ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

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).

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

Green Music Center is on a roll! Up Thursday—Charles Dutoit conducts the San Francisco Symphony with guest violinist James Ehnes

Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit conducts the San Francisco Symphony in the second of a four concert series at Weill Hall on Thursday, January 31, 2013.  Photo: courtesy SF Symphony.

Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit conducts the San Francisco Symphony in the second of a four concert series at Weill Hall on Thursday, January 31, 2013. Photo: courtesy SF Symphony.

 Those who experienced Yo Yo Ma’s soulful performance at Weill Hall on Saturday with pianist Kathyrn Stott walked away with another unforgettable Green Music Center moment. Along with many in the audience, I was pierced early on—Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne” and the Serenata drew streams of tears. By the second half, and Piazzolla’s exquisite “Oblivion,” I was deep in melancholy and revelation. What a wonderful opportunity we now have to hear the world’s finest musicians at our doorstep. And what a doorstep it is! Since the center’s gala opening on the weekend of September 29-30, 2012, the lineup, thanks in large part to Robert Cole (Cal Performances’ recently retired booking czar) , has featured the world’s finest musicians— Joyce DiDonato, Stephanie Blythe, Alison Krauss, Buika, Lang Lang, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra—and that’s just the first three months.

Up this Thursday at Green Music Center—and seats are still available—is the San Francisco Symphony’s second concert in its four concert series at GMC.  Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit conducts the San Francisco Symphony with guest violinist James Ehnes.  Lalo’s Spanish heritage and Ravel’s Basque roots are richly explored in “Rapsodie espagnole” and “Symphonie espagnole”— savory, evocative works that promise a workout for the Stradivarius of Canadian violinist James Ehnes, who’s been called “the Heifetz of our day.”  Ehnes’ beautiful intonation, technique and sensitivity for the music should all come across in the warm, intimate-feeling Weill Hall whose acoustics are proving to be especially well-suited to the nuances of string instruments.  Elgar’s ever-popular “Enigma Variations” concludes the 2 hour program.  

PROGRAM:  Chlares Dutoit conductor, James Ehnes violin, SF Symphony

Ravel | Rapsodie espagnole  (~15 min) (for James M. Keller’s program notes, click here.)

 Lalo | Symphonie espagnole, Opus 21 (~30 min) (for Michael Steinberg’s program notes, click here.)

 Elgar | Enigma Variations, Opus 36 (~ 30 min) (for Michael Steinberg’s program notes, click here.)

james_ehnes

Canadian violinist James Ehnes performs with the San Francisco Symphony with Charles Dutoit conducting on Thursday, January 31, 2013 at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall. Photo: courtesy SF Symphony.

PRE-CONCERT TALK:   Interested in going deeper?  One hour prior to the concert, an “Inside Music” talk from the stage with Susan Key  on some aspect of the performance will be given.  Free to all concert ticket holders; doors open 15 minutes before, or 6:45 p.m.

CD SIGNING: James Ehnes will sign his CDs immediately following the performance on January 31 in Weill Hall’s Person Lobby.  The lobby is named after Evert and Norma Person, long-time Santa Rosa Symphony patrons.  

AUDIO PROGRAM NOTES:  A free audio podcast about Elgar’s Enigma Variations is downloadable from sfsymphony.org/podcasts and from the iTunes store.

BROADCAST:  These concerts will be broadcast on Classical 89.9/90.3/104.9 KDFC and kdfc.com on Tuesday, February 12 at 8 pm.

Details: The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra performs Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 8 pm at Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park.

Tickets: $15-$145. Tickets are available at www.sfsymphony.org or by phone at 415-864-6000 or in person at the Davies Symphony Hall Box Office on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street in San Francisco or at the Green Music Center Box Office located on the first floor of the SSU Student Union in the interior of the Sonoma State University Campus.

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. 

Here is Ehnes on YouTube playing gorgeous passages on irreplaceable 18th century instruments from the Fulton Collection of Violins and Violas.  

Most of us consider ourselves lucky to hear a Stradivarius or Guarneri in a concert setting as fine as Weill Hall, but Grammy-winning James Ehnes was chosen to play some of these treasured instruments under very unusual circumstances.  David Fulton, who spent a great of his life playing and enjoying the violin, sold his very profitable Fox Software company to Microsoft in the early 1980’s for $173 million.  He used the money he made to buy the most precious violins, violas, and cellos to be had. Crafted by Antonio Stradivari, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù and a handful of other 18th-century Italian masters in and around Cremona, the Fulton Collection has been deemed the world’s greatest private collection by a number of experts.  James Ehnes met Fulton back in the 1990’s in Seattle when he came to play in a chamber music festival.  He gradually developed a close friendship with Fulton and his wife, and played chamber music with them.  Fulton purchased a famous Stradivari violin— ex-Marsick—with which Ehnes had fallen in love, and loaned it to Ehnes to use as his main concert violin. The idea to have him road test these rare instruments, showing off their unique qualities was born out of this special relationship.  This is a clip from a magical and highly successful DVD/CD Homage (2008, Onyx) that captures the whole glorious experience and Ehnes’ virtuosity.

Upcoming SFS Performances at Weill Hall: The Orchestra’s four-concert series for GMC also includes performances on March 7, and May 23, 2013

Thursday, March 7 at 8 pm: Michael Tilson Thomas conductor, Yuja Wang piano, San Francisco Symphony

Berio Eindrücke

Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Opus 58
Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Opus 68

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

January 28, 2013 Posted by | Classical Music, Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s our turn: the Bay Area honors “Flicka” with a special retirement tribute December 3, 2011

Opera Superstar Mezzo Soprano and long time Bay Area resident, Frederica von Stade, “Flicka,” is retiring. A special tribute concert celebrating her career will be held Saturday, December 3, 2011. Here, von Stade plays the diva Madeline Mitchell in “Three Decembers,” a chamber opera composed especially for her by Jake Heggie, and performed in 2008 at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley. Photo by Kristen Loken.

For the past year, the beloved opera superstar Frederica von Stade, a long-time Bay Area resident affectionately known as “Flicka,” has been making farewell appearances and the great opera houses and concert halls worldwide, whose stages she has graced for the past 40 years have been paying tribute, one by one.  Now, it’s the Bay Area’s turn.  On Saturday, December 3, 2011, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Performances, Cal Performances, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music will join in an unprecedented team effort to celebrate the illustrious life and career of our treasured mezzo, arts advocate, and musical celebrity.  

Eight extraordinary artists and friends of von Stade─and some as of yet unannounced surprise guests─ will lead the special one night only musical tribute, joined by von Stade and accompanied by Jake Heggie, John Churchwell and Bryndon Hassman: Sir Thomas Allen, baritone; Susannah Biller, soprano; Zheng Cao, mezzo-soprano; Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano; Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano; Samuel Ramey, bass; and Richard Stilwell, baritone.

The concert will feature highlights from von Stade’s expansive performance and recording career, including arias from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria; songs by Ravel, Mahler, Poulenc and Berlioz; selections from American musical theater; and contemporary songs by Jake Heggie.  The evening will also feature personal tributes and recollections of working with Ms. von Stade.

An intimate gala reception with the artists in the lobby of the War Memorial Opera House will follow the performance, with proceeds supporting University of California Berkeley’s Young Musicians Program and the St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Oakland.

What’s it like to work with Flicka?  Rauli Garcia, who is the CFO of HGO  (Houston Grand Opera) made his stage debut as a supernumerary in Dead Man Walking earlier this year and his account “What a rush!”was posted on the HGO (Houston Grand Opera) blog on January 31, 2011. 

Frederica von Stade made her debut with San Francisco Opera in 1971 and has sung most of the great roles in opera over her 40 year career. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Opera

Recognized as one of the most beloved musical figures of our time, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade began at the very top, receiving a contract from Sir Rudolf Bing during the Metropolitan Opera auditions and since her debut has enriched classical music for over four decades with appearances in opera, concert and recital.  The first aria in her career was Thomas’s “Connais-tu le pays”.  Von Stade has sung nearly all the great roles with the Met and in 2000, the company celebrated the 30th anniversary of her debut with a new production of The Merry Widow.  She made her 1971 San Francisco Opera debut as Sextus (La Clemenza di Tito) with Spring Opera Theater and her main stage debut in 1972 as Cherubino (Le Nozze di Figaro), and has appeared with San Francisco Opera in more than a dozen roles, including Mélisande (Pelléas et Mélisande), Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier), Rosina (Il Barbiere di Siviglia), Countess Geschwitz (Lulu) and the title roles of La Sonnambula, La Cenerentola, and The Merry Widow. She created two roles in world premiere productions by San Francisco Opera: Marquise de Merteuil in Conrad Susa’s The Dangerous Liaisons and Mrs. Patrick de Rocher in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking; she also created the role of Madeline Mitchell in Jake Heggie’s chamber opera Three Decembers, presented in its West Coast premiere by San Francisco Opera and Cal Performances in 2008.

Known as a bel canto specialist, von Stade is also beloved in the French repertoire, including the title role of Offenbach’s La Périchole. She is also a favorite interpreter of the great “trouser” roles, from Strauss’s Composer (Ariadne auf Naxos) and Octavian to Mozart’s Sextus, Idamante (Idomeneo), and Cherubino. Von Stade’s artistry has inspired the revival of neglected works such as Massenet’s Chérubin, Ambroise Thomas’s Mignon, Rameau’s Dardanus, and Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, and she has garnered critical and popular acclaim in her vast French orchestral repertoire, including Ravel’s Shéhérazade, Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été and Canteloube’s Les Chants d’Auvergne. She is well known to audiences around the world through her numerous featured appearances on television including several PBS specials and “Live from Lincoln Center” telecasts.

Miss von Stade has made over seventy recordings with every major label, including complete operas, aria albums, symphonic works, solo recital programs, and popular crossover albums. Her recordings have garnered six Grammy nominations, two Grand Prix du Disc awards, the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, Italy’s Premio della Critica Discografica, and “Best of the Year” citations by Stereo Review and Opera News. She has enjoyed the distinction of holding simultaneously the first and second places on national sales charts for Angel/EMI’s Show Boat and Telarc’s The Sound of Music.

Von Stade was appointed as an officer of France’s L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1998, France’s highest honor in the Arts, and in 1983 she was honored with an award given at the White House by President Reagan. She holds five honorary doctorates from Yale University, Boston University, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (which holds a Frederica von Stade Distinguished Chair in Voice), the Georgetown University School of Medicine, and her alma mater, the Mannes School of Music. 

Details:  Celebrating Frederica von Stade, Saturday, December 3, 2011, at 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA  94102.  Tickets for the concert are $50, $75 and $100.  Tickets for the gala reception, which includes premium seating for the concert, are $500.  Tickets for the concert and gala reception are available at http://www.sfopera.com  or the San Francisco Opera Box Office at 301 Van Ness Avenue, or by phone at (415) 864-3330.

November 28, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment