned for the SFS with this Mozart piece in 1973, 42 years ago.

“Back when I auditioned, the solo piece that was asked for was Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante, which Jonathan and Sasha will be playing. In years since then, the repertoire for solo pieces has often included a choice of either the Bartók or Walton Concerto, and sometimes Hindemith’s Der Schwanendreher.  These 20th century pieces are very virtuosic, but the Mozart is required because it really shows you a tremendous amount about how someone plays. Musicians sweat blood over playing Mozart. I’ve sat on many audition committees, and have heard a lot of violists who played the hell out of the Bartók or the Walton–but within two lines of the Mozart, you can tell whether they’re good enough. A musician is really exposed in Mozart, more than in any music other than Bach, because of the nakedness of the musical expression.”

By the way, few will lament the loss of SFS at Weill Hall more than SFS’ three Sonoma County musicians (Roden, percussionist Tom Hemphill and bass player Chris Gilbert) who were saved the grueling commute to and from Davies Hall when SFS performed in Sonoma County.

Details: SFS will perform “MTT conducts “MTT Conducts Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra” at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall on Thursday, May 21, 2015, 8 PM.  Tickets: $20-$115, at sfsymphony.org or 415-864-6000.

Prepare yourself:

To read ARThound’s interview with SFS Concertmaster, Alexander Barantschik, on his January  2014 performance at Weill Hall, where he performed Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto in D Minor,” click here.

A free podcast about Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra is online at sfsymphony.org/podcasts.

May 20, 2015 Posted by | Classical Music, Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SoundBox—SF Symphony’s new space for musical experimentation

The atmosphere Saturday night at the opening of SoundBox, San Francisco’s Symphony’s new experimental space for music.  Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro” performed by Alexander Barantschik, Dan Carlson, Jonathan Vinocour, Amos Young, Tim Day, Carey Bell, Doug Rioth.  Video projections by Adam Larsen.  Photo: courtesy SFS

The atmosphere Saturday night at the opening of SoundBox, San Francisco’s Symphony’s new experimental space for music. Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro” performed by Alexander Barantschik, Dan Carlson, Jonathan Vinocour, Amos Young, Tim Day, Carey Bell, Doug Rioth. Video projections by Adam Larsen. Photo: courtesy SFS

Christmas started early for ARThound when a dear friend invited me to Saturday night’s unveiling of SoundBox, MTT’s (Michael Tilson Thomas’) and San Francisco Symphony’s (SFS) newest venture.  SoundBox was designed to fill a gap in Bay Area music scene by providing an experimental space where anything musical can happen and to engage a younger, hipper audience with SFS and serious music.  Judging from Saturday’s thrilling reception which enthralled its sellout crowd of 450, Soundbox will do all that and more.  It also seems poised to give our brilliant but nerdy MTT some street swagger, the kind of coolness cred that he’s been aching for while collecting all those Grammies for classical recordings.  If you haven’t heard, SoundBox is a huge refurbished music space at 300 Franklin Street (in San Francisco). Formerly known as Zellerbach A, it was one of SFS’s most dour on-site rehearsal spaces, ironically renowned for its dead sound.

With generous patron funding and the board’s desire to revision SFS’ audience outreach, the cavernous space was entirely revamped.  Berkeley’s Meyer Sound was engaged to install its patented multi-speaker “Constellation” system, transforming the space into a virtual sound lab.  Now, with the push of touchscreen button, the venue can seamlessly tweak its acoustics (reverberation and decay times) for various pieces in a performance allowing otherworldly sounds to emerge from its tremendously talented SFS musicians and choral members.  Add state-of-the-art video projection capacity, making for an incredible visual experience, sleek quilted leather ottoman and low tables (even the furnishings will be tweaked with each performance), a fully-stocked bar serving thematic cocktails and innovative cuisine—wella! SoundBox has the grit of an European art house, the verve of a sophisticated nightclub, the acoustics of a world class concert hall, and, as if it needs to be said, the world’s best musicians playing tunes exquisitely curated by MTT.

Combining the excitement of an art happening with the verve of a sophisticated nightclub, the acoustics of a world class concert hall, and adventurous music spanning ten centuries, Saturday night’s opening of SoundBox will be long remembered. Photo: courtesy SFS.

Combining the excitement of an art happening with the verve of a sophisticated nightclub, the acoustics of a world class concert hall, and adventurous music spanning ten centuries, Saturday night’s opening of SoundBox will be long remembered. Photo: courtesy SFS.

On Saturday, 7:45PM, the crowd was already lining up on Franklin Street.  The buzz: no one knew exactly what to expect but we were all excited by the program we’d read about online and the promise of road-testing something completely new.  The pre-concert hour was dedicated to John Cage, who believed that every sound can be music, and featured a musical feast of his “Branches,” featuring electronically amplified giant cacti, and “Inlets” which coaxed sounds from shells filled with water that gurgled when moved and from amplified burning pinecones.  As people entered the darkened foyer of Soundbox and were confronted with Cage’s music, they passed by a curious gallery space, specially curated by MTT, that included beautifully lit minimalist arrays of  live cacti, a table of sea shells in a pool of water and colorful huge multi-layered projections of cacti.  Wow…felt like entering one of those East European art happenings I’d covered in the 1980’s.  Once we passed through a closed black door,  we entered the spacious main hall, which offered a hip but relaxed atmosphere—two low wooden platforms served stages and lots of low leather seating that could be easily re-arranged.   People were free to amble about and get a drink or just settle in and get busy with their phones and texting.

The inaugural run, called “Extremities,” kicked off dramatically with “Stella splendens in monte,” a brief anonymous Spanish work (local composer Mason Bates contributed the percussion arrangements.)  The SFS chorus, in flowing robes, entered from the back of the hall, and made a dramatic procession to the stage, their lyrical voices swelling to fill every corner of the space.  As they passed by each of us, we got a sampling of each singer’s individual voice.  From there, it only got better—a very well-thought sonic and visual feast was about to unfold and we were ravenous for it.  The audience snapped their fingers, clapped, yowled and tossed their exquisite locks…and the musicians beamed with pride.  A glowing MTT looked like he’d dropped a decade as he engaged with the audience in a very heartfelt way, talking about musical choices and the potential of the space.

Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood,” performed by members of the SF Symphony Percussion Section at SoundBox.  From L to R: Tom Hemphill (from Sonoma County), James Lee Wyatt III, Victor Avdienko, Jacob Nissly, Raymond Froehlich. Photo: courtesy SFS

Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood,” performed by members of the SF Symphony
Percussion Section at SoundBox. From L to R: Tom Hemphill (from Sonoma County), James Lee Wyatt III, Victor Avdienko, Jacob Nissly, Raymond Froehlich. Photo: courtesy SFS

Highpoints for ARThound:  Steve Reich’s minimalist “Music for Pieces of Wood” featured five SFS percussionists with tuned hardwood claves creating a pulsing bed of rhythmically complex continuous sound.  This reminded me of the miraculous frog concerto I am treated to in my pond in Sonoma County every time a serious storm blows through.  After 8 minutes of this mesmerizing sound, which was accompanied by projections of Adam Larsen’s images of a New York skyline, we were all in trance mode.  When it ended, and everyone stopped playing, we were left with a very perceptible silence, a void in the acoustic atmosphere that left us all profoundly aware of the power of sound to inflate and deflate the psyche.

Ravel’s exquisite “Introduction and Allegro” (1905) shimmered and glowed when played by a small ensemble of seven SFS musicians including principal harpist Douglas Rioth and concertmaster Sasha Barantschik whose beloved 1742 Guarnerius del Gesù (“The David”) cast a spell over the audience, some of whom swept away tears.  The chamber piece showcased the space’s ability to tease out nuances in the contrasting sonorities.  The velvety woodwinds, the percussive harp and the warm resonance of the strings were all so clear, so distinct, that I felt I was getting a personal introduction to the possibilities of these instruments.

One of the evening’s hip visuals was the Nordic visual art pioneer, Steina’s (Steina Vasulka’s), seven minute video, “Voice Windows” (1986), featuring the voice of Joan La Barbara.  The short engrossing film was co-presented by SFS and SFMOMA and points to the limitless possibilities for future collaboration in a space like this.  Since the early 1970’s, Steina, in collaboration with Woody Vasulka, has explored intricate transformations of vision, space and sound, through digital technologies, mechanical devices and natural landscape. “Voice Windows” was an exquisite and haunting example of her artistry in manipulating digital and camera-generated images and layering that with “real” and altered sound.

Beaming MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas) conducts members of the SF Symphony and Chorus in Monteverdi’s “Magnificat” (1610) from “Vespro della Beata Vergine.”  Photo: courtesy SFS

Beaming MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas) conducts members of the SF Symphony and Chorus in Monteverdi’s “Magnificat” (1610) from “Vespro della Beata Vergine.” Photo: courtesy SFS

After two intermissions, the evening closed with Monteverdi’s glorious “Magnificat” (1610) from Vespro della Beata Vergine.  It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and is taken directly from the Gospel of Luke where the Virgin Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with the future John the Baptist.  When Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith, Mary sings the “Magnificat” in response.  Talk about immersive—the 19 minute piece featured soloists, the chorus and orchestra, all in rapturous splendor with gorgeous golden-hued projections of a Venetian church enhancing the mood.

Details: The next Sound Box performance, “Curiosities,” is January 9 and 10th, 2015.  Doors open at 8 PM and performance starts at 9 PM.  Tickets on sale now: $25 for open seating.  The space accommodates 450 and will sell out quickly.  The SoundBox website is not working correctly. Call the SFS Box office (415) 864-6000 to purchase tickets.  SoundBox is located at 300 Franklin Street, San Francisco, CA.  Parking: (is hell) Performing Arts Garage (360 Grove Street) or Civic Center Garage (between Polk, Larkin, Grove and McAllister).

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Art, Chamber Music, Classical Music, Jazz Music, SFMOMA, Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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)

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

MTT conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 with the San Francisco Symphony, mezzo Sasha Cooke, the SFS Chorus, and the San Francisco Girls Chorus

Grammy winning mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke guest solos with MTT and San Francisco Symphony this week in three performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3.  Cooke appeared this summer at San Francisco Opera in the world premiere of Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Seen worldwide as Kitty Oppenheimer in the Met Opera and Grammy® Award-winning DVD of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic, Cooke is renowned for her command of Romantic and Contemporary repertoire.  Photo: Dario Acosta

Grammy winning mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke guest solos with MTT and San Francisco Symphony this week in three performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Cooke appeared this summer at San Francisco Opera in the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Seen worldwide as Kitty Oppenheimer in the Met Opera and Grammy® Award-winning DVD of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic, Cooke is renowned for her command of Romantic and Contemporary repertoire. Photo: Dario Acosta

Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony in D Minor, the most expansive of his ten symphonies, is a cosmological tour de force.  Full of magic and mystery, it’s the musical journey of Nature coming to life, at first through flowers and animals and then on up to man, the angels and the love of God.  This Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) conducts the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke, the SFS Chorus, and the San Francisco Girls Chorus in this rarely performed epic—in six movements grouped into two parts—which clocks in at roughly 90 minutes, earning it the distinction of the longest symphony in the standard repertoire.   It almost goes without saying that MTT has sealed his reputation on Mahler.  In 2001, SFS and MTT launched the Mahler Project and recorded the balance of Mahler’s major works for voices, chorus and orchestra picking up four Grammys in the process.  The Symphony No. 3 and Kindertotenlieder recording won the 2004 Grammy for Best Classical Album.  Of course, nothing compares to the magic of a live MTT/SFS Mahler performance.  Whether it’s your first or 50th time, each performance reflects a constantly evolving understanding of the composer’s genius and complexities.

