Ted Hearne’s ‘The Source’ opens at SF Opera Lab

Mellissa Hughes in ‘The Source’ at SF Opera Lab © James Matthew Daniel

San Francisco Opera opens Season Two of its SF Opera Lab programs this week with a contemporary oratorio, The Source, by composer Ted Hearne – a work which has as its subject the dramatic 2010 release by US Army Private Manning of hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.

For the score of this oratorio for four singers and an ensemble of seven musicians, Hearne has pulled together an eclectic range of pieces  – described on his website as “auto-tuned recitatives, neo soul ballads, icy string trios and moments of cracked-out musical theater”.

The content, by librettist Mark Doten, is taken from a combination of Chelsea Manning’s own words, as well as thousands of primary-source documents – including Twitter feeds, cable news interviews, personal chat transcripts and declassified military reports – and sections of the US military documents known as the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary.

The New York Times referred to The Source as “A 21st-century masterpiece …. remarkable and essential”. According to The Los Angeles Times, it “….. makes vivid the confusing yet crucial bigger picture of how we handle, and how free we are to handle, information …..”.

Isaiah Robinson in ‘The Source’ © Noah Stern Weber/MASS MoCA

A Beth Morrison Production, The Source was premiered at the BAM Next Wave Festival in October 2014, and had its West Coast premiere in Los Angeles in October 2016.

SF Opera Lab presents six performances of The Source – from February 24 to 26, and from March 1 to 3 – at the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater, in the Diane B Wilsey Center for Opera.  For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website

Ted Hearne – The Source

Mark Doten


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San Francisco Ballet presents North American premiere of Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’

Vitor Luiz in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein (© Erik Tomasson)

Lovers of ballet in San Francisco are to be treated to a new full-length work this week – San Francisco Ballet’s production of Frankenstein, by British choreographer Liam Scarlett. A co-production with The Royal Ballet, Frankenstein was inspired by Mary Shelley’s 1813 Gothic novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, and the ballet received its world premiere at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in May last year. This week, San Francisco Ballet brings the North American premiere to the War Memorial Opera House.

Contrary to popular belief, Frankenstein is not a horror story. It’s more like an early piece of science fiction, and a deeply moving and tragic one at that. In a Royal Opera House video, Scarlett describes his ballet as being “essentially about love”. “The stereotype of Frankenstein has gone so far from the book” he explains, “that what I really want to do is bring it back to how Shelley saw it. I want to show the public what Frankenstein is really about.”

Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ (© Erik Tomasson)

Scarlett’s ballet – set, like the novel, at the end of the 18th Century – revolves around the creation of a living being by a young man, Victor Frankenstein, who loses his mother shortly before being sent to university. With a gift for science, and chemistry in particular, he desperately hopes to bring his mother back through one of his experiments, and, using non-living body parts, succeeds in giving life to his creation. This being, whom he calls the Creature, turns out to be physically hideous, and Victor, repulsed by what he has done, wants nothing to do with him.

The Creature, though, is not some fearful monster with evil intent. Instead, says Scarlett, “I saw him as a child …. an incredibly vulnerable creature who is shunned by his own creator or father.” The Creature’s feelings of abandonment and desperation to be loved are intensified by the love which he sees between Victor and his fiancée, Elizabeth, as well as the relationships that Victor has with his family and friends, all of whom become involved in the tragedy resulting from Victor’s struggle to reconcile himself to the consequences of his actions.

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ (© Erik Tomasson)


San Francisco Ballet in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ (© Erik Tomasson)

Joseph Walsh is one of the San Francisco Ballet principals who’s dancing the role of Victor Frankenstein. He regards the ballet as unique because  “it is not completely driven by a classic love story;  it’s more about the relationship between Victor and the Creature and how that pulls him away from the love between him and Elizabeth. The spectrum of emotion is vast,” he says, “and it has been a pleasurable challenge for me to make it believable.”

Walsh says that although Frankenstein does have choreographic similarities to other ballets of Scarlett’s in which he’s danced – Fearful Symmetries and Hummingbird – it was created with an intention much more different than those. “There’s more focus on character development and movement that’s derived from the plot rather than from just the music, like his more contemporary works,” he explains.

Liam Scarlett, The Royal Ballet’s first Artist in Residence, is also the youngest choreographer to receive a commission for a full-length work from the company. Among the works he has created for The Royal Ballet, Asphodel Meadows won a Critics’ Circle National Dance Award and was also nominated for a South Bank Award and an Olivier Award. Another, Consolations and Liebestraum, was also nominated for a Critics’ Circle Award. In addition to the works which Scarlett has created for San Francisco Ballet – Hummingbird and Fearful Symmetries – he has also choreographed for companies such as English National Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Miami City Ballet. This year, The Royal Ballet will premiere his new work, Symphonic Dances, set to Rachmaninov’s final composition.  Scarlett also takes up the position of Artistic Associate for Queensland Ballet, following his creation of a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Australian company last season. His roles with the two companies will run concurrently.

Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ (© Erik Tomasson)

The score for Frankenstein was commissioned from American composer, pianist and conductor, Lowell Liebermann, described by Time magazine as “a composer unafraid of grand gestures and openhearted lyricism”. Scarlett has choreographed to Liebermann’s music on three previous occasions – for his ballets Viscera and Euphotic for Miami City Ballet, and Gargoyles for New York City Ballet – but the score for Frankenstein is Liebermann’s first commission for a ballet. The recipient of many awards and accolades, Liebermann has written over a hundred works in all genres, which have been performed by orchestras across the globe, conducted by names as illustrious as Charles Dutoit, Kurt Masur, Andrew Litton, David Zinman, Jesus Lopez-Cobos and Wolfgang Sawallisch, and performed by luminaries such as Joshua Bell, Sir James Galway, Garrick Ohlsson, Stephen Hough and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Lowell Liebermann also holds the honor of having written the only American opera to have been commissioned and premiered by Opéra Monte-Carlo – The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Set and costume design for Frankenstein is by the wonderfully creative British artist, ballet and opera designer, John Macfarlane.  Macfarlane has previously collaborated with Liam Scarlett – on his productions of Asphodel Meadows, Sweet Violets and The Age of Anxiety – with choreographers such as Jiri Kylian, Glen Tetley and Sir Peter Wright, and has designed for companies such as The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, Netherlands Dance Theatre, Danish Royal Ballet, Canadian Royal Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Australian National Ballet.  He has designed for The Royal Opera, Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival and English National Opera, also for the Metropolitan, San Francisco, Paris and Vienna State operas.  Future commissions include both set and costume design for contemporary and classical ballets at Covent Garden.

Vitor Luiz in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ (© Erik Tomasson

Frankenstein is a ballet which is clearly very close to Scarlett’s heart. “I’ve immersed myself in this project for nearly three years now,” he says in a Royal Ballet video recorded prior to the world premiere, “and it is a labour of pure love.”

San Francisco Ballet presents the North American premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein from February 17 to 26, at the War Memorial Opera House, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Martin West. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.


San Francisco Ballet

The Royal Ballet



San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

The Royal Ballet program notes


Artists’ websites:

Liam Scarlett

Lowell Liebermann

John Macfarlane

Videos from The Royal Ballet’s Youtube channel:

Liam Scarlett on creating Frankenstein

Lowell Liebermann on his Frankenstein score

John McFarlane talks about the set and props of Frankenstein


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San Francisco Symphony celebrates John Adams at 70

Composer John Adams whose oratorio ‘The Gospel According to the Other Mary’ is presented by the San Francisco Symphony – photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony


John Adams, contemporary and ‘post-minimalist’ (his phrase) composer turns 70 this week. One of America’s best known and most frequently performed composers, Adams has enjoyed a long-term relationship with the San Francisco Symphony – the longest partnership he has had with a leading international orchestra during his career, and one which strengthened over the years as he became an internationally known and highly respected composer.

The Adams/SF Symphony relationship began in 1978 when he was appointed the Symphony’s New Music Adviser. Then followed a three-year tenure as composer-in-residence – from 1982 to 1985 – and the creation by Adams of the orchestra’s New and Unusual Music series. A number of John Adams’ best-known orchestral works were written for – and premiered by – the San Francisco Symphony, including Harmonium (1981), Grand Pianola Music (1982), Harmonielehre (1985), My Father Knew Charles Ives (2003) and Absolute Jest (2012).

Two of Adams’ orchestral works have been recorded by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony on SFS Media, the orchestra’s in-house label. Their 2012 recording of Harmonielehre (commissioned by the Symphony) and Short Ride in a Fast Machine (commissioned by MTT) won the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance in that year, and their most recent collaboration on the SFS Media label was the 2015 recording of Absolute Jest & Grand Pianola Music.

In the first of two concerts celebrating John Adams’ 70th birthday, conductor Grant Gershon – Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Resident Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera – leads the San Francisco Symphony in the orchestra’s first performance of Adams’ Passion oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary.  The work was commissioned by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2012, and premiered in May 2013.

With a libretto compiled by Peter Sellars from Biblical sources, and original texts by Hildegard of Bingen, Dorothy Day, Rosario Castellanos, June Jordan, Louise Erdrich and Primo Levi, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, relates the story of the last few weeks of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion, looking at events from the position of Mary Magdalene – a woman often regarded as marginalized – and also featuring her sister Martha and their brother Lazarus. Alongside the miracles and the resurrection, this work also draws parallels with current issues such as oppression, social justice and political unrest.

In a San Francisco Symphony video, John Adams describes how he asked his “long-time collaborator Peter Sellars to design or dream up a narrative for a passion play that would honor the Biblical story but also bring it into the present …. an oratorio that moves back and forth between the Biblical past and the immediate present”, drawing on the experiences of those times and how they relate to events that are taking place today.

Grant Gershon conducts the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (director Ragnar Bohlin) in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary at Davies Symphony Hall on February 16, 17 and 18. Also appearing in these performances are mezzo-sopranos Kelley O’Connor as Mary, and Tamara Mumford as Martha, tenor Jay Hunter Morris as Lazarus, and countertenors Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings and Nathan Medley.

For tickets and further information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

An hour before the performances on February 16 and 17, there will be a pre-concert conversation between John Adams, scholar Alexandra Amati-Camperi, and Stage Director Elkhanah Pulitzer.

On February 18, John Adams joins Alexandra Amati-Camperi for a pre-concert talk about his work.

See also: program notes by Thomas May on John Adams’ history with the San Francisco Symphony


San Francisco Symphony notes and video

John Adams’ website


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A church in turmoil at San Francisco Playhouse

Antony Fusco, as Pastor Paul, leads a service

Never discuss politics or religion with friends, they say – but if Lucas Hnath’s play, The Christians, is anything to go by, you should avoid discussing the fundamentals of religion in church as well, particularly beliefs and how they’re interpreted!

You have to hand it to Playhouse Directors, Bill English and Susi Damilano, they’re not shy about tackling what could be construed as a bit of a thorny topic – and The Christians most definitely falls into that category.

Pastor Paul (an admirably authentic portrayal by Anthony Fusco) is head of a burgeoning church which, over 10 years, has grown from modest beginnings to a place of worship for thousands of believers. As the play opens, he has decided to throw the proverbial cat among the pigeons by delivering a sermon which questions the very foundation of what most Christians believe about their faith.

Pastor Paul (Anthony Fusco) challenges Associate Pastor Joshua (Lance Gardner) to substantiate his claims from the Bible

The young Associate Pastor, Joshua (in a fine performance by Lance Gardner), is quick to take issue with Pastor Paul over his audacity at even raising the question, much less the alternate interpretation on offer – and the inevitable fissure which has been opened threatens to become wider and more destructive as their dispute continues.

Church Elder Jay (Warren David Keith) tries to rationalize the situation with Pastor Paul (Anthony Fusco)

Jay, one of the church Elders, in a dignified and measured performance by Warren David Keith, takes Pastor Paul aside for a quiet heart-to-heart, in an attempt to smooth things over, but the situation reaches boiling point when one of the choristers steps up to the lectern to give a testimony, and in so doing raises an even more pertinent question about Pastor Paul’s character. Millie Brooks is splendid as Jenny, an (initially) engaging young single mother who becomes ever more impassioned as she gets to the heart of her denunciation.

A congregant, Jenny (Millie Brooks) delivers her testimony

Stephanie Prentice gives a beautifully controlled performance as Elizabeth, Pastor Paul’s adoring wife, who inevitably becomes drawn into the emotional maelstrom of the tumultuous proceedings.

Stephanie Prentice is Elizabeth, the pastor’s adoring wife

Bill English is to be commended for his taut direction which keeps the audience spellbound as this catastrophe unfolds, and the voices of the volunteer members of the First Unitarian Church Choir add a lovely touch of authenticity to the production.

The Christians runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until March 11th. For more information, and for tickets, visit the SF Playhouse website.


All photographs © Jessica Palopoli


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San Francisco Ballet toasts a trio of Modern Masters

Lauren Strongin and Joseph Walsh in Ratmansky’s ‘Seven Sonatas © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s second program of the new season is every bit as diverse as the first. Another triple bill, it features two works which were seen in the 2016 season – Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas and William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts. Completing the triptych is Optimistic Tragedy, a world premiere by Choreographer in Residence, Yuri Possokhov.

San Francisco Ballet in Ratmansky’s ‘Seven Sonatas’ © Erik Tomasson

Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas is a truly beautiful study in classical elegance, created in 2009 for American Ballet Theatre, where Ratmansky was a relatively new Artist in Residence following his arrival from the Bolshoi.  Set to seven of Domenico Scarlatti’s 555 Keyboard Sonatas, the ballet – delicately costumed in white – centers on the relationships between a group of six friends, showing the interplay between members of the group as a whole, the camaraderie between the men, the empathy between the women, and the characteristics that define the relationships of each couple. One pair is going through a time of conflict, another is bound together by fun and playfulness, and the third couple is buoyed up by the sheer joy and humor which they share.

For Principal Dancer Frances Chung, Seven Sonatas is particularly special because  “there are only a few of us onstage, and the choreography lends itself to the dancers really connecting with each other and with the pianist who is also onstage”.  Ratmansky’s choreography, she says, “is based on classical ballet, yet very human and more grounded.  There’s never a specific story, but I like that because it leaves it up to your interpretation as a dancer and for audience members”.

Lorena Feijoo and members of San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov’s ‘Optimistic Tragedy’ © Erik Tomasson


San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov’s ‘Optimistic Tragedy’ © Erik Tomasson

Yuri Possokhov’s Optimistic Tragedy was inspired by Vsevolod Vishnevsky’s 1933 play, set in Russia after the 1917 Revolution and during the Russian Civil War, with some scenes taking place on a Red Navy ship on the Baltic Sea.

Taking further inspiration from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin, Possokhov has used both these storylines as a basis to create a dramatic and intense ballet, involving the captain of a naval vessel, his divided crew of communists and anarchists, and a new female commissar whose presence causes further friction on board the ship.

Possokhov commissioned the score for his ballet from multi award-winning Russian composer, performer and conductor, Ilya Demutsky, with whom he has previously collaborated on a ballet for the Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow. That ballet, A Hero of Our Time, won the Golden Mask Russian National Theatre Award for Best Ballet Production for 2015/16, as well as the award for Best Composer in Musical Theatre. It will be screened live from Moscow in cinemas worldwide on April 9.

San Francisco Ballet in Forsythe’s ‘Pas/Parts’ © Erik Tomasson


Joseph Walsh and Julia Rowe in Forsythe’s ‘Pas/Parts’ © Erik Tomasson

William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts was another success story of the 2016 season. A display of stunning virtuosity, it’s powerful, dynamic and riveting. The ballet was originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet, but Forsythe re-choreographed parts of it to suit the style of the dancers of San Francisco Ballet, producing a work that very much belongs to the Company.

The score is by Dutch composer Thom Willems, who has collaborated with Forsythe on at least 25 ballets – and although it doesn’t fall into the category of relaxed listening, it elicits exactly the kind of response from the dancers that Forsythe’s challenging choreography requires.

Pas/Parts has no elaborate costumes – just a variation on practice clothes – and is performed on a stage bare of sets, but with a backdrop of fascinating lighting effects. The choreography and its execution are all that are needed to produce a work which was greeted last season with standing ovations.

San Francisco Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra under the direction of Martin West, presents Modern Masters at the War Memorial Opera House until February 5.  For more information and to buy tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.


Alexei Ratmansky

Yuri Possokhov

Ilya Demutsky

William Forsythe

Thom Willems



San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

Artists’ websites

Encylopaedia Britannica



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San Francisco Ballet celebrates ‘The Joy of Dance’

Maria Kochetkova and Angelo Greco in Tomasson’s ‘Haffner Symphony’ © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet opened its 2017 season in celebratory style this week, with a program entitled The Joy of Dance.  A triple bill, it features three diverse works – by Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, by Czech choreographer Jiří Bubeníček and by New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck.

The program opener is Tomasson’s Haffner Symphony, written to mark the Mozart Centennial in 1991.  With an outdoor setting, against the backdrop of a colonnade of trees, it’s a sparkling, lively ballet in the classical style.  Appropriately, Helgi Tomasson selected Mozart’s Symphony No 35 for the score – a work which was commissioned in 1782 by a prominent Salzburg family, the Haffners, to celebrate a joyful occasion – the elevation to the nobility of Sigmund Haffner the Younger, a friend and contemporary of Mozart.

Dores André, Wei Wang and Joseph Walsh in Bubeníček’s ‘Fragile Vessels’ © Erik Tomasson


Dores André, Wei Wang and Joseph Walsh in Bubeníček’s ‘Fragile Vessels’ © Erik Tomasson

With Fragile Vessels, San Francisco Ballet celebrates not only a world premiere, but the first ballet created for the Company by Jiří Bubeníček. The choreographer is one half of a unique partnership with his twin brother Otto, which has certainly made its mark on the world of ballet and design. Both brothers initially joined Hamburg Ballet – where their careers evolved under the guidance of Director and Chief Choreographer John Neumeier – and both became acclaimed international guest soloists. They have since followed parallel artistic paths – Jiří as a choreographer and Otto as a designer, composer and artistic advisor – and their company, Les Ballets Bubeníček, has toured internationally with guest artists from companies such as the Mariinsky, the Paris Opera, the Hamburg and Berlin State ballets.

Fragile Vessels is set to Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto – a universally adored work, rich with choreographic potential – creatively exploited by Bubeníček, who brings a new vocabulary of possibilities to the pas de deux.  Neo-classical in style, the ballet follows the three movements of the concerto, each taking a different theme – love, separation and forgiveness – and played out against a spectacular set design, by Otto Bubeníček, reminiscent of the sails of an elegant barque.


San Francisco Ballet in Peck’s ‘In The Countenance Of Kings’ © Erik Tomasson


San Francisco Ballet in Peck’s ‘In The Countenance Of Kings’ © Erik Tomasson

This celebration of dance closes with In the Countenance of Kings, a work by Justin Peck – principal dancer and resident choreographer of New York City Ballet. Commissioned by San Francisco Ballet, In the Countenance of Kings had its world premiere during the Company’s 2016 season, and turned out to be a runaway success.  Obviously written with the strength and style of San Francisco Ballet in mind, this work proved to be a smart, stylish and fun combination of classic and contemporary dance – pacy and entertaining.

Dores André – who dances the role of Quantus – describes Peck’s ballet as “expressive and dynamic, with a sense of fullness, energy, optimism and freedom”, adding “It’s incredibly relevant.”  She says that the dancers are enjoying it even more than they did last year – “… there is less thinking, but instead more exploring and expanding the possibilities of the piece.”

High-octane and almost athletic, In the Countenance of Kings is set to a fabulous, jazzy, almost Broadway-style score by contemporary New York composer Sufjan Stevens – an exhilarating movement from his work entitled The BQE, which was written in 2007 to a commission from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and inspired by Interstate 278, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.  And judging by their performance, conductor Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra are enjoying this work every bit as much as are the dancers!

San Francisco Ballet presents The Joy of Dance at the War Memorial Opera House, alternating with Program 2, until February 4.  For more information and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website .


Helgi Tomasson

Les Ballets Bubeníček

Justin Peck

Sufjan Stevens 



San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

Artists’ websites


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Bringuier and Thibaudet guest with San Francisco Symphony

Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G with the San Francisco Symphony © Decca-Kasskara

The San Francisco Symphony hosts two widely acclaimed and very welcome French artists to Davies Symphony Hall this week – pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and conductor Lionel Bringuier, each in his own right a star turn – with a program of music by Kodály, Ravel and Beethoven.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet is well known to San Francisco audiences, having appeared here on a number of occasions since his debut performance in 1994. He was also one of five international guest pianists to appear at Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas’ 70th birthday celebrations two years ago.

This week he plays Ravel’s gorgeously jazzy Piano Concerto in G major, written in 1928 as a result of the composer’s exposure to jazz during a visit to the United States, and during a time when the influence of jazz was prominent in Paris as well. “It’s hard to imagine this music emerging with more loving finesse and more exquisite detail”, wrote the Seattle Times, following Mr Thibaudet’s performance of the concerto with the Seattle Symphony.

His interpretation of the Gershwin Piano Concerto with the San Diego Symphony last year was described by the San Diego Union-Tribune as “Not just nearly perfect. It was perfect, the best I’ve experienced in 50 years”.

And the accolades keep coming. According to the South Florida Classical Review Mr Thibaudet played Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2 with the Cleveland Orchestra with “Elegance and restraint”, and following another performance with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote of his “Great energy, brilliant technique and unassailable artistry”.

This season, Mr Thibaudet is Artist-in-Residence with l’Orchestre National de France, the Wiener Symphoniker and, for the third year, the Colburn School in Los Angeles, where he is able to indulge his passion for education, fostering young musical talent through individual lessons, masterclasses and performances with students.

Lionel Bringuier conducts the San Francisco Symphony in a program of music by Kodály, Ravel and Beethoven – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

A cellist by training, Lionel Bringuier became Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2012 at the age of 26, following his frequent and highly praised appearances with some of the world’s finest orchestras. Among those with whom he has guested are the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Philharmonia and Bavarian Radio Symphony orchestras, as well as the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and the Israel Philharmonic.

Following his Tonhalle appointment, the Los Angeles Times referred to Maestro Bringuier as a music director “who has the capacity to excite and astonish, and who promises to put Zurich on the international orchestral map in a big way”.

The Financial Times described him as “A natural talent whose good instincts are bolstered by good taste plus a strong technique. And unlike those Wunderkinder, past and present, who value personal flash over artistic substance, he steps back and just lets the music show off”.

It was during Lionel Bringuier’s first season as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich that the Creative Chair Initiative was established. The first to hold this Chair was conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, followed in the 2015/2016 season by German composer and clarinetist Jörg Widmann.

This past autumn Lionel Bringuier has undertaken a concert tour to South America with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, joined by violinist Lisa Batiashvili and pianist Nelson Freire, at some of the continent’s most celebrated venues. Other engagements this season include Mr Bringuier’s debut at  L’Opéra National de Paris, conducting a production of Bizet’s Carmen by Calixto Bieito, and in addition to his return appearance here in San Francisco, he will again conduct the Munich Philharmonic, NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Wiener Symphoniker.

This week’s San Francisco Symphony program opens with Zoltan Kodály’s Dances of Galánta. It was based on folk dances from the town and surroundings of Galánta, which at the time was what the composer described as “a small Hungarian market town known to travelers between Vienna and Budapest”, and which is now in Slovakia.

The closing work is Beethoven’s Symphony No 4, which is probably the least frequently performed of all of his symphonies, overshadowed almost by the Symphony No 3, Eroica, and the great Symphony No 5. In an article for Gramophone magazine, conductor Osmo Vänskä wrote: “Of all the nine symphonies, for me it is No 4 that is looking back a little bit to the earlier, Viennese, Classical style. It is more connected to the first two symphonies than to the Eroica”. According to All About Beethoven, “The freshness and spontaneity of the themes, the lack of tragic motives, the perfection of the form triggered the enthusiasm of his contemporaries ….. Mendelssohn Bartholdy chose it to be performed at his first concert at Gewandhaus in Leipzig”.

Lionel Bringuier conducts the San Francisco Symphony, with soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, at Davies Symphony Hall from January 26 to 28. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website



Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Lionel Bringuier

San Francisco Symphony program notes:

Ravel Piano Concerto in G

Kodály – Dances of Galánta

Beethoven – Symphony No 4


All About Beethoven

Gramophone magazine


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SFJAZZ celebrates opening of 5th Anniversary Season


Zakir Hussain – © Moment Records

SFJAZZ is pulling out all stops this week as it launches its 5th Anniversary Season with a series of star-studded concerts.  The celebrations open with a Gala Concert honoring Zakir Hussain, followed by four concerts with the theme ‘traditions in transition’ – each curated by a different jazz celebrity, and each paying tribute to an artist with long-standing links to the Bay Area.

Performances and collaborations during the week feature the curating artists, as well as SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Directors Bill Frisell and Terence Blanchard, and names such as Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, Stefon Harris, Cindy Blackman Santana, Mary Stallings, the Kronos Quartet, John Santos, John Handy, Eric Harland and the SFJAZZ Collective – Miguel Zenón, David Sánchez, Sean Jones, Robin Eubanks, Edward Simon, Warren Wolf, Matt Penman and Obed Calvaire.


The SFJAZZ Collective – © Jay Blakesberg

Tabla virtuoso, composer and percussionist Zakir Hussain has been described by Rhythm Music Monthly as the “Joyous genius of the Tabla ….. a prodigiously gifted artist in whom the streams of Indian and Global musics meet …. one of the greatest musicians of our time”.  According to SFJAZZ, he is “one of the world’s most esteemed and influential musicians and widely considered a chief architect of the contemporary world music movement”, and on Wednesday, January 18, in the presence of cultural and political leaders, celebrities, artists and music enthusiasts, this phenomenal musician will be presented with the SFJAZZ Lifetime Achievement Award by Mickey Hart.

Following the cocktails, dinner and Gala Concert, featuring a host of stars, Snarky Puppy will headline an Afterjam, with special guest David Crosby, in the Miner Auditorium, while Red Baraat take the stage in the Joe Henderson Lab.

For more information, and details on the various ticket packages available, visit the SFJAZZ website.

SFJAZZ pays tribute to Tony Williams (1945-1997) on Thursday, January 19, in a performance curated by Cindy Blackman Santana, and honoring one of the most influential drummers of the 60s, whose Lifetime band is credited with having pioneered the fusion movement.  Having made a significant contribution to the Miles Davis Quintet, Tony Williams was described by Davis as “the center that the group’s sound revolves around”.  In 1990, Williams – a longtime Bay Area resident – premiered a work commissioned by SFJAZZ, which featured Herbie Hancock and the Kronos Quartet.

More information on Thursday’s concert can be found on the SFJAZZ website.

The Friday Spotlight falls on that giant among saxophonists, Joe Henderson (1937-2001), in a performance curated by Joshua Redman.  Henderson collaborated with a number of high profile artists, and is described by All Music as “A remarkable tenor saxophonist whose passionate ballad playing and often fiery solos made him one of the most influential tenors in jazz”.   A Bay Area resident for 30 years, Henderson enjoyed a long association with SFJAZZ, from his appearance at the third Jazz In The City Festival in 1986 to the 1993 tribute ‘We Love Joe’ at Davies Symphony Hall.

To find out more about this week’s tribute to Joe Henderson, visit the SFJAZZ website.


Bobby Hutcherson © Scott Chernis

Bobby Hutcherson (1941-2016) is the artist who’ll be honored in Saturday evening’s concert.  A vibraphonist and composer, he was a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective, and was an important figure in the story of SFJAZZ from its beginnings.  This performance, curated by vibraphonist Stefon Harris, features highlights from Hutcherson’s legacy which includes over 40 classic albums, and his association with every major figure in the world of jazz from the 1960s to the present.

Details on this concert can be found on the SFJAZZ website.

The concert honoring alto saxophonist John Handy on Sunday, January 22, is curated by SFJAZZ Collective saxophonist Miguel Zenón.  A Bay Area resident for most of his life, Handy is what’s described as “a consummate musician” who is also a vocalist, and plays tenor and baritone saxophone, saxello, clarinet and oboe.  With a style which is described as “soulful and fiery”, he performed at the first Jazz in the City Festival in 1983 as well as the Grand Opening of the SFJAZZ Center.

More information on this tribute to John Handy can be found on the SFJAZZ website.


John Handy – courtesy SFJAZZ

When you’re at the JAZZ Center, cast your eyes across Franklin Street for the fabulous  installation by San Francisco photographer, Jim Marshall, in the windows of the building directly opposite.  Visit Jim Marshall’s website to see who’s featured in this remarkable and fascinating display.

For more information on this special week celebrating all that’s wonderful about jazz, visit www.sfjazz.org




Artists’ websites:

Zakir Hussain
Snarky Puppy
David Crosby
Red Baraat
Tony Williams 
Cindy Blackman Santana
Joe Henderson
Joshua Redman 
Bobby Hutcherson 
Stefon Harris 
John Handy
Miguel Zenón
All Music  

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MTT & San Francisco Symphony perform Mahler’s ‘Das klagende Lied’

Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony  © San Francisco Symphony

It’s well known how dear to the heart of Michael Tilson Thomas is the work of Gustav Mahler, and this week MTT and the San Francisco Symphony delight in presenting to their audiences a program in which the main work is a semi-staged version of Mahler’s Das klagende Lied.

For this work, the San Francisco Symphony is joined by four internationally-renowned vocalists – soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Michael König and baritone Brian Mulligan – a cast of actors and dancers, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (director Ragnar Bohlin).

Also on the program are Mahler’s symphonic movement Blumine (Bouquet of Flowers), written in 1884 as part of his incidental music for the stage work Der Trompeter von Säckingen, and an autobiographical work in poetry and music, the song cycle Lieder eines fahrendren Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer).

One of Mahler’s earliest works, Das klagende Lied was originally written as a cantata, but in this presentation, MTT incorporates the skills of a creative team comprising Stage Director James Darrah and Projection Designer Adam Larsen, with scenic designs by Ellen Lenbergs, lighting by Pablo Santiago and costumes by Sarah Schuessler, to create the dark fairy tale kingdom in which the story unfolds.

According to San Francisco Symphony program annotator, the late Michael Steinberg, the title of this work isn’t easy to translate. The German word “klagen” can be translated as “lament” or “complain”. A derivative of this word, “anklagen” means “accuse”.

The story tells of two brothers who go into a forest in search of a particular red flower in order to win the hand of a beautiful, but proud queen. The sweet-natured younger brother is the first to find this flower, which he sticks in his hat, and then falls asleep. His jealous elder brother kills him while he’s asleep, steals the flower and goes on to claim his prize.

A wandering minstrel, walking through the same forest, then happens across a shining white bone, and carves it into a flute. As soon as he plays the instrument, it sings out the tale of the murder, which spurs the minstrel on to find the queen.

At her court, a feast is being held to celebrate the queen’s forthcoming wedding to the knight who murdered his brother.  When the minstrel arrives, he plays the flute, which again sings out its dark tale. The new king seizes the flute and puts it to his own lips, whereupon the flute makes a direct accusation of murder against him. At this point, the queen falls to the floor in a faint, the guests flee, and the castle walls collapse.

The origin of the story cannot be accurately determined, however it’s thought possible that it was derived from a combination of a fairy tale, The Singing Bone, written by the Brothers Grimm, a tale unearthed by nineteenth-century folklorist Ludwig Bechstein, and a contribution by Mahler himself. Whatever its origins, it would seem that in this context, “accuse” might be considered the most appropriate translation of “klagen”.

Michael Tilson Thomas says that his goal with this interpretation of Das klagende Lied “ is to take listeners through the beautiful intricacies of this work, using video, lighting, and other elements to ….. illuminate every facet of Mahler’s music” in the hope that “the audience will walk away having had a deeper, more inspiring experience than they might have had otherwise”.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in a program of works by Gustav Mahler at Davies Symphony Hall from January 13 to 15. For further information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.



San Francisco Symphony program notes by Michael Steinberg:

Das klagende Lied


Lieder eines fahrendren Gesellen
Michael Tilson Thomas

San Francisco Symphony

San Francisco Symphony Chorus

Ragnar Bohlin

Joélle Harvey

Sasha Cooke

Michael König

Brian Mulligan

James Darrah

Adam Larsen

Ellen Lenbergs

Pablo Santiago

Sarah Schuessler

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SFJAZZ hosts Chris Botti residency

Chris Botti performs ‘My Funny Valentine’ on the PBS LEGENDS OF JAZZ, Golden Horns, episode © PBS

Direct from his regular holiday season residency at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York, Chris Botti arrives in San Francisco this week to take over the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ, with a repertoire which is as likely to include romantic and classical music as jazz and pop.

The world’s biggest selling jazz instrumentalist, Chris Botti spent his early years performing and recording with artists of the caliber of Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich and Joni Mitchell. During the 90s he played extensively with Paul Simon, and enjoyed a particularly fruitful collaboration with Sting, appearing on his Brand New Day tour. He describes those performances and those relationships as “powerful learning experiences”.

Since he started releasing albums in 1995, four of them have reached the No 1 spot on the Billboard jazz albums chart. His 2007 album, Italia – on which he partnered with tenor Andrea Bocelli for the title track was nominated for a GRAMMY in 2008, and his  2009 album, Live in Boston – recorded with the Boston Pops Orchestra – received nominations in three categories at the 2010 GRAMMY Awards ceremony.  This one featured the fabulously talented trumpeter improvising with artists such as Yo Yo Ma, Sting, Steven Tyler, John Mayer and Josh Groban,

His 2012 album, Impressions, featured Botti with a range of artists such as Vince Gill, Herbie Hancock, Mark Knopfler, Caroline Campbell and tenor Andrea Bocelli, in a selection of crossover jazz, pop and classical pieces. Highlighting his love of melody, Impressions features works by Gershwin and Harold Arlen, as well as by classical composers Astor Piazzolla and Frédéric Chopin – his Prelude No 20 in C minor – Botti’s own version of which he was commissioned to perform in Warsaw in 2010, on the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.  Impressions sold over 4 million copies and won a GRAMMY for Best Pop Instrumental Album.

Christ Botti has now established himself as one of the important and innovative figures of the contemporary music world, and all because, at the age of 12, he heard a recording of Miles Davis playing My Funny Valentine. This recording not only persuaded him to make a life time commitment to the trumpet, but also provided the direction for a musician described as “A subtle trumpeter with a sumptuous sound, fluent phrasing and sense of space”. (SFJAZZ)

Appearing with Chris Botti this week are Lee Pearson on drums, Richie Goods on bass, guitarist Ben Butler, pianist Taylor Eigsti, Ben Stivers on keys, Caroline Campbell on violin, and vocalists Sy Smith and Rafael Moras.

The Chris Botti residency takes place in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ from January 10 to 15. For further information and tickets – which are selling out fast – visit the SFJAZZ website.


Chris Botti