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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Real Russian bells will clang at Weill Hall this Saturday when San Francisco Symphony plays Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”

San Francisco Symphony regular guest percussionist Victor Avdienko (left) will play a “peal” or set of authentic Russian bronze bells in the Symphony’s “All Tchaikovsky” concert this Saturday at Weill Hall and lawn.  This marks the SFS’ first use of authentic Russian bells in a performance.  The peal has been loaned to SFS by the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church of San Anselmo.  Mark Galperin (right), General Manager of Blagovest Bells of Marin, organized the loan, ensured the bells were installed properly on their rack for Saturday’s concert, and helped Avdienko select the right mallet to approximate the sound extracted by an actual bell clapper.  The bells range in weight from 12.3 to 88.1 pounds and were made in 2012 by Pyatkov & Co. Bell foundry, a famous Russian bell foundry in Kamensky-Uralsy.  Photo: courtesy Blagovest Bells

San Francisco Symphony regular guest percussionist Victor Avdienko (left) will play a “peal” or set of authentic Russian bronze bells in the Symphony’s “All Tchaikovsky” concert this Saturday at Weill Hall and lawn. This marks the SFS’ first use of authentic Russian bells in a performance. The peal has been loaned to SFS by the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church of San Anselmo. Mark Galperin (right), General Manager of Blagovest Bells of Marin, organized the loan, ensured the bells were installed properly on their rack for Saturday’s concert, and helped Avdienko select the right mallet to approximate the sound extracted by an actual bell clapper. The bells range in weight from 12.3 to 88.1 pounds and were made in 2012 by Pyatkov & Co. Bell foundry, a famous Russian bell foundry in Kamensky-Uralsy. Photo: courtesy Blagovest Bells

 

San Francisco Symphony (SFS) regular guest percussionist Victor Avdienko was born and raised in San Francisco and regularly attended the Holy Virgin Cathedral Russian Orthodox Church on Geary Street but, at that time, he never heard authentic Russian bells played live. Instead, he heard plenty of recordings of majestic Russian bells which always fascinated him.  It was only when he visited San Anselmo’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in September 2012 and heard the rector, Father Stephan Meholick, play a real set of bronze church bells especially for him that he understood how special they were.  After that, Avdienko championed the notion of featuring Russian bells in a SFS performance and dreamed of connecting with his Russian heritage through playing them.

On Saturday evening, he’ll have his dream fulfilled when the “peal” or set of Russian bronze bells that he will play will be featured, for the first time ever, in the Symphony’s All Tchaikovsky concert at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall and Lawn.  Director of Summer Concerts Edwin Outwater will be conducting SFS and Macedonian guest pianist, Simon Trpčeski, from Skopje, will play the beloved Piano Concerto No. 1.  The special bells will clang for a good minute at the end of Tchaikovsky’s well-known “1812 Festal Overture,” fulfilling Tchaikovsky’s vision of bells ringing in town church towers to celebrate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. Their sound will be new and distinctive because Russian bells are  polytonic (acoustical analog of polychromatic), meaning they are not tuned to any specific pitch like the orchestral bells or tubular bell chimes that we normally encounter when American orchestras perform.  You can expect a rich chord of many different tones.

When ARThound learned that authentic Russian bells would be played for the “1812 Overture,” I couldn’t resist investigating further.  The “1812” is a thunderous Russian tune that depicts Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1812.   That it became a popular 4th of July song in America during the height of the Cold War is a story in itself.   In short—the “1812” always had a patriotic sound and was a great piece of music but it wasn’t until 1974, when the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler zipped it up, playing it with fireworks, real cannons and a coordinated steeple-bell choir, that it caught on like wildfire and became an American tradition.  Including Russian bells is a shout-out to the “1812’s” true roots and an exciting new tradition for SFS.

I first heard the mesmerizing clang of Russian bells twenty-five years ago in Sofia, Bulgaria, at the St. Nikolai Church, whose bells were gifted to Bulgaria by Tsar Nicholas II.   That rousing sound is so emblazoned in my memory that it seems like I heard it yesterday.   I had no idea that North America’s foremost experts on Russian bells, Mark Galperin, was just down the road in Marin and that he has been championing their resurgence.

Galperin is a former physicist who immigrated to Marin in 1995.  In 1998, he began collaborating with Father Stephan Meholick to build a bell collection for San Anselmo’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.  Galperin also dutifully manages Blagovest Bells, the largest North American full service Russian bell company which has supplied over 140 churches in North America with Russian bells. He filled me in on some basics about Russian bells—history, theology, metallurgy, design and acoustics. (Detailed information can be found on the Blagovest Bells website, http://www.russianbells.com/.)  Most important is that in Russian culture and history, church bells are holy and shrouded in mystery.  Their clanging is said to have the power to bring people to repentance and to dissuade sin.

In the Russian Orthodox faith, bells are understood as holy, “aural icons” that project the voice of God.  Before church bells are hung, they are consecrated.  An interesting feature of Russian bells is that they are cast for a certain strike tone and they are finished when cast—there are no post-production adjustments.  That means they don’t have a “pure” (abstract or machine-made) tone, but instead they have natural harmonics that give each bell a slightly distinctive voice, which Galperin poetically compares to the song of a nightingale—each nightingale singing its own song in its own distinctive voice, no two songs exactly alike but all nightingale songs, all uniquely beautiful.   From the musician’s perspective, Russian bells are not tuned and therefore do not behave like most bells that American musicians are familiar with.

SFS regular guest percussionist, Victor Avdienko, will play a “peal” or set of authentic Russian bronze bells in the Symphony’s “All Tchaivovsky” concert this Saturday at Weill Hall and lawn.   The peal was loaned to SFS by the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church of San Anselmo.  The bells range in weight from 12.3 to 88.1 pounds and were made in 2012 by Pyatkov & Co. Bell foundry, a famous Russian bell foundry in Kamensky-Uralsy.  The largest bell is decorated with the icon of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycea, on its skirt.  Opposite this, also on the skirt, is the icon of St. Theodosius Sumorin of Tot’ma.  The upper decorative belt of the bell has the Coat of Arms of the City of Tot’ma and an inscription in Russian. Photo: courtesy Blagovest Bells

This “peal” of authentic Russian bronze bells was loaned to San Francisco Symphony by the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church of San Anselmo. The bells range in weight from 12.3 to 88.1 pounds and were made in 2012 by Pyatkov & Co. Bell foundry, a famous Russian bell foundry in Kamensky-Uralsy. The largest bell is decorated with the icon of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycea, on its skirt. Opposite this, also on the skirt, is the icon of St. Theodosius Sumorin of Tot’ma. The upper decorative belt of the bell has the Coat of Arms of the City of Tot’ma and an inscription in Russian. Photo: courtesy Blagovest Bells

Galperin first collaborated with SFS when he lent Blagovest Bells’ 5-bell Russian demo peal to SFS for its Keeping Score Summer Institute in June 2009.  It was there that father Stephan Meholick delighted Bay Area educators with his bell ringing and shared a vital aspect of Russian culture that these teachers could then pass one to their students.  Galperin also handled the loan of the St. Nicholas bells to SFS for Saturday’s concert and, over the past few days, has spent countless hours making good on his “full service” guarantee, including testing some two dozen mallets with Avdienko to get a sound that best approximates the one made with a forged iron bell clapper.  (See chart at bottom of article for detailed data on the bells) Galperin is quick to point out that once Americans (and most people in general) are exposed to authentic bells, they have a real interest in them and he has an explanation for why Russian bells aren’t more widely known—

“In both Soviet Russia and American, bells experienced their own genocide for different reasons,” explained Galperin.  “In Russia, they were victims of the Communist ideology.  In America, they were victims of so-called electronic progress which substituted real—and actually unsubstitutable bells—with safe electronics.  Sadly, the current generation of Americans has no idea of the uniqueness of bell ringing, which is different every single time.  Why is this important?  It’s the same reason why you pay to go to the concert of a famous singer—because each time, the song is a little different and you have a new and unique performance of a piece.”

Galperin holds it as a good sign that the tradition of using of Russian bells in classical music has continued in America in the recent works of young composers such as the popular Russian-born American composer and pianist Lera Auerbach.  She used a bell peal produced by Bloagvest Bells and recorded at the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church of San Anselmo (MP 3 below) in her well-received “Russian Requiem” (2007), co-commissioned by Musikfest Bremen, Philharmonische Gesellschaft Bremen and Semana de Musica Religiosa Cuenca.

Like most stories involving Russians that I’ve reported, some wonderful connections emerged. Galperin mentioned that Blagovest Bells outfitted Victor Avdienko’s Holy Virgin Cathedral Russian Orthodox Church with a peal of 6 traditional Russian bells in 2003 and, since then, the bells are regularly rung there for Divine Services.

Festal Russian Orthodox Church Bell Ringing at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, San Anselmo.  Lera Auerbach included this peal in her “Russian Requiem” (2007).  Bell ringers: Fr. Stephen Meholick, Peg Golitzin, Juliana Kohl, Lea Kohl; produced by Blagovest Bells.

Pyatkov Chime by Andrei Dyachkov, led by Blagovestnik bells  weighing 20,000 and 40,000 pounds,  110 seconds (courtesy Blagovest Bells)

Pyatkov Chime by Vladimir Petrovsky, called “Maestro” Petrovsky, 340 seconds (courtesy Blagovest Bells)

 

ARThound Interview: San Francisco Symphony guest percussionist, Victor Avdienko

 

San Francisco Symphony regular guest percussionist Victor Avdienko at Davies Symphony Hall learning the ropes, literally, of Russian bell playing.  The bell clappers (the striking implement suspended within the bell) are attached to strings and are either manipulated by a hand by pulling them or by foot pedals for the larger bells.  Saturday’s “All Tchaikovsky” concert at Weill Hall and lawn will mark SFS’ first use of authentic Russian bells in a performance.  Image: courtesy Lisa Petrie, SFS.

San Francisco Symphony regular guest percussionist Victor Avdienko at Davies Symphony Hall learning the ropes, literally, of Russian bell playing. The bell clappers (the striking implement suspended within the bell) are attached to strings and are either manipulated by a hand by pulling them or by foot pedals for the larger bells. Saturday’s “All Tchaikovsky” concert at Weill Hall and lawn will mark SFS’ first use of authentic Russian bells in a performance. Image: courtesy Lisa Petrie, SFS.

When did you first hear authentic Russian bells?

Victor Avdienko:  At the beginning of last season, we played Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 11 in G Minor” and needed four bells for the end of the last movement, so I went on a quest for bells which were very loud, pitched, and preferably real Russian bells.  I was pointed to Mark Galperin, who gave me the history and playing tradition of Russian bells. I visited San Anselmo’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church and met Father Stephan Meholick, who played a mini concert for me on their bells. Right then and there, I knew that I had to explore this further. It felt like I was reconnecting with something deeply Russian inside me.  I’ve heard a lot of carillon music from my travels in Europe and I’ve always had that in my ear defining what bell ringing should be—that they can play tunes and melodies. The Russian style is different in that they don’t play melodies or tunes; it’s more of a prayer or meditative experience to ring these bells.  Because the Russian bells aren’t pitched, we didn’t use them for the Shostakovich but I kept that sound deep in me.

What does it take to play these bells successfully?

Victor Avdienko:  Ear plugs. You’re very close and you need protection.  There are some definite techniques because you’re manipulating up to a dozen bells with just your four limbs. All the bell clappers are attached to strings and are either manipulated by a hand by pulling them or by foot pedals for the larger bells.  One person can make a lot of sound but there are different patterns too, actual rhythms, which you can achieve with the smaller bells by holding the strings of 3 or 4 of them in one hand.  Father Stephan showed me the ropes.  As a percussionist, it was not too difficult to get familiar with it but, for an average parishioner, it would take many months or even years of serious practice to properly run the patterns.

Can you describe what happens for you musically in the “1812 Overture”?

Victor Avdienko:  The piece is very well-known for its cannon fire that everyone looks forward to.  If it’s played outdoors, they’ll often use real cannons fired off in the distance.  For indoor concerts it’s usually done with a recording or with a really large drum. We’ll use a synthesized cannon sound on Saturday. The bells have always been more of an afterthought that we’ve handled with chimes. The specific passage that calls for bells is in the key of E-flat.  The chimes we traditionally use can be tuned just like a xylophone or glockenspiel so you can actually play an E-flat major scale and it fits the piece and sounds like a bunch of bells in the background. When you play bells that have a definite pitch to them, you have to play in the key of E-flat for it to sound good, otherwise it just sounds like you’re hitting a bunch of random pitches.  Russian bells aren’t pitched a certain way, so it’s going to be more a wall of sound coming out and it won’t make any difference which bell I hit because the bell will always sound the way it should sound.  What Tchaikovsky had in mind when he wrote the piece was to have all the bells in the Russian town square play at the same time to sound like a jubilant celebration of victory over Napoleon.  So we are taking it back to its authentic intention.

The bells occur twice—at the very end where there are cannons and full orchestra and that’s about a one minute section and there’s a section about two-thirds into the piece where we hear roughly the same Russian hymn that cellos open the piece with but, this time, the full orchestra is playing with the bells playing in the background.  The mood is jubilant because this after the victory.  I am looking forward to this. Mark and I have talked about this for two years now and I’m glad that the conductor was curious enough to let this happen.

What will you be hitting the bells with?

Victor Avdienko:  I’m not sure yet.  Normally, internal clappers are pulled by a string that is manipulated by a player. In the past, we’ve always used a rawhide mallet or a large acrylic beater.  Mark Gaperin and I started out with about two dozen mallets.   We tested about a dozen of them and settled on a special hard wood mallet engineered by a German percussion instrument design firm that very closely approximates the sound extracted by an actual bell clapper.  Or, I may just go ahead and use the native forged iron clappers.  It all depends on what I can get away with.   We’ll either have all four bells arranged on the upper beam of a rack or they’ll be in a double tiered rack with three on top and one on the bottom.

Have you ever had a Russian conduct you in the “1812”?

Victor Avdienko: Most conductors just ‘play the ink’ as they say but when we get Russian conductors coming in, they will sometimes want to add some realism to the piece that most American orchestras don’t necessarily do.  About ten years ago, Yuri Temirkanov (then Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic since 1988) asked for both a Russian choir to sing a church hymn for the opening of the overture and for real bells.  At that time, I didn’t know Mark or of any Russian bells in the area, so we just pulled together all the bells we could get our hands on.  SFS actually owns two European-style bells that we use for Berlioz’ “Symphony Fantastique”  but those are pitched very strongly in C and G for that piece, so he sat us down and gave us a lesson in what proper Russian bell ringing should sound like and for me that was the beginning of my curiosity about Russian bells.

Any other special percussion effects in Saturday’s concert that you’re looking forward to?

Victor Avdienko:  Tchaikovsky wrote very nice percussion parts.  I’ve always really identified with his cymbal crashes because they are very colorful, explosive and impactful, occurring in the right moment and emotional context.   In the past, for the “1812,” I’ve always really found myself in playing those cymbal crashes correctly because you have to make the sounds of artillery fire, a celebratory crash and complete jubilation and it almost requires three personalities to pull that off.

 

Bell table 3

 

Concert Details:  San Francisco Symphony’s All Tchaikovsky concert at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall and lawn is Saturday, June 26 at 8 p.m.  All indoor seating is almost sold outLawn seating is still available at $25.  Purchase tickets online here, or over the phone with the Sonoma State University Box Office at 866-955-6040.  Tickets will also be available one hour prior to the performance (7 p.m.) at the Green Music Center box office.  Immediately following the concert, there will be a fireworks display. Excellent Visibility: Views of the stage are amplified by giant video screens, giving everyone a “front row” experience.  Snacks: A variety of food and beverages will be available for sale.

Directions: Green Music Center is located at 1801 East Cotati Drive, Rohnert Park. CA.  Weill Hall and the Green Music Center are located on the campus of Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California, at the intersection of Rohnert Park Expressway and Petaluma Hill Road. From the South, take U.S. Highway 101 north to the Rohnert Park Expressway exit. At the end of the exit ramp, turn right onto Rohnert Park Expressway. Drive 2.2 miles to the Sonoma State University entrance on your right. From the North, take U.S. Highway 101 south to the Rohnert Park Expressway exit. At the end of the exit ramp turn left onto Rohnert Park Expressway. Drive 2.2 miles to the Sonoma State University entrance on your right.

Parking: Parking for this performance is complimentary.  Ample parking, with excellent handicap availability, in the campus’ dedicated lot, right next to Weill Hall.

 

 

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July 25, 2014 Posted by | Green Music Center, Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tis the Season”—San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker” opens Wednesday at War Memorial Opera House

Dancers perform in a snowstorm on stage in Tomasson's “Nutcracker,” at San Francisco Ballet December 11- 29, 2013. © Erik Tomasson

Dancers perform in a snowstorm on stage in Tomasson’s “Nutcracker,” at San Francisco Ballet December 11- 29, 2013. © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s magical production of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Nutcracker opens Wednesday, December 11, 2013, at War Memorial Opera House, and is always a special treat with its distinctive bow to San Francisco.   Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s production of the Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov classic, now in its 10th offering at SF Ballet, is set in San Francisco on Christmas Eve during the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition and features SF Ballet’s world class dancers in top form.  The 1915 world’s fair was an extraordinary event that transformed San Francisco into a dream-like city of magical domes and pastel-colored buildings, the romance of which is captured beautifully in the gorgeous period sets by Michael Yeargan and James K. Ingalls’ projections.  The ballet opens with a stunning collage of black and white photos from the actual world’s fair, with shots of the Palace of Fine Arts, the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, and the famous “Painted Lady” Victorians of Alamo Square.  It gradually narrows in on 100 painted Victorian windows until landing at the toymaker Drosselmeyer’s window and the mysterious world of magic and wonder contained therein.   The photos on the fireplace wall at the home in Act I are family photos of the founders of San Francisco Ballet, the visionary Christensen Brothers.  And, in the Act I battle scene (between the mice and the gingerbread soldiers), the giant fireplace stands 22 feet tall and 19 feet wide, about the size of two SF cable cars stacked on top of each other.  The gorgeous combination of dance, Tchaikovsky’s romantic music and the beautiful costumes are punctuated by real magic tricks, orchestrated by the production’s own magic consultant, Menlo Park illusionist Marshall Magoon.  He has made sure that Uncle Drosselmeyer, who makes toys change size and come to life, is unforgettable.  Of course, the very best trick up Drosselmeyer’s sleeve is when he commands the Christmas tree to grow and grow and GROW and it does!  And under SF Ballet music director and principal conductor Martin West, the gorgeous Tchaikovsky score, played by the SF Ballet Orchestra, should pop with color.  Mesmerizing in all respects, SF Ballet’s production is the granddaddy of all the Bay Area productions and an excellent opportunity to see professional ballet at its finest.  Plan on taking the family, or someone very special, to this delightful holiday classic.

Family Performances: free treats! and photo ops—  For five performances only, the first 500 children to arrive receive a special gift and everyone enjoys complimentary beverages and sweet treats by Miette, the official bakery of SF Ballet’s Nutcracker, at intermission. For 30 minutes only, starting one hour prior to curtain, Nutcracker characters are available for photos, so arrive early and bring your camera! Family Performance Dates: Thurs/Dec 12, 7pm, Buy Tickets; Fri/Dec 13, 2pm; Buy Tickets; Fri/Dec 13, 7pm, Buy Tickets; Sun/Dec 15, 7pm, Buy Tickets; Tues/Dec 17, 7pm, Buy Tickets

Stop off before the performance or at intermission for delectable sweet treats at Candyland, now located in the North Grand Tier Lobby. Only $5 per box!

Attending a matinee performance on Sunday, December 15, 22, or 29? Make it a full day of holiday celebration with Breakfast with Santa before the show!

The History of SF Ballet’s “Nutcracker”

Nutcracker Details: 

Nutcracker opens Wednesday, December 11, 2013 and runs through Sunday, December 29, 2013.

Tickets: $25 to $315, purchase online here  or through Box Office (415) 865-2000.  For more information, visit www.sfballet.org/nutcracker or phone (415) 865-2000

Parking:  Civic Center Garage (on McAllister Street between Larkin and Polk); Performing Arts Garage (on Grove between Franklin and Gough streets); Opera Plaza Garage (valet only, 601 Van Ness, enter on Turk). .  Traffic delays are common particularly on 101 Southbound and parking can be time-consuming, so plan adequately.

Arrival Time:  Plan to arrive early to enjoy the sumptuous atmosphere and to ensure that you are seated.  The theater enforces a no late seating policy and guests will not be seated after the lights have dimmed. Latecomers will be asked to stand until there is a break in the program, and will be seated at management’s discretion.

Run-time: Two hours—Act I (47 min); Intermission (20 min); Act II: (57 min)

Bringing Children:  San Francisco Ballet recommends that children attending Nutcracker be at least 5 years old.  Any child who can sit in his own seat and quietly observe a two-hour performance without questions is welcome.  Booster seats for children are provided free of charge for use on the Orchestra level.  No infants may be brought to a performance.  Parents should take children creating a disturbance during the ballet out of the performance hall.

SF Ballet’s 2014 Season

PROGRAM 1Full-length GISELLE

Adam/Tomasson after Petipa/Melbye/Pinkham

Performances: Jan 25 eve, 26 mat, 28 eve, 29 eve, 30 eve, 31 eve, Feb 1 mat & eve, 2 mat

 

PROGRAM 2—FROM FOREIGN LANDS

Moszkowski/Ratmansky/Atwood/Stanley

NEW CANIPAROLI*—BORDERLANDS

Cadbury, Stoney/McGregor/Carter

Performances: Feb 18 eve, 19 eve, 21 eve, 23 mat, 27 eve, Mar 1 mat & eve

PROGRAM 3—GHOSTS©

Winger/Wheeldon/Jellinek/Zappone/Geiger

“THE KINGDOM OF THE SHADES” from LA BAYADÈRE, Act II

Minkus/Makarova after Petipa

FIREBIRD

Stravinsky/Possokhov/Zhukov/Woodall/Finn

Performances: Feb 20 eve, 22 mat & eve, 25 eve, 26 eve, 28 eve, Mar 2 mat

PROGRAM 4—Full-length CINDERELLA

Prokofiev/Wheeldon/Lucas/Crouch/Katz/Twist/Brodie

Performances: Mar 11 eve, 12 eve, 13 eve, 14 eve, 15 mat & eve, 16 mat, 22 mat & eve, 23 mat

PROGRAM 5— NEW RATMANSKY#

Shostakovich/Ratmansky/Tsypin/Dekker/ Tipton

Performances: Apr 2 eve, 3 eve, 5 mat & eve, 8 eve, 11 eve, 13 mat

PROGRAM 6—MAELSTROM

Beethoven/Morris/Pakledinaz/Ingalls

NEW TOMASSON—THE RITE OF SPRING

Stravinsky/Possokhov/Pierce/Woodall/ Dennis

Performances: Apr 4 eve, 6 mat, 9 eve, 10 eve, 12 mat & eve, 15 eve

PROGRAM 7 THE FIFTH SEASON

Jenkins/Tomasson/Woodall/Mazzola

NEW LIAM SCARLETT SUITE EN BLANC

Lalo/Lifar

Performances: Apr 29 eve, 30 eve, May 2 eve, 4 mat, 8 eve, 10 mat & eve

 

PROGRAM 8—AGON

Stravinsky/Balanchine

BRAHMS-SCHOENBERG QUARTET

Brahms, Schoenberg/Balanchine/after Karinska

GLASS PIECES

Glass/Robbins/Benson/Bates

Performances: May 1 eve, 3 mat & eve, 6 eve, 7 eve, 9 eve, 11 mat

December 10, 2013 Posted by | Dance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco Symphony Orchestra is performing a free Chamber Concert this Saturday, March 30, at Sherith Israel, San Francisco

Members of the striking San Francisco Symphony Orchestra have organized a free concert Saturday evening (March 30, 2013) at 8 p.m. at Sherith Israel, 2266 California Street (at Webster), San Francisco.  This concert will feature a brass ensemble, wind ensemble, and string ensemble.  The hall has seating for 1400 but plan on arriving early to find parking. 

The program —

Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “O Magnum Mysterium” by Morton Lauridson (BRASS)

Samuel Barber “Summer Music” (WIND Quintet)

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky “Serenade for Strings” (in C Major, Op. 48)  (STRINGS)

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Chamber Music, Symphony | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ahhhh love! SF Ballet’s breathtaking premiere of “Onegin” depicts the downside of pouring your heart out in a letter, through Friday, February 3, 2012

Maria Kochetkova as Tatiana and Vitor Luiz as Eugene Onegin in Cranko's Onegin, at San Francisco Ballet through February 3, 2012. Photo: Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s 2012 season officially opened this weekend with the premiere of John Cranko’s exquisite Onegin, which is based on Alexander Pushkin’s classic 19th century novel-length poem, Eugene Onegin, and set to a lush Tchaikovsky score.  With Santo Loquasto’s scene and costume design and James Ingalls’ lighting, both echoing the romanticism of Pushkin’s old Russia, and the dancing, which builds steadily throughout the three acts, this production dazzles.  

As stories go, Onegin is timeless—a gripping drama that pulls you in quickly and keeps you referencing your own love life as well.  Eugene Onegin is a sophisticated and aloof young man of privilege from the big city (St. Petersburg) who visits his friend Lensky in the countryside.  Onegin immediately inflames the heart of young, naive and bookish Tatiana whose sister, Olga, is Lensky’s fiancé.  Caught in the spell of first love, Tatiana recklessly pours her heart out in a passionate letter to Onegin and has her maid deliver it (the olden day equivalent of hitting “send”).   Onegin comes in person to Tatiana’s birthday party and offers his answer—“NO”─rejecting the smitten young girl publicly and wounding her to her core.   Then, just to toy with his buddy Lensky and see how he will react, Onegin flirts openly with Olga.  Hotheaded Lensky become enraged and challenges Onegin to a duel whose consequences ruin a number of lives.  In the final scene, which transpires years later in St. Petersburg, Tatiana has settled into a comfortable marriage with the kind-hearted Prince Gremin and has transformed from a naive country girl into an elegant, stately, and very attractive woman.  Now, it’s Onegin’s cold heart that burns for her and it is he who desperately pens the love letter.   And it is she who now rejects him, telling him that while she still loves him, she is a woman now and will stay with her husband because she could never respect him or find true happiness with him.  They had a chance for real love, long ago, but he toyed with her.  Now, sadly, neither will know the joy of passionate romantic love.   Ahhhh love!

Onegin relies heavily on choreography and eschews classical pantomime—it has a series of pas de deux and robust ensemble dances that fill the stage with traditional Russian steps, polonaises, and courtly promenades.  Cranko has also infused it with very modernist elements.  Even something as complex as the passionate content of Tatiana’s letter is handled through dance─as she pens her late-night letter to Onegin, she dreams their deeply emotional pas de deux.  The cast changes frequently throughout the production.  Saturday’s matinee performance was superb with the dashing Armenian-born Davit Karapetyan as Onegin and the Kirov-ballet trained American Vanessa Zahorian as Tatiana.  Both danced their physically-challenging roles with grace and passion and delivered wonderfully complex lifts that required complete coordination between the partners.  Karapetyan and Zahorian are famous off-stage partners as well and made headlines the world over in May 2010 when, after their last performance of Romeo and Juliet, where they each played the title roles, he dropped down on one knee and pulled out a ring that had been hidden in his costume’s poison pouch and proposed to her in front of a packed house.  Their roles in this venerated classic also require a great deal of emotional presence, which both summoned masterfully on Saturday.  Onegin, in particular, struggles throughout the ballet, to find meaning in his life but never does because he is superficial and not able to connect to his feelings. Tatiana experiences her feelings fully and yet still rejects Onegin in the end, leaving the audience to ponder the deep meaning of love, honor, and commitment and to replay their own experiences with unrequited love.  From Zahorian’s first glimpse of Onegin, she conveys the dizzying passion of first love and literally opens to him and appears to be floating in air while he remains cool and unresponsive.

Maria Kochetkova as Tatiana in John Cranko's Onegin, at San Francisco Ballet through February 3, 2012. Photo: Erik Tomasson

Dana Genshaft delivered a charming Olga and a wonderful on stage chemistry with Zahorian’s Tatiana as well as with Domitro’s Lensky.

The music is a Tchaikovsky compilation arranged by Kurt Heinz Stolze in 1965 and is completely different from the music in Tchaikovsky’s beloved opera of the same name.  Instead, it is a less powerful orchestration of some of his little-known piano works such as The Seasons (1875-76), along with themes from the 1885 opera Cherevichki (The Slippers), and the latter part of the symphonic fantasia Francesca da Rimini (1876).  Martin West, SF Ballet’s Music Director and Principal Conductor and guest conductor David LaMarche alternate performances.  Saturday’s matinee was handled quite proficiently by LaMarch.     

Santo Loquasto’s scene and costume designs, traditional in all regards, echo the romanticism of Pushkin’s old Russia.  From Madame Larina’s countryside garden to Tatiana’s bedroom and her birthday party to Prince Gremin’s Palace, the sumptuous sets beckon the intensifying tragic drama. 

Run Time: 2 hours, 16 minutes with two intermissions

Details: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  Tickets: $36- $285 For further information: (415) 865-2000 or www.sfballet.org.

Remaining performances:  

Sunday, January 29, 2012 2 p.m.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 8 p.m.

Wednesday February 1, 2012 7:30 p.m.

Thursday February 2, 2012, 8 p.m.

Friday, February 3, 2012, 8 p.m.

January 29, 2012 Posted by | Dance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nutcracker:” the holiday classic runs through December 27, 2011, at San Francisco Ballet—ARThound talks with two participating Sonoma County musicians

Val Caniparoli is the toymaker, Drosselmeyer, in Helgi Tomasson's “Nutcracker,” at San Francisco Ballet December 9- 27, 2011. © Erik Tomasson

Nutcracker season is here and San Francisco’s Ballet’s production, which opened last Friday, is one of the best in the country.  Its sumptuous blend of Tchaikovsky’s music, exquisite dance, and Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s ingenious bow to San Francisco─setting the ballet in San Francisco on Christmas Eve during the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exhibition─make it a unique treat.  And there’s nothing like the festive experience of dressing up and celebrating the season at the stunning grand War Memorial Opera House.  For the musicians in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, the experience is also one of endurance.  This year, the orchestra, under the direction of SF Ballet Music Director Martin West, will perform the beloved production 30 times throughout December, often twice daily, and it’s estimated that close to 100,000 people will attend.  For listeners in the audience, it’s impossible to imagine that Tchaikovsky’s score ever palls.  Parts of it are so familiar─the Sugar Plum Pas de Deux or the Danse des Mirlitons or the March of the Toy Soliders─that they are steeped in our subconscious and always enchanting.  Aside from its difficulty─it’s Tchaikovsky─one of the challenges Nutcracker presents for musicians is simply keeping it fresh performance after performance. The orchestra finished up with Carmen at San Francisco Opera and began rehearsing Nutcracker the first week of December and had a rehearsal with the actual dancers just prior to last Friday’s opening performance.  I spoke with two Sonoma County musicians in the orchestra who have each played countless Nutcrackers─bassoonist Rufus Olivier, of Sebastopol, and cellist Ruth Lane, of Petaluma and our conversations are below.   If you’re attending the ballet, especially with children, a wonderful opportunity exists before each performance to walk right up to the pit and meet and greet and observe the musicians in the orchestra who play such an integral part in the magic of the ballet.   

San Francisco Ballet Orchestra Principal Bassoonist Rufus Olivier, of Sebastopol. Olivier has played the “Nutcracker” for over thirty years at the San Francisco Ballet and will perform it thirty times this season. Olivier has recorded many movie, video, CD and TV soundtracks including Disney’s “Never Cry Wolf” and he won a Grammy for the soundtrack “Elmo in Grouchland.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Rufus Olivier, Principal bassoonist, SF Ballet and Opera Orchestras, is a Sebastopol resident and is one of two bassoonists with the ballet orchestra.  Even before arriving in the Bay Area, Olivier had quite a reputation.  In 1975, Zubin Mehta, the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, gave the 18 year old Olivier a chance to play a concerto with the orchestra and he did such a good job that, afterwards, Mehta immediately offered him a co-principal position.  Olivier went on to play with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra under Neville Marriner, and the Goldofsky Opera Tours.  He moved to the Bay Area in 1977 and by 1980, he was the youngest principal to ever play in the SF Opera Orchestra and started playing Nutcracker in San Francisco some 30 years ago with Christensen’s production which predates both Martin West and Helgi Tomasson.  Olivier studied under David Breidenthal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and currently teaches at Stanford one day each week.  Olivier has been guest soloist with numerous orchestras all over the world.   He has recorded many movie, video, CD and TV soundtracks including Disney’s Never Cry Wolf and San Francisco Opera’s Grammy-nominated CD Orphée et Eurydice, and he won a Grammy for the soundtrack Elmo in Grouchland.  Olivier’s son, Rufus David Olivier, is also an accomplished bassoonist.

With over 30 seasons of Nutcrackers under your belt, how do you keep it fresh?  

Rufus Olivier: First of all, it’s Tchaikovsky and very, very good music.  Second, Tchaikovsky keeps you on your toes─it’s very hard─ and that’s takes care of keeping it fresh.  That’s pretty much it.

What is the most challenging part for you as a bassoonist?

Rufus Olivier:   There’s two—in the very beginning, in the first minute or two, there’s the woodwind interlude where there are these wild triplets, very high, and technically hard.  And then there’s the Arabian Dance (Act II) which is musically hard and, by that, I mean it’s hard to put across the expression that I would like to convey, which is actually harder than being technically proficient.  You can work through technical issues but it’s very hard to get to the point musically where I can make someone feel something that I want to convey and I want the dancers to feel something so that they dance better.  If I play it more expressively, maybe sweetly, then anything can happen with the dancers and with the audience and they won’t know why but they will feel it.  At a certain point in one’s career, the competition is with oneself.  You’re not competing with anyone except yourself and you are challenging yourself all the time.  All of my colleagues are trying, all the time, to sound as good as they can sound.

With Helgi Tomasson’s production, are there any cuts to the original score? 

Rufus Olivier: Yes. The original score would come in at over three hours and Helgi’s production comes in at about 2 hours, but all the important and well-known parts are there and, actually, he’s added some things that weren’t in the previous production.

How aware are you of what the dancers are doing? 

Rufus Olivier: I can’t see the dancers at all and completely reply on Martin who is watching the stage and I am watching him.  Unlike the opera, I can’t hear anything.

What is the most challenging thing about playing the bassoon in an orchestra? 

Rufus Olivier: Coming in when you’re supposed to (laughing).  There are so many things you have to do and you are operating at a very high level of consciousness.  By the time you reach the level of the opera, symphony or ballet, it’s almost automatic but your ears are everywhere.  You are hyperaware even though your heart rate may be at rest.  Everything can be hard but trying to play in tune with other instruments can be challenging and so can solos and dealing with conductors who can be crazy at times. And, when you’re not playing, whether it’s 3 bars or 20 bars, you can’t leave, you’ve got to sit there and be engaged and stay awake and count so you know when to come in. 

What are the great bassoon solos in orchestral music?

Rufus Olivier:  Two of the most famous symphonic solos for the bassoon include the theme for grandfather in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and the opening solo in Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring.

What performances are you looking forward to musically in the coming season? 

Rufus Olivier: We are playing RakU, which is one of the pieces written by our bass player Shinji Enshima. (RakU is part of the SF Ballet’s Program 6, and plays March 23-April 3, 2012. Click here to read more.)  The piece just premiered last year and one day it may well be one of the premiere bassoon solos. 

San Francisco Ballet Orchestra Cellist Ruth Lane, of Petaluma, in the pit before Thursday’s performance of “Nutcracker,” which runs through December 27, 2011. Lane’s cello, which is painted with images of the Sistine Chapel, was custom made for her by her husband, Anthony Lane of Lane Violins in Petaluma. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Ruth Lane, cellist, is a Petaluma resident and has been playing with the San Francisco Opera and Ballet Orchestras since 1990.  This is her 6th year of playing Nutcracker for an entire season’s run and she is one of six cellists in the ballet orchestra.  Prior to that, she played several performances annually as a substitute musician.  Lane has performed Nutcracker under Music Directors Dennis de Coteau and Martin West and under various guest conductors.  Lane came from a family that was passionate about classical music and started studying cello at age 10 and received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from USC.  In addition to the Bay Area, Lane has been heard in recital in the Los Angeles, and London.  She is a member of the Bay Area’s Temescal String Quartet and she performed this September in Petaluma in “The V Concert” (click here to read ARThound’s coverage.)  Strad magazine calls her “a cellist of scrupulous intentions and dexterous manual coordination . . . unimpeachable intonation and admirable poise.” (as quoted on the Temescal String Quartet page.)

What are the most important and challenging parts of Nutcracker for cello? 

Ruth Lane:  We don’t have any solos and I am one of six cellos and we are all playing the same music.  Woodwinds have the solos and the strings, which are a quieter instrument, tend to be like a chorus—it’s all the instruments together that create this blanker of sound that you recognize as the orchestra.  The cellos play throughout but, in Act 1, we play what used to be a bear dance but is now a solider dance.  We also play a lot in the battle scene and also in the Russian Sailor’s Dance.

All Tchaikovsky is challenging because he writes for the breadth of the cello and its very passionate music, so it really takes your all to play it well.  You’ve really got to draw on that emotional level of interpretation beyond the technical.  Performing a piece like Nutcracker so many times and trying to really keep it vital is very demanding emotionally.

With so many Nutcrackers under your belt and so many coming up, how do you keep it fresh night after night?  

Ruth Lane: What I always draw on is the audience.  Every night, at least 30 children with their parents will come up to the orchestra pit before the performance and they are pointing and waving and they are so excited.  It’s so different from the opera performances where some of the front row is falling asleep.  This just doesn’t happen in the Nutcracker.  We’re always joking about how the age goes down by about 20 to 30 years across the board, from the performers to the audience, when you go form opera to ballet and the Nutcracker is just full of children. It’s that and the music itself which requires a lot from you.

How aware are you of what the dancers are doing? 

Ruth Lane: From where I sit, I can usually see the dancers from the chest up, so I see them moving up and down.  I follow the conductor and it’s his job to keep the orchestra and the dancers all together.  I really like Martin West in conversation with Tchaikovsky─it’s passionate but he doesn’t tend to go overboard.   He keeps the tempos up.  Martin is very very good at coordinating the action he is seeing on stage with the sounds that come out of the pit.  I haven’t worked with anybody who is as good as doing that as he is. 

What’s your favorite ballet in terms of music?

 Ruth Lane:   Well, Nutcracker has some of the greatest music but my very favorite ballet is Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev which we are also performing later this season. The cellos do the love scene on the balcony, which is incredibly emotional and passionate, which keeps coming back again and again. 

The scene on the back of Ruth Lane’s exquisite custom-made cello was inspired by a dream her husband Anthony Lane had. Lane, a highly respected violin maker, drew the basic design and artist Margrit Haeberlin did the actual painting and the cello was Lane’s gift to his wife. Photo: courtesy Anthony Lane Violins of Petaluma.

I know that some string instruments are extremely valuable and are meticulously handcrafted.  Is there anything special about your cello? 

Ruth Lane:  Yes, my husband, Anthony Lane of Lane Violins, custom built my cello for me about 10 years ago and it’s got a wonderful sound and is beautifully decorated with painted images from the Sistine Chapel and the life of a violin maker. I’ve really enjoyed this special gift.

What’s the biggest challenge during the Nutcracker? 

Ruth Lane:  It’s stamina.  The Nutcracker and Tchaikovsky in general require a lot of muscle when playing the cello.  For example, the Pas de Deux (Act II), at the end, is so rigorous that I have to know when to lay back and when to really pull out all the stops.

Do you have a favorite part? 

Ruth Lane:  I’ve always like the Trepak or Russian Sailor’s Dance (Act II) and the Pas de Deux (Act II) at the end.

Two Great SF Ballet Orchestra Nutcracker Recordings: 

 Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (1991) with Denis de Coteau.  This recording is groundbreaking.  The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra collected money from each individual musician and recorded this on their own at Skywalker Ranch in 1988.  They were the first group to record and self-produce Nutcracker and received all royalties. 

Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker- San Francisco Ballet (2008) with Martin West, available as a DVD of the ballet performance or as a CD of the music.  

Details:  San Francisco Ballet performs at the historic 1932 War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. Nutcracker runs December 9 through December 27, 2011.

Tickets: $22 to $275 available (415) 865-2000 or  www.sfballet.org/nutcracker

Parking:  Civic Center Garage (on McAllister Street between Larkin and Polk); Performing Arts Garage (on Grove between Franklin and Gough streets); Opera Plaza Garage (valet only, 601 Van Ness, enter on Turk).

Arrival Time:  Plan to arrive early to enjoy the sumptuous atmosphere and to ensure that you are seated.  The theater enforces a no late seating policy and guests will not be seated after the lights have dimmed. Latecomers will be asked to stand until there is a break in the program, and will be seated at management’s discretion. 

Run-time: Two hours with a 20-minute intermission.

December 18, 2011 Posted by | Classical Music, Dance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nutcracker:” A Holiday Classic opens Friday, December 9, 2011, at San Francisco Ballet

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's “Nutcracker,” at San Francisco Ballet December 9- 27, 2011. © Erik Tomasson

The San Francisco’s Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Nutcracker opens Friday and is always a festive treat with its distinctive bow to San Francisco.  Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s production is set in San Francisco on Christmas Eve during the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exhibition and the ballet opens with a stunning collage of black and white photos from the actual world’s fair that gradually narrow in on period shop windows until landing at Drosselmeyer’s window and the world of magic and wonder contained therein.  ARThound was curious about the music and the challenges it presents and spoke with two Sonoma County musicians who have each played countless Nutcrackers─bassoonist Rufus Olivier, of Sebastopol, and cellist Ruth Lane, of Petaluma─who share what it’s like to participate in this yearly extravaganza and how they keep it fresh.  Stay tuned to ARThound for a feature on these Sonoma County musicians.   

Val Caniparoli in Tomasson's “Nutcracker,” at San Francisco Ballet December 9- 27, 2011. © Erik Tomasson

Details:  San Francisco Ballet performs at the historic 1932 War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. Nutcracker runs December 9 through December 27, 2011.

Tickets: $22 to $275 available (415) 865-2000 or  www.sfballet.org/nutcracker

Parking:  Civic Center Garage (on McAllister Street between Larkin and Polk); Performing Arts Garage (on Grove between Franklin and Gough streets); Opera Plaza Garage (valet only, 601 Van Ness, enter on Turk).

Arrival Time:  Plan to arrive early to enjoy the sumptuous atmosphere and to ensure that you are seated.  The theater enforces a no late seating policy and guests will not be seated after the lights have dimmed. Latecomers will be asked to stand until there is a break in the program, and will be seated at management’s discretion. 

Run-time: Two hours with a 20-minute intermission.

December 9, 2011 Posted by | Dance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: San Francisco Ballet Opens its 2011 season with Giselle, a ballet with staying power

Yuan Yuan Tan and Artem Yachmenikov in Tomasson's Giselle. @Tomasson

The San Francisco Ballet launched its 2011 season Saturday night with a breathtaking performance of Giselle, one of the most beloved classical ballets. SF Ballet principle dancers Yuan Yuan Tan and Artem Yachmennikov in the lead roles of Giselle and Count Albrecht, danced Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s 1999 production of this venerable 170 year old classic to perfection.  If you haven’t been to the ballet lately, or are introducing a young one to the art form, the San Francisco Ballet, in its 78th season, and the oldest professional ballet company in America, is well worth a visit and Giselle is the classic to see—steeped in tradition and full of wispy white-tulled maidens seeking love with toe-dancing elevated to art.  The production run is full of roll switches—11 different dancers in the lead roles of Giselle and Albrecht.  The remarkable Yuan Yuan Tan, who seems capable of dancing on air, is certainly a Giselle to see, performing again on the closing evening, Saturday, February 12.    

Giselle epitomizes all the features of classical ballet—extensive pointe work, turn-out of the legs and high extensions– all executed in graceful, flowing, precise movements.  When it premiered in 1841, at the Paris Opera Ballet, it was a hit, exploring the relatively new theme in dance of a peasant in love with a nobleman.  It has continued to grow in statue and is now part of the repertoire of most major companies.  Tomasson has based his version of Giselle on what we know of the original 1841 French version’s choreography by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli and on Russian Marius Petipa’s later adaptation.  Tomasson has added a pas de deux for Giselle and Albrecht in Act 1 and reworked another peasant pas de deux in Act 1 to make it a pas de cinq to accommodate more dancers.   The music is by French composer Adolphe Charles Adam and is significant historically because it was actually composed for the ballet, breaking with the then common practice of piecing together pre-existing melodies for ballets.

The story is unforgettable.  Seen with modern eyes, it can be interpreted in many ways.  Like the age-old tales of Orpheus and Eurydice or Tristan and Isolde, Giselle can be about the triumph of love over death.  It also shows us the unbridgeable gap between stories repeated to us in childhood of love in far away magical places and the crushing brutality of unattainable love.  I found myself toggling between the two– viewing it in hopeful childhood mode and knowing as an adult that disaster was just around the corner.

Giselle is a simple peasant girl in a Rhineland village who loves Loys and is unaware he is really a nobleman named Albrecht who is just disguised as Loys.  Hilairion, a gamekeeper who is infatuated with Giselle, is jealous of Albrecht and tells Giselle his true identity.  Realizing Albrecht is to going to marry someone else, Giselle goes mad; her weak heart gives out and she dies. 

Artem Yachmenikov in Tomasson's Giselle. @Tomasson.

 

In Act II, the very essence of romantic ballet, the ethereal wilis, spirits of girls jilted by their lovers before their wedding day, appear at midnight and encounter Hilarion and toss him to his death.  Next, they encounter Albrecht and prepare to dance him to death.  Giselle intervenes and saves his life giving him the strength to dance all night.  She forgives him for his prince in disguise duplicity and rescues him from the horror of feminine vengeance.  By not succumbing to hateful ways of the Wilis, Giselle is freed from any association with them, and returns to her grave to rest in eternal peace. Albrecht watches her die again.   If danced well, the ballet’s ending is unbearably sad but it is also a celebration of the inherent goodness in people like Giselle.  

The ballet’s credibility is almost completely anchored in the expressive qualities Giselle, its heroine. Yuan Yuan Tuan, now in her thirties, gave a technically striking performance, outdancing everyone on stage in Act 1, where she plays the innocent maiden, not yet a woman.   With her long limbs capable of seemingly impossible movements, she is almost too graceful, too regal to be a peasant.  In Act 2, she was riveting.  What extensions!  On one supporting foot, you see her begin to extend her other leg effortlessly to almost 180 degrees and then push even further in astounding Penchee arabesque, an absolutely grueling pose that Tuan has turned into poetry.  Paired with the dashing Artem Yachmennikov, a tall striking dancer who complements her, the two made a dazzling couple, very lyrical.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Artem Yachmenikov in Tomasson's Giselle. @Tomasson.

Can Tuan act?   If anything, that is her shortfall, more evident in Act 2 where she needed to pull off the transition to the ethereal spirit world and convey that she has been tragically broken by the loss of love.  Here, Tan played Giselle with a mental absorption that was palpable but flat in terms of dramatic tension, emotional credibility.  She executed it all with astounding technical precision though—demanding acrobatic footwork and beautiful weightless adagios with Yachmennikov where she seemed to glide across the mist-filled stage.

Elana Altman, a stand-in as Myrta, Queen of the Wilis, danced the role with the imperious queen’s role with grandeur.  The 24-veiled Wilis in their lovely dresses with outstretched arms, were graceful and precise executing their line dances against the backdrop of the deep forest.

Pascal Molat was fabulous as Hilarion, the rough young peasant with the heart of gold.  No matter how many birds he tossed at Giselle’s door, or how perfect his footwork, she had eyes only for Loys/Albrecht.  

Mikael Melbye’s set design for both acts features magnificent enormous trees, splendidly lit, giving a very organic feel to the stage. 

There are six remaining performances of Giselle (with alternating principal dancers) at San Francisco’s elegant landmark War Memorial Opera House.  The 2011 season includes two other classical performances: George Balanchine’s Coppélia and an All-Tchaikovsky program (Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, Kenneth MacMillan’s Winter Dreams, and the world premiere of Helgi Tomasson’s Trio). There are three mixed bill programs of modern masters that include William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite, Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, and John Neumeier’s full-length ballet, The Little Mermaid,  and three mixed bill programs premiering new works by Yuri Possokhov, Helgi Tomasson and Christopher Wheeldon.  The season closes with the Nutcracker.

Wilis as Slav vampires?  In researching Giselle, I came across some interesting notes on the origin of wilis in “The Origins of Giselle” section of the Metropolitan’s Opera’s site (also mentioned on the wordIQ site in its definition of Slavic Fairies).

“…where do these mythical creatures come from? Meyer’s Konverationslexikon defines Wiles or Wilis as female vampires, the spirits of betrothed girls who are jilted before their wedding night. According to Heine wilis came from a Slav legend of maidens who are engaged to be married but die before their wedding. They are unable to rest in their graves because they could not satisfy their passion for dancing when they were alive. They therefore gather on the highway at midnight to lure young men and dance them to their death. There is a Slave word ‘vila’ which means vampire. The plural is vile, and wilis is probably a Germanic pronunciation of that word as a ‘w’ in German is pronounced like a ‘v’. (Puccini’s first opera is based on the same legend, in Italian Le Villi.) In Serbia they were maidens cursed by God; in Bulgaria they were known as samovily, girls who died before they were baptized; and in Poland they are beautiful young girls floating in the air atoning for frivolous past lives.”

Details: Remaining performances of Giselle: Tuesday, February 1, 2011, at 8 p.m., Wednesday, February 2, 2011, at 7:30 p.m., Friday, February 4, 2011, at 8 p.m., Thursday, February 10, 2011, at 8 p.m (features Principal Dancer, Maria Kochetkova), Saturday, February 12, 2011, at 2 and 8 p.m.(features Yuan Yuan Tan as Giselle) , and Sunday February 13, 2011 at 2 p.m.  Tickets: $48 to $150.00, with a variety of attractively priced thematic packages for multiple performances.  (415) 865-2000 or www.sfballet.org/performancestickets

January 31, 2011 Posted by | Dance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment