06 March 2015

02 March 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/9

(Titania to Oberon)

These are the forgeries of jealousy;
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest, or mead,
By pavèd fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beachèd margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have sucked up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which, falling in the land,
Hath every pelting river made so proud,
That they have overborne their continents.
The ox hath therefore stretched his yoke in vain,
The plowman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attained a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drownèd field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is filled up with mud;
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green,
For lack of tread, are undistinguishable.
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound.
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries; and the mazèd world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, scene 1, ll 81 - 117

. . . because Shakespeare knew about everything, including climate change. When we studied The Tempest in Janet Adelman's Shakespeare class at Cal, she told us, when we came to the scenes of Stephano and Trinculo introducing Caliban to booze, that she found it remarkable that Shakespeare already knew the havoc alcohol would wreak on colonized populations (she had worked on American Indian reservations and seen its effects at first hand). In this excerpt from A Midsummer Night's Dream, harmonious, musical language tells us of a disharmonious world. I'm posting this because – and I realize that anyone outside of California is going to sneer at me for this – I've really missed winter this year, and I have to admit it's skipping us (possibly because it's doubling up on the east coast). I know, I know: I too roll my eyes when Californians complain bitterly when the temperature drops down to the low 60s. But there really is such a thing as winter in California, and I miss the chill, and the darkness, and the early silence, and I miss the rain. This year we never really got the cold weather that triggers dormancy, and this has given us a misshapen spring. I planted tulips, and for the second year in a row only a few came up, and those have full-sized flowers on stubby little stalks, to weird effect. Roses are blooming all over my backyard, but they are strangely lopsided. I think one of my apricot trees is dead; the other is spotted rather than covered with blooms. The lilacs started budding in December and seem stuck there. I've been describing a place with too little water, and Titania's speech covers a world with too much, but the effect is the same: an unhealthy, and even dangerous, confusion of the regular cycle of nature.

I took this photo in my backyard on 20 December 2014, and that is indeed a lilac starting to bud in late December. But it's now over two months later, and it seems stuck at this stage. It doesn't look very healthy.

To go through the speech: Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies, meet accidentally in the woods outside Athens. The meeting is accidental because they are quarreling over possession of a little Indian boy, born to one of Titania's mortal companions. So in the first line, these refers to accusations Oberon has just made about various love affairs of hers (which he has made in answer to similar accusations from her). She dismisses his claims as "the forgeries of jealousy" and goes on to recount the problems caused by his anger: whenever she and her band meet, he shows up brawling, and disturbs them. In the second line, she refers to "the middle summer's spring," which means the beginning of midsummer, but the conjunction of summer with spring prepares the way for the confusion of seasons with which the speech ends. She refers to their sport, but clearly there's deeper significance to their dances, which maintain a sort of regularity and amity in the natural order; without them the wind sucks up fogs and vapors from the sea and dumps the excess liquid on the land. The wind is presented as a sort of orchestra for their fêtes; it is the whistling wind, and it's piping in vain. Let's just pause here a moment to bask in the beauty of the line To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind: it's not really necessary, but it is essential, which might be a useful definition of poetry. Ringlets to me conveys not only the little circles in which they dance (emphasizing once again the tiny, other-worldly quality of the fairy kingdom in this play), but also curling hair tossing and bobbing in the breeze.

Back to the overflowing waters: remember that in Shakespeare's time (as well as before and after his time) there were medical theories about the disease-causing qualities of certain vapors or miasmas; there was also a theory, derived from ancient Greece, of four humors, linked to the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, the balance among which controlled health and general well-being. So an excess of water indicates a world dangerously out of balance. The food supply is being disrupted; the fields are plowed and grain planted, but it's too wet and the grain rots while still green without reaching the gold of ripeness. The comparison to a youth lacking a beard refers wittily to the tassels of ripe wheat. (Corn refers to grain in general, not to what we think of as corn, which I think had not yet crossed the Atlantic from Mexico.) This was of course written at a time when food storage was in a fairly basic state; failed crops for one year meant hard times, and for two years meant disaster.

The fold – the enclosure for livestock, usually sheep – is empty because the animals have died of the murrain (an infectious disease, referred to here by its older form, murrion) and are benefiting no one but the scavenger crows. Nine men's morris is a board game, but sometimes large equivalents were cut into village greens, and that has been filled with mud, and the quaint (that is, curious, intricate) mazes are sinking back indistinguishable in the grass, since no one is walking through them. The grass itself is wanton (that is, luxuriant and profuse, with an implication of something tending towards the disorderly or promiscuous – what might seem like merely a colorful and appealing adjective is emphasizing the main theme of the speech, a breakdown in what is becoming and orderly). Humanity is being threatened by the squabbling in Fairyland; both work and play are sinking into mud and disease. These are frightful things, but in the Fairy Queen's description they seem so lovely: perhaps this is a sign of her distance from mortal struggles, and of the beauty permeating her existence.

Titania continues that "human mortals want [that is, lack] their winter here" and night is not blest with hymn or carol: both blest and hymn imply a religious significance to this singing; and (remember that the play takes place in ancient Athens) Artemis, the goddess of the moon, responds angrily to the lack of due praise: again, the excess of water caused by the disruption in the regular order of things leads to disease (here, specifically, rheumatic diseases). The result is a topsy-turvy world that intermingle the seasons in a confusing and destructive way. Hiem is the Latin for winter, used here, as it often is in poetry, as a personification of the season. This confused profusion of different seasons appearing simultaneously leaves the world mazèd, that is, amazed, lost as in a maze.

Autumn is described as childing, that is, fruitful, breeding. This reference to childbirth continues in the end of the speech, in the terms progeny, parents, and original (that is, origin) and will echo through the play. Remember that their quarrel is about a child; and the play itself will end with all the sets of quarreling divided lovers joined in amity, and conclude (right before Puck's epilogue, which stands outside the action of the play) with Oberon blessing the newlyweds and wishing them healthy children: "And the blots of Nature's hand / Shall not in their issue stand. / Never mole, harelip, nor scar, / Nor mark prodigious, such as are / Despisèd in nativity, / Shall upon their children be." (Act V, scene 1, ll 411 - 416): nothing prodigious (in its now archaic sense of unnatural or abnormal) shall harm their children. Order is restored.

There are of course dozens of editions of A Midsummer Night's Dream; I use the one from Signet Classic.

27 February 2015

24 February 2015

fun stuff I may or may not get to: March 2015

This is an overwhelming month of possibilities. It took a lot of time to put this together, I'm sure it will take a lot of time to go through it, and it will take a lot of time actually to attend even a third of these offerings. Good luck! I hope the categories are helpful, though some listings could have gone in several. I would like to draw special attention to a couple of performances: first the 2 March performance of the Philip Glass Études for piano, featuring Timo Andres, Maki Namekawa, and Glass himself; and second Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble 27 - 29 March – what a great chance to bookend your month with live performances by two of the giants of modern American music.

Cutting Ball Theater's Hidden Classics Reading Series presents A Murder of Crows by Mac Wellman, directed by Rem Myers, on 8 March, and Strindberg's A Dream Play, translated by Paul Walsh and directed by Rob Melrose, on 22 March. And on their main stage, Antigone continues through 22 March.

You can do a compare-and-contrast with Antigones this month since Shotgun Players is kicking off its season with the Sophocles tragedy, this time in the recent translation by Anne Carson (the Cutting Ball translation is a new one, done by Daniel Sullivan). That's Antigonick, co-directed by Mark Jackson and Hope Mohr, and it opens 19 March and runs through 19 April.

Berkeley Rep presents Molière's Tartuffe, adapted by David Ball and directed by Dominique Serrand, from 13 March to 12 April.

San Francisco Playhouse presents Stupid Fucking Bird, adapted (loosely, I'm guessing) from Chekhov's The Seagull, by Aaron Posner and directed by Susi Damilano, 17 March to 2 May.

Custom Made Theater presents The Braggart Soldier; or, Major Blowhard, adapted from Plautus and directed by Evren Odcikin, from 27 March to 26 April. This is a big month for adapted classics.

Dame Edna Everage's Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour touches down in the Orpheum Theater, 17 - 22 March.

Early/Baroque Music
Philharmonia Baroque features delightful violinist Rachel Podger, leading the band in an all-Vivaldi program, 11 and 13 - 15 March; as usual, they perform in different venues on different days, so check here for specifics.

Magnificat presents two oratorios by Marc-Antoine Charpentier centering on Biblical heroines Esther and Judith; that's 6 - 8 March in a different location each day, so check here for details.

American Bach Soloists have a special Bach birthday concert on 20 March at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, featuring Anthony Newman on organ and harpsichord and Joshua Romatowski on flute.

Cal Performances presents harpsichordist Davitt Moroney in an all-Bach program on 28 March.

Lacuna Arts performs Domenico Scarlatti's Stabat Mater and Heinrich Schütz's St John Passion on 15 March at the Episcopal Church of St Mary the Virgin.

The Baroque Ensemble at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, directed by Corey Jamason and Elisabeth Reed, presents a (free) concert performance of Monteverdi's L'Incoranazione di Poppea on 7 and 8 March.

Ars Minerva, a new group founded and led by Céline Ricci, is planning on reviving some of the forgotten or neglected operas composed in the seventeenth century for the famously wild Carnival season in Venice. First up is a semi-staged production of La Cleopatra, with music by Daniele da Castrovillar and libretto by Giacomo dall'Angelo. That's 14 - 15 March at the Marines Memorial Theater near Union Square.

See also Cecilia Bartoli's appearance with Cal Performances, listed under Vocalists.

Modern/Contemporary Music
Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble bring On Behalf of Nature to the Yerba Buena Center on 27 - 29 March.

Cal Performances and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present the fourth and final of the Project TenFourteen concerts on 29 March; this one features music by Nakano, Liang, Wem-Chung, Varese, and Crumb.

San Francisco Performances presents the piano Études of Philip Glass, performed by Maki Namekawa, Timo Andres, and Glass himself. That's 2 March at Davies Hall.

The 20th Other Minds Festival will take place 6 - 8 March at the Jazz Center. Check here for a full list of performances and ticket information. There's some enticing stuff there.

As ever, the Center for New Music has a full schedule of the newest new music; the things that catch my eye for March are all towards the end of the month: an open salon with Wild Rumpus on the 27th; the Plath Project, featuring five new chamber works, commissioned by the Firesong Ensemble, using Sylvia Plath's poetry, on the 28th; a tribute to the late composer Robert Ashley, featuring baritone Thomas Buckner and the sfSoundGroup in works Ashley composed for the singer, on the 29th; and the Del Sol Quartet playing the music of Huang Ruo on the 31st.

Blueprint, the new music ensemble at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has a concert called "Exotic Soundscapes" on 14 March, featuring music by Robin Estrada, Stephen Paulson, and Olivier Messiaen. The group is led by Nicole Paiement and the soloists will be Justin Cummings on bassoon and Sarah Cahill on piano. And then on 15 March the Hot Air Music Festival takes over the Conservatory from 1:00 to 9:00 for its fifth annual new music extravaganza. On 20 March there is a concert featuring the music of Elinor Armer.

For further new music, check out Thomas Adès at the San Francisco Symphony and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra's John Adams mini-festival at Cal Performances, both listed under Symphonic, or the three new operas listed under Operatic.

Cal Performances presents mezzo-soprano Susan Graham with pianist Malcolm Martineau in Hertz hall on 1 March at 3:00. You could then walk down to Zellerbach Hall for Cassandra Wilson's tribute to Billie Holiday at 7:00.

Cal Performances presents a rare US appearance by Cecilia Bartoli, with Sergio Ciomei on piano, performing works from her album Sacrificium, dedicated to the art of the baroque-era castrati. That's on 31 March and 2 April. I heard her back in the day in intimate Jordan Hall in Boston – just goes to show you, go hear all the young singers you've never heard of before, because tomorrow they'll be performing in big barns and the tickets will cost you hundreds.

San Francisco Performances presents mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke with pianist Julius Drake in a program of Haydn, Mahler, Liszt, and Granados, on 6 March at St Mark's Lutheran.

San Francisco Performances presents soprano Leah Crocetto with pianist Mark Markham in a program of Strauss, Duparc, and Verdi, along with the world premiere of the complete song cycle Eternal Recurrence by Gregory Peebles and a selection of torch songs. That's 22 March at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

See also Dawn Upshaw's appearance with Thomas Adès at the San Francisco Symphony, listed under Symphonic.

West Edge Opera continues its series of concert operas with piano accompaniment with Donizetti's Poliuto on 28 March and 1 April. Once again, the weekend performance is at Rossmoor in Walnut Creek (which is not accessible by public transportation) and the weeknight performance is at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley (which is accessible by public transportation, but the 8:00 start time is going to render this a non-starter for many working people).

See also the two baroque operas listed under Early/Baroque Music. The rest of the operatic offerings this month are all new:

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble joins with Volti to present Death with Interruptions, a new opera by Kurt Rohde. The libretto is by UC Berkeley history professor Thomas Laqueur (I think I had a class from him! if it's the one I'm thinking of, we read (among other things) Moll Flanders). The libretto is based on a short novel by Portugal's own José Saramago (but people, please: if you read only one Portuguese novelist, skip Saramago and read the great Eça de Queirós (which is sometimes spelled Queiroz, so check both spellings in whatever searching you do)). But by all means check out the opera, and you can do that 19 and 21 March at the ODC Theater.

For another opera based on a novel, check out the Composers, Inc presentation of Middlemarch in Spring, a new opera by Allen Shearer with a libretto by Claudia Stevens. That's at Z Space on 19 - 22 March.

Uksus, a chamber opera by Erling Wold with libretto by Yulia Izmaylova and Felix Strasser, set among the avant-garde Russians of the early twentieth century, will be on view at the Dance Mission Theater from 6 to 8 March.

Cal Performances presents Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich in an all-Boulez program in Zellerbach Hall on 12 March.

San Francisco Performances presents Garrick Ohlsson in the second of his two all-Scriabin concerts (the first was last December). This one will be 14 March at the Jazz Center.

The San Francisco Symphony presents Jeremy Denk with The Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 15 March and 16 March, with a different program each night.

See also the Philip Glass Études listed under Modern/Contemporary Music and Yuja Wang with the visiting London Symphony, listed under Symphonic.

Cal Performances presents Jennifer Koh in a program of Bach, Berio, and a new piece by John Harbison (co-commissioned by Cal Performances); that's on 15 March.

Chamber Music
Cal Performances presents cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han in an all-Russian, all 20th-century program (Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff) on 8 March.

San Francisco Performances presents the Takács Quartet in an all-Schubert program at the Jazz Center on 15 March and the Elias Quartet in an all-Beethoven program on 30 March at St Mark's Lutheran.

Chamber Music SF presents the San Francisco debut of the Sitkovetsky Trio, in a program of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Brahms on 8 March; and the Pacifica Quartet in a program of Haydn, Ligeti, and Beethoven on 29 March. All performances are at the Marines Memorial Theater near Union Square. More information on these concerts and the rest of there season may be found here.

Cal Performances presents the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in three concerts, each led by Benjamin Shwartz and each featuring a piece by John Adams: Program A on 20 March has Shaker Loops, along with Stravinsky's Danses Concertantes and Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A (with soloist Martin Fröst); Program B on 21 March has Son of Chamber Symphony (which is also being used by the Joffrey Ballet at Zellerbach; see Dance below) along with Beethoven's Eroica and Hillborg's Clarinet Concerto: Peacock Tales (again with Fröst as soloist); Program C on 22 March has Chamber Symphony along with the Mahler 4 (with soprano Ying Fang). I assume both the Mahler and Beethoven are in chamber-orchestra versions.

New Century Chamber Orchestra features Guest Concertmaster Glenn Dicterow (former Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic) in a program of Mozart, Grieg, Holst, and Brahms, 5 - 8 March (in a different location each day so check here for details).

The Oakland East Bay Symphony, led by Michael Morgan, has an all-Mexican program on 27 March at the Paramount, featuring work by Carlos Chávez, José Pablo Moncayo, Silvestre Revueltas, Rubén Fuentes, and Diana Gameros, who will perform traditional Mexican songs. Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner is the solo pianist in the Chávez piano concerto.

At the San Francisco Symphony Thomas Adès conducts The Unanswered Question by Ives, La Création du Monde by Milhaud, Luonnotar by Sibelius, and his own In Seven Days, with video by Tal Rosner. Dawn Upshaw is the soprano soloist, I assume in the Sibelius, and Kirill Gerstein is on piano; that's 5 - 7 March. Then Ton Koopman leads the orchestra in works by Handel and Haydn, featuring fabulous principal trumpet Mark Inouye, on 18, 20, and 21 March; and Semyon Bychkov leads the orchestra in the Bruckner 8 on 25 - 27 March. Michael Tilson Thomas is around this month, only he's leading the London Symphony Orchestra: first in the Britten Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, the Sibelius 2, and the Shostakovich Piano Concerto 1 with soloist Yuja Wang, on 22 March; and then in Hidden Variables by Colin Matthews, the Shostakovich 5, and Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F Major, again with Wang as soloist, on 23 March.

Cal Performances presents the Joffrey Ballet in a program of dances by Stanton Welch (Son of Chamber Symphony, to the John Adams piece), Alexander Ekman's Episode 31 (set to a reading of a Christina Rossetti poem), and Val Caniparoli's Incantations (to a score by Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky); that's 14 - 15 March (same program both days).

The San Francisco Ballet presents Program 4, with the Jerome Robbins Dances at a Gathering and Hummingbird by Liam Scarlett, 26 February to 8 March. The Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov Don Quixote returns from 20 to 29 March.

At the San Francisco Jazz Center, the Vijay Iyer Trio performs on 27 March in conjunction with the release of his new album, Break Stuff.

See also the Cassandra Wilson appearance at Cal Performances, listed under Vocalists.

Visual Arts
Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland opens at the de Young Museum on 7 March and runs to 31 May.

High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection opens at the Legion of Honor on 14 March and runs until 19 July.

23 February 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/8

Melancholy Flower-Viewing

Melancholy cherries have begun smelling from a distance
cherry branches spread all around
the sunlight glitters and is exceedingly blinding
I live inside a tightly closed house,
daily eat vegetables       eat fish and duck eggs
the eggs and meat have begun rotting
distantly cherry blossoms sour,
the sour smell of cherry blossoms is depressing
now people put on their hats and go out for a walk
       under the outdoor air
and the sunlight is shining in the distance
nevertheless, I sit in this dark room alone
and send my thoughts under far-off cherry blossoms
send them to the men and women in their youth
        romping in the fields and hills
ah what a happy life they have there
what a joy is shining
under branches of cherry blossoms that spread all around
young girls dance dances
girls' white-polished arms and legs for dancing
pliantly swimming costumes
ah       here and there and everywhere       how beautiful
       curves are entangled
flower-viewers' singing voices are as peaceful as flutes
and reach me with an echo of boundless melancholy.
Now my heart, wiped with tears,
sobs feebly by the confining window;
ah this lone poor heart, longing for what life,
staring at what shadow is it crying
at the end of a beautiful world turned sour and rotten
       all around
I distantly hear the echo of flower-viewers'
       melancholy flutes.

Sakutaro Hagiwara, translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

There is an ancient tradition in Japan of going out, usually in organized parties, to view that early sign of spring, the cherry blossoms. The delicate beauty of these flowers doesn't last more than a week or two, so underneath the panorama of exquisiteness is a poignant reminder of the fleeting, catch-it-if-you-can nature of beauty, pleasure, and happiness (though undoubtedly for many participants the parties are less about aesthetics and philosophy and more about having an annual blow-out to celebrate the return of spring). In this poem, a Japanese poet of the early twentieth century draws out the philosophical and practical implications of the evanescent cherry blossoms: his description is less about beauty and pleasure than about melancholy: the glittering sun is blinding, the scent of the blossoms is sour, the blossoms as well as the food for his meals are already starting to rot. He thinks enviously of the young, having a happy life under the cherry trees. His heart – his heart, wiped with tears, sobbing by the window, his lone poor heart staring at shadows – will not allow him to join them (if he were there, no doubt he could not join in their joy – though perhaps their joy is only his projection, a way of heightening his own sense of isolation and sorrow). We are not told why he feels this way. His emotions are summoned up in a tumble of words and images, rushing past with the emotional consistency and logical leaps of a stream of passing thoughts. Joy is fleeting, melancholy and regret life-long.

I took this from Cat Town by Sakutaro Hagiwara, translated by Hiroaki Sato. It's part of NRYB Poets, the excellent and attractive new series from New York Review Books.

20 February 2015

16 February 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/7

When young spring comes,
With silver rain
One almost
Could be good again.

But then comes summer,
Whir of bees . . . 
Crimson poppies . . . anemones,
The old, old god of Love
To please.

Langston Hughes

Hughes is best known as a poet of the twentieth-century American urban black experience, which in itself is a wide and varied field, but his work extends even beyond that. Here is a witty and rueful poem about the renewal of the year. It's written in Hughes's characteristic free verse, with the musical chiming of some irregularly recurring end rhymes: in the first stanza, rain/again and in the second, bees/anomones/please. We open with a sense of hopeful renewal: spring is young, and the lovely silver rain, like a baptism, will wash the world clean. But there's a bit of a warning in this stanza too: one almost / could be good again. It's not just that one could almost, though apparently not quite, be good; it's that one could be good again – "one" has apparently been through this before, and is speaking somewhat sheepishly from experience.

Past experience also shows in his foreknowledge of what summer will be like. The only specific thing we heard about spring was that the silver rain would come, but with summer he gets very specific and goes into sensuous detail, including sound (the whirring bees) and color (the crimson poppies) to highlight summer's seductive appearance. Spring may be young, but the god of Love is not just old, but doubly old: the old, old god of Love: ever renewed and ever recurring, ever reviving and ever falling, the new-old cycle of the seasons and of life.

I took this from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Arnold Rampersad editor and David Roessel Associate Editor.

12 February 2015

Philharmonia Baroque: Trauermusik

Last Sunday I stood under the brick arches of First Congregational Church in Berkeley, waiting for my concert companion, watching the clouds scud by over the tulip trees and wondering if it would rain again. From an inner room I could hear the ethereal ululations of a singer warming up. I was there for Philharmonia Baroque's excursion down an interesting and somewhat obscure byway of the German baroque: mourning music, mostly from assorted lesser Bachs. But before the Bachs there was a brief but dignified sinfonia from George Philipp Telemann's Schwanengesang, written for the funeral of the Mayor of Hamburg. Wind instruments flowed gracefully over the striding strings. If you know the Handel Sarabande used to great effect in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon: it was similar to that in its effect of dignified mourning.

After that orchestral prelude, we heard Johann Christoph Bach's Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig (Lord, turn unto me and have mercy upon me). This Bach was a cousin of the father of Johann Sebastian Bach. Right before the piece conductor Nicholas McGegan announced a slight change in soloists: soprano Sherezade Panthaki would sing in the upcoming Trauermusik, the major piece on the program, but in the J C Bach cantata we would hear soprano Tonia D'Amelio, normally found in the chorus, as "a sinful Lutheran." The other soloists were countertenor Clifton Massey, tenor Brian Thorsett, and baritone Jeffrey Fields. Actually, they were all sinful Lutherans except the baritone, who responded to their anguished psalms with a rather jolly assurance that his grace would save them. All the soloists were very fine, and I enjoyed D'Amelio's chance to shine as a soloist. I think the acoustics in that venue don't favor the lower voices (my concert companion was quite firm on this subject); both in the chorus and among the soloists the higher voices resounded more powerfully than the lower. There's always a bit of a halo around the voices in First Congregational, which I guess is not inappropriate for a church.

The major piece on the program was the three-part Trauermusik (Mourning Music), composed for a ducal funeral by Johan Ludwig Bach, a distant cousin of J S Bach. It's a big, extravagant piece, and I'm surprised it's not better known. In addition to the four soloists, there is a double choir and of course the orchestra. Although the Biblical texts (adapted from Job, Psalms, Isaiah, and 2 Corinthians) are appropriately serious, with a mind to the heavenly life  presumably now being enjoyed by the duke being buried, the elaborate, thoughtful music speaks well of the pleasures available in this world. PBO did a pleasing, energetic job, their customary jauntiness subdued into a more appropriately funereal grace. I was glad for a chance to hear this little-known piece live; there seems to be only one recording, and I hope PBO is making one to add to their growing discography.

Suitably enough the rain returned briefly just as we left the church; a swift shower pounced on us and then moved on, leaving the streets slick with wet again, shining with jagged streetlight reflections.

Next up for Philharmonia Baroque is an all-Vivaldi concert featuring visiting violinist Rachel Podger; I've heard her play with them before, and this is sure to be a delightful concert. That's 11 - 15 March and you can get more information here.

10 February 2015

San Francisco Opera: Summer Operas on Sale

San Francisco Opera is currently offering a 30% discount on its three summer operas (summer in this case being mostly June and into the first days of July).

The big item here is Berlioz's epic Les Troyens, in David McVicar's production, conducted by Donald Runnicles, starring Anna Caterina Antonacci (or Daveda Karanas, depending on the date), Susan Graham, Bryan Hymel, Sasha Cooke, Brian Mulligan, Christian Van Horn, and René Barera. There is also the world premiere of Two Women with music by Marco Tutino, based on the Moravia novel (also the basis for the film starring Sophia Loren). That's directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Nicola Luisotti and stars Anna Caterina Antonacci, Sarah Shafer, Stephen Costello, and Mark Delavan. There's also a revival of Le Nozze di Figaro, conducted by Patrick Summers, with an excellent cast including Philippe Sly, Lisette Oropesa, Nadine Sierra, Kate Lindsey/Angela Brower, and Luca Pisaroni. It's one of my long-time favorite operas but I've seen this production a couple of times and I hate it, so . . . I don't know about that one.

Anyway: the sale ends 2 March. You can order on-line by going to sfoperacom/offer and entering code SUM15. You then select your performance and your seat. You may also call the box office during business hours at 415-864-3330. You'll probably need to give them the SUM15 code.

Not every performance is on sale but it looks as if most of them are. You get half an hour to complete your purchase once you've put the first ticket in the cart, which is certainly more reasonable than some places (hello, Yerba Buena Center!) that only give you ten minutes. But even with half an hour you may want to scope out available performances and seats first.