Michael Tilson Thomas with the bust of Gustav Mahler at the Weiner Staatsoper (Vienna Opera House) during the filming of the acclaimed "Keeping Score" series in which MTT mapped the actual geography of Mahler’s life. Photo: Courtesy SFS

Michael Tilson Thomas with the bust of Gustav Mahler at the Weiner Staatsoper (Vienna Opera House) during the filming of the acclaimed “Keeping Score” series in which MTT mapped the actual geography of Mahler’s life. Photo: Courtesy SFS

At Monday’s press conference announcing the 2014-15 season, Tilson Thomas, could not recall how many times SFS has played the work during his 19 year tenure as Music Director (3 times—1997, 2002 and 2011) but he did speak about the joys of revisiting Mahler— “I think of these pieces, these big symphonies, like the Mahler, are like National Parks that we love and we come back to.  We all know the map of the park.  I have the complete map and others on stage have the intricate trail maps of one path or another.  But no matter how much you look at the map of that, when you are actually on the trail, it’s a different thing every time—the nature and character of the piece will vary according to where you are in your life and what you’ve experienced and with whom you are on the trail.  Sometimes, you’ll stop and smell the mimosas and other times, you’ll press ahead to get to the view of the glacier.”

The San Francisco Girls Chorus includes 400 singers from 45 Bay Area cities.  In 2008-2009, the Chorus sang at the swearing in of President Barak Obama and can also be heard of several SFS recordings, including the Grammy winning Mahler Symphony No. 3.  Photo:  SFS

The San Francisco Girls Chorus includes 400 singers from 45 Bay Area cities. In 2008-2009, the Chorus sang at the swearing in of President Barak Obama and can also be heard of several SFS recordings, including the Grammy winning Mahler Symphony No. 3. Photo: SFS

Mahler wrote his Third Symphony between 1893 and 96, when he was in his mid-thirties.  When the German composer and conductor Bruno Walter, visited Mahler at his composing hut in Steinbach am Attersee, Austria (some twenty miles east of Salzburg), he wrote in his memoirs that he looked up at the sheer cliffs of the colossal Höllengebirge and Mahler told him “No need to look up there any more—that’s all been used up and set to music by me.”  This immense rockface inspired the introductory theme of the first movement—a grand unison chant for eight horns evoking the primitive forces of nature.  A offstage horn, also figures prominently in the third movement.  Heard floating in the distance, a melancholy haunting solo imitating an old posthorn or valveless coach horn creates one of Mahler’s soulfully nostalgic moments.

Grammy winner, mezzo Sasha Cooke, was radiant as Mary last summer in the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene at San Francisco Opera.   In the summer of 2013, she performed Mahler’s Second Symphony with MTT and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. Her expressive and rich voice should be a good match for the dark fourth movement, a Nietzsche text that is sung against heavy strings.  By contrast, the fifth movement is light and will feature the voice of angels—women of the SFS Chorus in three part chorus, joined later by the San Francisco Girls Chorus who enter creating lovely bell like noises and join in the exhortation “Liebe nur Gott”(“Only love God”).   The symphony ends with an adagio, softly walking the edge of the sound and silence.

Cellist Margaret Tait joined SFS in 1974 and is one of the orchestra’s most tenured musicians.  When she plays Mahler’s No. 3, she pulls out her personal card which has markings and memories from previous performances and then “gets down to teaching her fingers how to do that.”  Tate especially likes the middle sections of No. 3 which are “light and very songful.”  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Cellist Margaret Tait joined SFS in 1974 and is one of the orchestra’s most tenured musicians. When she plays Mahler’s No. 3, she pulls out her music which has markings and memories from previous performances and then “gets down to reviewing the part and honing the upcoming performance.” Tait especially likes the middle sections of No. 3 which are “light and very songful.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Cellist Margaret Tait (Lyman & Carol Casey Second Century Chair) has been with SFS since 1974 and currently heads the SFS Players Committee.  At Monday’s press conference, she said.  “We in the orchestra have a deep pool of shared experience, of performing this repertoire on world stages.  When we come to a piece again like the Mahler’s Third Symphony, we can enter the performance with a feeling of security, of asking ‘What can we bring to the work right now that is new and fresh?’  We rely on our deep knowledge of the piece and our understanding of it over years.  This is the only time I’ve had a relationship with a music director that has lasted 20 years.  The orchestra and MTT have been through a lot together and it’s been a wonderful journey for the orchestra. There’s a sense that what we do is deeply American and very adventuresome. ”

Details: “MTT Conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony” is Thursday (Feb 27) at 8PM; Saturday (March 1) at 8 PM and Sunday (March 2) at 2 PM at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco.  Tickets: $30 to $162; purchase online here, or, call (415) 864-6000.  For more information, visit www.sfsymphony.org.

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 around 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 Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

February 25, 2014 Posted by | Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gordon Getty’s 80th Birthday concert with Plácido Domingo, Frederica von Stade, MTT and the San Francisco Symphony, January 6, 2014, at Davies Symphony Hall

Gordon Getty thanking the crowd for his “Happy Birthday” serenade, enthusiastically sung by the Davies audience, SFS Chorus, accompanied by SFS  (son Billy Getty is to the right).  Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Gordon Getty thanking the crowd for his “Happy Birthday” serenade, enthusiastically sung by the Davies audience and SFS Chorus, accompanied by SFS (son Billy Getty is to the right; step-mother Teddy Getty Gaston in green and wife Ann Getty sporting a huge emerald broach by JAR (from Gordon) to her right). Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus in the world premiere of Gordon Getty’s A Prayer for My Daughter.  Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus in the world premiere of Gordon Getty’s “A Prayer for My Daughter.” Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Gordon Getty on stage at Davies Symphony Hall after the world premiere his new work, “A Prayer for My Daughter.”  Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Gordon Getty on stage at Davies Symphony Hall after the world premiere his new work, “A Prayer for My Daughter.” Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Plácido Domingo returned  to perform with the SFS for the first time since his debut with the Orchestra more than forty years ago—a 1973 performance of Verdi’s Requiem with then-Music Director Edo de Waart.   From the moment he stepped on stage to conduct Strauss’ “Overture to Die Fledermaus,” Domingo generated a buoyant high that carried Gordon Getty’s 80th birthday celebration.  When he sang “Di Provenza il mar, il suol” from Verdi’s “La Traviata,” the audience went wild. The Spanish tenor (who turns 73 on January 21, 2014) has sung 144 operatic roles and is currently the General Director of the Los Angeles Opera.  Photo: IPS

Plácido Domingo returned to perform with the SFS for the first time since his debut with the Orchestra more than forty years ago—a 1973 performance of Verdi’s Requiem with then-Music Director Edo de Waart. From the moment he stepped on stage to conduct Strauss’ “Overture to Die Fledermaus,” Domingo generated a buoyant high that carried the celebration. When he sang “Di Provenza il mar, il suol” from Verdi’s “La Traviata,” the audience went wild. Getty later told the audience that Domingo had once performed the entire second Act of “La Traviata” for him in his home. The Spanish tenor (who turns 73 on January 21, 2014) has sung 144 operatic roles and is currently the General Director of the Los Angeles Opera. Photo: IPS

Frederica von Stade (“Flicka”) and Plácido Domingo’s “Lippen schweigen” duet from Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” concluded with a delightful waltz.  Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Frederica von Stade (“Flicka”) and Plácido Domingo’s “Lippen schweigen” duet from Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” concluded with a delightful waltz. Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Pianist Robin Sutherland and soprano Lisa Delan performed Gordon Getty’s “Four Dickinson Songs” which included the beloved “A Bird Came Down the Walk” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” Getty has been enthralled with Emily Dickinson since his college days and in 2012 released “The White Election,” (written in 1981), a song cycle on 32 Dickinson poems, sung by Delan. Getty’s collaboration with Delan began in the 1998 when she sang the title role in the world premiere of his "Joan and the Bells," a role she has since reprised in France, Germany, the U.S., and Russia. Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Pianist Robin Sutherland and soprano Lisa Delan performed Gordon Getty’s “Four Dickinson Songs” which included the beloved “A Bird Came Down the Walk” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” Getty has been enthralled with Emily Dickinson since his college days and in 2012 released “The White Election,” (written in 1981), a song cycle on 32 Dickinson poems, sung by Delan. Getty’s collaboration with Delan began in the 1998 when she sang the title role in the world premiere of his “Joan and the Bells,” a role she has since reprised in France, Germany, the U.S., and Russia. Photo: Moanalani Jeffrey Photography

Urns of fragrant red roses adorned the lobby of Davies Symphony Hall for Gordon Getty’s 80th Birthday bash.  Getty has served on the SFS Board of Governors since 1979.  During his tenure, he and his wife, Ann, have provided leadership and generous support for some the Symphony’s most important initiatives, including the acoustic renovation of Davies Symphony Hall in 1990, the Grammy award-winning Mahler recording cycle, and the Orchestra’s international tours.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Urns of fragrant red roses adorned the lobby of Davies Symphony Hall for Gordon Getty’s 80th Birthday bash. Getty has served on the SFS Board of Governors since 1979. During his tenure, he and his wife, Ann, have provided leadership and generous support for some the Symphony’s most important initiatives, including the acoustic renovation of Davies Symphony Hall in 1990, the Grammy award-winning Mahler recording cycle, and the Orchestra’s international tours. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Grammy Time!  Davies sparkled with cabinets displaying San Francisco Symphony wins.  Last year’s Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance for its live recording of works by Bay Area composer John Adams added up to the 15th Grammy for San Francisco Symphony.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Grammy Time! Davies sparkled with cabinets displaying San Francisco Symphony wins. Last year’s Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance for its live recording of works by Bay Area composer John Adams added up to the 15th Grammy for San Francisco Symphony. Photo: Geneva Anderson

January 10, 2014 Posted by | Classical Music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco Symphony performs with MTT at Weill Hall this Thursday, September 12, 2013

Grammy award-winning pianist Yefim Bronfman, or “Fima,” performs with SFS at Weill Hall on September 12, 2013.  No stranger to the Wine Country, the passionate pianist has a wine named after him—Fimasaurus—a blend of cabernet and merlot produced by John Kongsgaard in Napa Valley.  Chocolate, cassis, and saddle leather lead its aromatic profile. Photo: Dario Acosta

Grammy award-winning pianist Yefim Bronfman, or “Fima,” performs with SFS at Weill Hall on September 12, 2013. No stranger to the Wine Country, the passionate pianist has a wine named after him—Fimasaurus—a blend of cabernet and merlot produced by John Kongsgaard in Napa Valley. Chocolate, cassis, and saddle leather lead its aromatic profile. Photo: Dario Acosta

As an appetizer to the delights that await us at Weill Hall in its second year, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) heads North this Thursday, September 12, for “MTT conducts Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1,” the first in a four concert series at Green Music Center (GMC) scheduled for the 2013-14 season.  In his only GMC performance this season, Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), who became SFS Music Director in 1985, will lead SFS in a program that includes the highly-anticipated West Coast premiere of young Canadian conductor Zosha Di Castri’s “Lineage.”  Di Castri, 28, is the first recipient of a New Voices Commission a program conceived of by MTT in collaboration with SFS, the New World Symphony Orchestra and publishing house Boosey & Hawkes.  The headliner is renowned guest pianist, Yefim Bronfman, who joins SFS for Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, one of the musical icons of Russian Romanticism and one of Bronfman’s signature offerings. SFS also plays Prokofiev’s otherworldly, outrageous, and over-the-top Third Symphony, based on material from the composer’s daring opera The Fiery Angel.

Program—Michael Tilson Thomas conducts SFS, with guest artist Yefim Bronfman

Zosha Di Castri

Lineage (New Voices Commission)

Tchaikovsky

Piano Concerto No. 1

Prokofiev

Symphony No. 3

Concert is approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, including intermission

Inside Music at 7 PM:   Composer Zosha Di Castri and Peter Grunberg, musical consultant to SFS and Musical Assistant to MTT, will give an informative talk.  Free to ticketholders.

Yefim Bronfman— Affectionately known as Fima, Yefim Bronfman has been a frequent guest of the San Francisco Symphony since 1984.  He last performed with MTT and the Orchestra at Davies Symphony Hall and the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University in December 2012 in concerts of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5. Among his recent recordings is one of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 with Mariss Jansons and the Bayerischer Rundfunk (2007) on Sony. He performed Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No. 2, commissioned for him, with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic and released on the Da Capo label. This year The Wall Street Journal praised Bronfman as “a fearless pianist for whom no score is too demanding,” and added, “…a more poetic touch has lately complemented his brawny prowess.”

Zosha Di Castri talks with Jeff Kaliss of San Francisco Classical Voice about “Lineage.” Video by Beth Hondi

Zosha Di Castri— The inaugural New Voices composer, Zosha Di Castri is a Canadian composer and pianist living in New York. She is currently pursuing doctoral studies in composition at Columbia University, studying with Fred Lerdahl and teaching composition, electronic music, and music history.  Her work has been performed in Canada, the US, and Europe by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Internationale Ensemble Modern Akademie, L’Orchestre de la Francophonie, the NEM, JACK Quartet, L’Orchestre national de Lorraine, members of the L.A. Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Talea Ensemble.  She has participated in residencies at the Banff Center, Domaine Forget, the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne’s Forum, and the National Arts Centre’s summer program.  She was named a laureate of the 3rd International Composer’s Competition for the Hamburger Klangwerktage Festival, won two SOCAN Foundation awards for her chamber music in 2011, and in 2012, tied for the John Weinzweig Grand Prize for her first orchestra piece Alba, commissioned by John Adams and Deborah O’Grady and premiered at the Cabrillo Festival in 2011. Recently, her work Cortège garnered her the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music.

Di Castri’s work includes interdisciplinary collaborations in the realms of electronic music, sound installation, video, performance art, and contemporary dance. Her latest mixed-media works include Akkord I for flute, piano, electronics, and large sculpture, and a collaboration with choreographer Thomas Hauert of the ZOO Contemporary Dance Company on a new piece for electronics and dance at Ircam in Paris. She is also creating a new evening-length work for ICE in collaboration with David Adamcyk for ICElab 2014.

 

Details:  “MTT conducts Tchaikovsky” is September 12, 2013 at 8 PM at Green Music Center. Tickets $156-$20.   Advance ticket purchase for SFS at Green Music Center must be made through the SFS Box Office Box Office at (415) 864-6000 or online here.  You can choose your seat yourself only by phone; if you purchase tickets in advance online, best available seating will be assigned.  Tickets can also be purchased on September 12 in person at the Green Music Center Box Office one hour before the performance.   As of Tuesday morning, there was amply orchestra seating available.

For more information about San Francisco Symphony, visit http://www.sfsymphony.org/index.aspx

For more information about the Green Music Center, visit www.gmc.edu.

September 9, 2013 Posted by | Green Music Center, Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let the Party Begin! San Francisco Symphony’s Open Night Gala is Tuesday September 3, 2013 with Broadway Superstar Audra McDonald as guest soloist

American soprano and Broadway and television star Audra McDonald is the guest soloist at San Francisco Symphony’s 2013 Opening Night Gala on September 3, 2013.  McDonald, who hails from Fresno, is a 5-time Tony Award and 2-time Grammy winner. Photo: Autumn de Wilde

American soprano and Broadway and television star Audra McDonald is the guest soloist at San Francisco Symphony’s 2013 Opening Night Gala on September 3, 2013. McDonald, who hails from Fresno, is a 5-time Tony Award and 2-time Grammy winner. Photo: Autumn de Wilde

The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) opens its 102nd season with its always stellar, always glamorous Opening Night Gala at Davies Symphony Hall on Tuesday, September 3, 2013.   This year, Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFS Orchestra will host guest soloist Audra McDonald for the evening’s concert of gems from the classic American songbook including hits from My Fair Lady and West Side Story.  If you’ve never heard McDonald’s luminous soprano or experienced the way she energetically embraces an audience, you’re in for a treat.  And glittering Davies on a party night is a spectacle to behold.  The evening kicks off long before the concert—there’s a 5PM cocktail reception, followed at 6PM by four simultaneous dinners: the Patrons’ Dinner inside of Louise M. Davies Tent Pavilion (sold-out); the Wattis Room Dinner (accommodates 70); the Symphony Supper inside of the Grand Rotunda-City Hall (accommodates 300); and the Symphonix Dinner inside of City Hall’s North Light Court (accommodates 200).  All of the dinner packages include preferred seating for the performance. Guests who don’t opt for those packages will have their choice of 1st Tier seating for $295 or 2nd Tier for $160 and will have access to complimentary wine reception in the stunning hall before the concert, and a hopping after-party (~ 10PM) in the Tent Pavilion and on Grove Street, with live music, dancing, food, and an open bar (all included in the ticket price).  One of San Francisco’s most  important social events, the gala’s proceeds benefit the Orchestra’s artistic, community, and education programs, which provide music education to more than 75,000 Bay Area school children each year.

2013 OPENING NIGHT GALA CONCERT PROGRAM:

Michael Tilson Thomas conductor
Audra McDonald soprano
San Francisco Symphony

Antheil Jazz Symphony
Bernstein/Comden & Green “A Little Bit in Love” from Wonderful Town
Bernstein/Sondheim “Somewhere” from West Side Story
Bernstein/Comden & Green “A Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man” from Wonderful Town
Bernstein/Lerner “My House” from Peter Pan and “Take Care of This House” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (Medley)
Kander/Ebb “First You Dream” from Steel Pier
Edwards “He Plays the Violin” from 1776
Styne/Merrill “The Music that Makes Me Dance” from Funny Girl
Styne/Comden & Green “Make Someone Happy” from Do Re Mi
Loewe/Lerner “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady
Gershwin An American in Paris

Singer and actress Audra McDonald (now 42) became a three-time Tony Award winner by the age of 28 for her performances in Carousel, Master Class, and Ragtime, placing her alongside Shirley Booth, Gwen Verdon and Zero Mostel by accomplishing this feat within five years. She won her fourth in 2004 for her role in A Raisin in the Sun, a role she reprised for a 2008 television adaptation, earning her a second Emmy Award nomination. On June 10, 2012, McDonald scored her fifth Tony Award win for her portrayal of Bess in Broadway’s The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess tying a record held by Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris for most Tony Awards won by an actor.  She also maintains her ties to classical repertoire with an active concert and recording career, performing song cycles and operas as well as concerts throughout the U.S.

McDonald first appeared with the SFS at the 1998 Opening Gala, performing songs by George Gershwin.  A few weeks later, she joined the SFS on tour to open Carnegie Hall’s season with a special Gershwin 100th Birthday Celebration. The performance with the SFS marked her Carnegie Hall debut, and was both broadcast as a PBS Great Performances special and recorded for RCA Red Label.

McDonald’s recent television appearances include four seasons as fertility specialist Naomi Bennett on the ABC series “Private Practice.”  Her film roles include Cradle Will Rock, Object of My Affection, It Runs in the Family, Best Thief in the World, and Seven Servants.

McDonald’s first solo album in seven years, Go Back Home, was released May 21, 2013 and includes songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, Adam Gwon and other composers.

SFS FALL CONCERTS. The San Francisco Symphony’s fall concert season includes MTT and the Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 (Sept 18, 19, 20, 21) and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in January during the Beethoven-Bates Festival.  Composer Thomas Adès will perform with members of the Orchestra on October 3, 2013 during the Mendelssohn-Adès Festival, in a new chamber music program featuring two of his own compositions.  A Halloween week of Alfred Hitchcock films includes the first-ever screenings with live orchestra of the film Vertigo (November 1), and Psycho (October 30). In November, R&B balladeer Natalie Cole sings with SFS.  There are a number of holiday concerts and chamber music programs as well.  In March, the stupendous French soprano, Natalie Dessay, will appear in recital.

SFS at Weill Hall:  MTT conducts Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall on Thursday, September 12, 2013.  Stay-tuned to ARThound for subsequent coverage of SFS at Weill Hall.  Due to the popularity of performances conducted by MTT, this concert, the only appearance of MTT at Weill Hall this season, is expected to sell-out, so advance ticket purchase is highly-recommended.  In addition to special guest pianist Yefim Bronfman playing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, one of his signature offerings, the concert also features the West Coast premiere of “Lineage” by young Canadian composer Zosha Di Castri.  The work was commissioned as part of the SFS New Voices partnership with the New World Symphony and Boosey & Hawkes. Tickets need to be purchased through SFS.

Details: The SFS 2013 Opening Gala is Tuesday, September 3, 2013.  Dinner packages can be purchased from the SFS Volunteer Council at (415) 503-5500.  All dinner reservations should be made by Saturday, August 31, 2013.  Concert tickets are $160 and $295 and include a complimentary pre-concert wine reception, as well as access to the after-party in the Tent Pavilion and on Grove Street. These tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 415-864-6000 or in person at the SFS box office located on Grove Street at Franklin Street.

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 and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.  This is the first operational day of the Bay Bridge and there may still be heavy traffic.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up gala week.  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 Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Symphony | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Yuja Wang—young, fun, impeccable—joins Michael Tilson Thomas & San Francisco Symphony at Green Music Center this Thursday, March 7, 2013

Chinese pianist Yuja Wang is known for her colorfully explosive playing.  She performs on the Green Music Center’s Steinway with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, Thursday, March 7, 2013, at Weill Hall.

Chinese pianist Yuja Wang is known for her colorfully explosive playing and tight, bright, short dresses. She performs on the Green Music Center’s Steinway with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, Thursday, March 7, 2013, at Weill Hall.

Yuja Wang, the young Chinese pianist legendary for her dazzling playing, performs at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall Thursday night with Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and the San Francisco Symphony (SFS).  The diverse program includes two well-known works— Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 and Brahms Symphony No. 1—and one modern piece, Samuel Carl Adams’ “Drift and Providence.”  Adams, a Brooklyn resident, is the 26-year-old son of composer John Adams, a part-time Sonoma Coast resident, who, along with SFS, won a 2103 Grammy Award in the category of Best Orchestral Performance for a live recording of Adams works.

 This is the third of four SFS concerts at Weill Hall this inaugural season and marks MTT’s second concert appearance at the Green Music Center (GMC).  At 26, Yuja Wang is the youngest musician to perform at Weill Hall in the MasterCard Performance Series and demand for tickets has been overwhelming for this performance as well as for the her three SFS Davies Hall performances on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.    Also on stage will be three SFS musicians who are based in Sonoma County—violist Wayne Roden of Cotati, percussionist Tom Hemphill who lives in a rural unincorporated area near the Washoe House, and bass player Chris Gilbert of Petaluma. (For ARThound’s profile of these musicians upon their first appearance at Weill Hall, click here.)   Recognizing that getting to know a concert hall is really alot like getting to know a person—it’s only over time that you start to ntoice things —ARThound grabbed the chance to gather some further  impressions about the experience of playing Weill Hall.

“I really like Weill Hall and I’ve heard almost completely positive comments from all of my colleagues,” said violist Wayne Roden, who spoke to me from his home in rural Cotati.  “I like the way it looks and feels and sounds. It’s just a beautiful place to play and that really does make a difference.  A lot of modern halls are not that inviting. We play the best of them when we are on tour and this one is particularly nice, especially the sense of light and warmth.”

The acoustics also get a thumbs up, with an interesting caveat that only a seasoned musician can provide. “It’s very nice—it’s warm, live, and it feels good to play there,” said Roden. “Having played there now a few time times, I’ve experienced something I didn’t notice before—when you are on stage, there’s a little bit of the feeling that you hear yourself more than you would ideally like.  This is not the only hall where I have experienced that.  In the ideal world, you like to hear a warm sound and the sound of the whole. You do hear the whole quite well in Weill Hall but, in acoustical terms, there’s a slight feeling of isolation.  It feels a little bit naked which has a slightly inhibiting effect for me because I am hyper aware of what I am putting out.  One of the toughest things you have to do as a player in an orchestra is to balance expressing yourself—you try to put out musically, emotionally—while fitting into the whole.  Some people err on the side of being careful and some err on the side of being expressive, which means they go for it and stick out.  In an orchestra as good as SFS, you’ve got most people hitting the middle but that’s the art of playing in an orchestra. The acoustics of a hall can really impact that.”

Thursday’s program is quite varied musically and includes two pieces—Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 and Brahms Symphony No. 1— which are standard sympony repertoire.  Of course, under MTT’s skilled conducting, the audience can expect magic from the Bay Area’s treasured orchestra.

“When you know pieces this well it’s very easy to fall into habits of playing and so it’s a question of whether you can find something vital in it each time and that’s the challenge of both the conductor and the musician,” said Roden.  “Musicians are a kind of tabula rasa for the conductor and we kind of give ourselves over to him.  I really think that a conductor can bring something to the moment emotionally and conceptually and that can make a huge difference in pieces that are standard repertoire.”  

 Program:  Michael Tilson Thomas conductor, Yuja Wang piano, San Francisco Symphony

Samuel Carl Adams | \Drift and Providence
Beethoven | Piano Concerto No.4 in G major, Opus 58
Brahms | Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Opus 68

Beethoven’s No. 4, a Piano Classic:  After its public premiere in December 1808 in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien, a review in the May 1809 edition of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung stated that Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major “is the most admirable, singular, artistic and complex Beethoven concerto ever.”  Widely considered to be one of the central works of the piano concerto today, the No. 4 begins unconventionally—instead of entering after a lengthy wait, the solo instrument, the piano, starts the piece off by playing in almost improvisational style before the orchestra gently takes over and develops it.  The second movement has a particularly distinct and intimate dialog between piano and orchestra as the serene and lyrical piano line is met with restless strings that mellow as the conversation continues.   The piece is made to order as a showcase for Wang’s astounding technique and imagination, MTT’s strong conducting and for SFS and, of course, Weill Hall and its wondrous Steinway. 

A strong mentor in  MTT:  Michael Tilson Thomas and Yuja Wang have a particularly close collaboration that began in 2006 when she, then 19, made her debut with the SFS at its annual Chinese New Year concert.  Since then, she has returned to perform with SFS each year and performed on tour with MTT and the Orchestra in Macau, Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai, Beijing and Tokyo in November 2012. In 2008, Wang performed as a soloist with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra led by MTT at Carnegie Hall.  

In the YouTube clip below, Yuja Wang talks about her working relationship with MTT.   The clip was made in 2011, to mark several performances Yang would have with MTT and SFS that year.

More about Yuja Wang: Born in Beijing in 1987, Wang began studying piano at age six, with her earliest public performances taking place in China, Australia and Germany. She studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing under Ling Yuan and Zhou Guangren. From 1999 to 2001 she participated in the Morningside Music summer program at Calgary’s Mount Royal College, an artistic and cultural exchange program between Canada and China, and began studying with Hung Kuan Chen and Tema Blackstone at the Mount Royal College Conservatory. In 2002, when she was 15, she won Aspen Music Festival’s concerto competition. She then moved to the U.S. to study with Gary Graffman at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she graduated in 2008. In 2006 Yuja received the Gilmore Young Artist Award. In 2010 she was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant. 

Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) conducts the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra at Weill Hall on December 6, 2012, in their first of four concerts this season.   In Feburary, , the Orchestra’s recording of Bay Area composer John Adams’ works won a 2013 Grammy Award, the 15th Grammy win for SFS.  Photo: courtesy SFS

Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) conducts the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra at Weill Hall on December 6, 2012, in their first of four concerts this season. In Feburary, , the Orchestra’s recording of Bay Area composer John Adams’ works won a 2013 Grammy Award, the 15th Grammy win for SFS. Photo: courtesy SFS

 Her acclaimed recordings include Transformation, for which she received an Echo Award 2011 as Young Artist of the Year. Wang next collaborated with Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra to record Rachmaninoff, her first concerto album featuring Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, which was nominated for a Grammy® as Best Classical Instrumental Solo. Her most recent recording, Fantasia, is a collection of encore pieces by Albéniz, Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns, Scriabin and others. 

CD’s for Sale:  A selection of CDs by Yuja Wang and SFS will be sold before the cocnert and during intermission in Weill Hall’s Person Lobby.  The lobby is named after Evert and Norma Person, long-time Santa Rosa Symphony patrons.

PRE-CONCERT TALK: Interested in going deeper?  One hour prior to the concert, Alexandra amati-Camperi will give an “Inside Music” talk from the stage all about the repertoire. Free to all concert ticket holders; doors open 15 minutes before, or 6:45 p.m.

Program Notes: Downloadable concert program notes can be found online here.

Upcoming SFS Performances at Weill Hall:  The Orchestra’s four-concert series for GMC concludes Thursday, May 23 at 8 pm David Robertson conductor, Marc-André Hamelin piano, San Francisco Symphony

Elliott Carter Variations for Orchestra

Ravel Piano Concerto in D major for the Left Hand

Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

Ravel La Valse

Details: The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra performs Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 8 pm at Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park.

Tickets: $15-$145. Tickets are still available at www.sfsymphony.org or by phone at 415-864-6000

New Fees SSU Parking: Parking is $10 for the lot nearest Weill Hall.  Have cash ready to hand attendants as you drive in.  All other SSU general parking lots have had a rate increase to $5, and a parking receipt must now be displayed all 7 days of the week, no exceptions.

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Classical Music, Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Maria Stuarda,” Donizetti’s powerful Tudor queen opera, never before performed at the Met, screens on “Met Live in HD” this Saturday, January 19, 2013

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While history informs us that that Mary, Queen of Scotts never actually met Queen Elizabeth I, Donizetti couldn’t resist putting the two rival queens together to clash it out in his dramatic 1834 opera, “Maria Stuarda.”  The Metropolitan Opera premiered this fiercely dramatic opera—the second opera from Donizetti’s bel canto trilogy about the Tudor queens—on New Year’s Eve. With Joyce DiDonato as Mary Queen of Scotts and the debut of the remarkable San Francisco-trained South African soprano Elza van den Heever as Elisabetta, the power struggle between the two queens with two sets of religious beliefs and only one possible, bloody outcome couldn’t have been better cast.  This David McVicar production will be transmitted live around the world on Saturday, January 19, 2013 as part of The Met: Live in HD series and will play at 10 a.m. PST in Sonoma County at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas.   Encore performances will play on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.  Approximate running time: 166 minutes

 Those lucky enough to have experienced Joyce DiDonato’s rapturous “Drama Queens” performance in November at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall know what magic this Grammy Award winning mezzo is capable of—channeling the very soul of her composers.  While the role of Mary is normally a soprano role, it’s been transposed for diDonato’s rich and expressive mezzo.  Here’s a taste of the passion DiDonato delivered while practicing the role. Deborah Voight’s interview was part of the Met Live in HD transmission of “Un Ballo in Maschera” on December 8, 2012 and speaks to the wonderful extras that are part and parcel of every Met: Live in HD experience—

Elza van den Heever went to extraordinary lengths to portray the legendary Queen, who is vividly developed in this production.  She even shaved her head in order to better suit the elaborate wigs and high forehead depicted in portraits of the Monarch.  The Wall Street Journal’s Heidi Waleson noted that her “big, well-controlled soprano” was “steely and assertive, with the flexibility to pull off Elizabeth’s vengeful, vitriolic cabalettas.”  And I can’t wait to see her in a wide red skirt by John Macfarlane that opens like curtains to reveal pants. Van den Heever is a graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Merola Opera Program and San Francisco Opera’s (SFO) Adler Fellowship Program.  At SFO, she last portrayed Mary Curtis Lee (general Lee’s wife) in the 2007 world premiere of Philip Glass’s Appomattox and Donna Anna in the Company’s 2007 Don Giovanni. She has also partnered with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, notably in their triple Grammy Award winning 2009 release of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8.

Originally premiered in 1835, Maria Stuarda is based on the German writer, Friedrich Schiller’s play Mary Stuart, which depicts the final days of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was viewed as a challenger to Elizabeth I’s throne and beheaded in 1587. 

“In this mid-point opera we are really focusing on the relationship between two queens in the same moment and the political impossibility of these two women co-existing on the same small island,” said Mr. McVicar.  “It’s based on the Schiller dramatization of Mary’s story which contains the great, mythical scene – which never actually happened in history – when the two queens meet and have a cataclysmic showdown.  It crackles with drama, it crackles with romance and it’s a very, very powerful mid-point in the trilogy of these three operas.”

For Maria Stuarda, Mr. McVicar works with fellow Scotsman, John Macfarlane on set and costume designs. Mr. Macfarlane’s previous work at the Met has included the much-loved fantastical sets and costumes for Hansel and Gretel. Mr. McVicar says that this new production embraces the romance of Maria Stuarda, rather than realism: “When we did the production of Anna Bolena last season at the Met, we went for the ’nth-degree of historical accuracy, particularly in the costuming. With Maria Stuarda being a different type of opera, we’ve gone for a visual style that is free-er, that is more romantic and which somehow, rather than reflecting history, reflects the romantic nature of this retelling of the story and the sweeping romantic nature of Donizetti’s music.”

Cast: Joyce DiDonato, Maria Stuarda; Elza van den Heever, Elisabetta; Matthew Polenzani, Leicester; Joshua Hopkins, Cecil; Matthew Rose, Talbot

Artistic and Production Team: Conductor, Maurizio Benini; Production, David McVicar; Set & Costume Design, John Macfarlane; Lighting Design, Jennifer Tipton; Choreographer, Leah Hausman

Details:  “Maria Stuarda” is Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 10 a.m. (PST), with encore (re-broadcast) performances on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. (PST).  .  Purchase tickets, $23, for Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas and select your seat here.   A list of participating Bay Area cinemas and online ticket purchase is available at www.FathomEvents.com.  For a complete list of cinema locations nationwide and schedule, please visit The Met: Live in HD.  Ticket prices vary by location.  NO ONE cares what you wear or what you eat or drink but please be kind enough to elbow your snoring partners to consciousness.

Sonoma County:
Rialto Cinemas Lakeside
551 Summerfield Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95405

Questions: opera@rialtocinemas.com

Napa County:
Cinemark Napa 8
825 Pearl Street
Napa, CA 94559

Marin County:
The Lark Theater
549 Magnolia Avenue
Larkspur, CA 94939

Cinemark Century Northgate 15
7000 Northgate Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903

Cinemark Cinearts Sequoia 2
25 Throckmorton Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment