Allen Toussaint & Preservation Hall Jazz Band on SFJAZZ ‘Fridays at Five’

Allen Toussaint – courtesy SFJAZZ

The Fridays at Five sessions from SFJAZZ continue to delight enthusiasts. This series of weekly pre-recorded concerts aims to keep jazz alive during the current pandemic, and connect jazz lovers to the music and musicians who continue to draw them to SFJAZZ.

This Friday’s concert is an exclusive, world premiere broadcast of a concert filmed at the JAZZ Center in November 2014, featuring previously unseen footage of the late Allen Toussaint, with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Allen Toussaint and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band – courtesy SFJAZZ

Toussaint – award-winning solo artist, writer, singer, producer, songwriter, arranger and session pianist – is regarded as a legend of the New Orleans R&B sound, having played an important part in many of the greatest hits to emerge from the Crescent City from the 1950s onwards. As a musician he collaborated with artists such as Dr John, The Meters, The Pointer Sisters, The Neville Brothers and Elvis Costello, and as a composer he produced a number of works which have since become R&B standards, earning him an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 in the non-performer category.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band – which takes its name from the venue on St Peter Street, known as ‘the cornerstone of New Orleans music and culture’ in the heart of the French Quarter of the city – plays host to ensembles from a current collective of more than 50 local master musicians, on more than 350 nights a year, keeping the tradition of New Orleans jazz alive. Rolling Stone refers to the group as “The past and promise of American music”, and it’s considered to be the ensemble which defines the tradition of Crescent City music.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band also has a philanthropic mission, the group’s Foundation engaging with educational and social programming in New Orleans. It also supports local institutions through disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, and continues to do so during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Contributions to the Fridays at Five Tip-Jar this week will be split 50/50 by SFJAZZ and the Preservation Hall Foundation.

The Allen Toussaint and Preservation Hall Jazz Band concert can be viewed online tomorrow, July 3, at 5.00 pm PT. It costs just $5 a month to subscribe to these sessions – well worth it when you look at the line-up. More information, and the link, can be found on the SFJAZZ website.

Information sourced from:

SFJAZZ program notes

Allen Toussaint

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

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English National Ballet streams Bournonville’s ‘La Sylphide’

Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez in ‘La Sylphide’ © Laurent Liotardo

This week’s Wednesday Watch Party from English National Ballet features Bournonville’s enchanting ballet La Sylphide. Starring Jurgita Dronina as the Sylph and Isaac Hernández as James – the young man whose heart she steals – this production is a recreation – by Eva Kloborg, Frank Andersen and Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter – of the 1836 ballet by August Bournonville.

La Sylphide was originally a French ballet, loosely based on a tale by French writer Charles Nodier, and choreographed in 1832 by Filippo Taglioni for his daughter, Marie. Set to a score which Taglioni commissioned from Jean-Madeleine Schneitzhöffer, the work was premiered by the Paris Opera Ballet on 12th March, 1832, marking the dawn of the Romantic era of ballet.

August Bournonville’s interpretation of La Sylphide is an adaptation of the Taglioni ballet, but since the Schneitzhöffer score was too expensive to use, Bournonville set his ballet to music by Norwegian composer, Herman Severin Løvenskiold, who was just 19 at the time. It premiered on 28th November, 1836, at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen, and is now one of the oldest ballets in existence, with the oldest Romantic ballet score still being performed today.

Artists of English National Ballet in ‘La Sylphide’ © Laurent Liotardo

Set in Scotland in the 1800s – a time during which the country was regarded as an exotic, faraway land – the ballet opens on the morning of the wedding between James and his fiancée Effie. Relaxing in an armchair, James has his reverie disturbed by the presence of an ethereal and alluring sylph, which sets in train a series of events that leads to a trail of infatuation, betrayal and, finally, tragedy.

The part of Effie is danced by Anjuli Hudson, Gurn is performed by Giorgio Garrett, Precious Adams is the Lead Sylph, and Jane Haworth is the sorceress Madge.

Jurgita Dronina as The Sylph and Isaac Hernández as James in ‘La Sylphide’
© Laurent Liotardo

This performance was filmed at the Manchester Palace Theatre in 2017, during English National Ballet’s Autumn Tour that year. The English National Ballet Philharmonic is conducted by Gavin Sutherland.

La Sylphide premieres at 7.00 pm BST on Wednesday, 1st July, and can be watched on Facebook or on YouTube. It will be available online for 48 hours afterwards. 

Information sourced from English National Ballet programme notes

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Semyon Bychkov leads Czech Philharmonic in live online concert

Semyon Bychkov, Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic
Photo: Marco Borggreve All rights reserved

On Wednesday, 24th June, Semyon Bychkov, Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic, leads the Orchestra in a performance of works by Mendelssohn, Haydn and Beethoven, which will be streamed live from Sychrov Castle, near Prague. The concert opens with Mendelssohn’s Overture and Scherzo to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, followed by Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat major – with soloist Stanislav Masaryk – and closes with Beethoven’s Symphony No 5.

This is the first occasion on which Maestro Bychkov has appeared with the Czech Philharmonic since the coronavirus pandemic began, and now that borders across the Schengen area are re-opening, it represents a celebration of the resurgence of culture in the Czech Republic. Throughout lockdown, the Orchestra has been presenting a series of fundraising chamber concerts, starting with just two players in masks, and building gradually to this performance with 62 musicians – far short of the full complement of 124 members of the Czech Philharmonic – but a significant step towards a return to normality.

Sychrov Castle, near Prague

The performance will be streamed live from the grounds of the beautiful and historic Neo-Gothic Sychrov Castle, near Prague, before an audience of 500. Sychrov Castle’s history dates back to the 15th century, but the second half of the 19th century represented the Castle’s golden era – a time during which the original Baroque edifice was rebuilt in Neo-Gothic style, and it became the residence of princes of the French Rohan family. Construction work has been ongoing since the early 1990s to restore Sychrov to its former glory. With the largest collection of French portraits in Central Europe, the castle has luxuriously furnished interiors and a large English-style park.

Semyon Bychkov is much in demand as both a concert and an opera conductor. In addition to serving as Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris, Principal Guest Conductor of the St Petersburg Philharmonic, and Chief Conductor of both the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne and the Dresden Semperoper, he has appeared as a guest conductor with many of the world’s leading orchestras, and has long-term relationships with world-renowned opera houses, including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the New York Metropolitan, La Scala, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Vienna State Opera and the Paris Opera.

Semyon Bychkov with the full complement of Czech Philharmonic musicians

One of Maestro Bychkov’s most notable undertakings at the Czech Philharmonic has been the completion of his Tchaikovsky Project, which started in 2015 before his appointment to the Orchestra. In August 2019, Decca Classics released this series of recordings in a box set, which features all of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, his three piano concertos, the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini. Semyon Bychkov has also led Tchaikovsky residencies with the Orchestra in Prague, Tokyo, Vienna and Paris in 2019, and, in the same year, led the Czech Philharmonic at the BBC Proms for the first time as Chief Conductor and Music Director. 

The soloist in this online performance is the rising young Slovakian trumpeter Stanislav Masaryk, who joins the Czech Philharmonic as first trumpeter in September 2020. Currently first trumpeter of the National Theatre Opera Orchestra in Prague, Stanislav Masaryk was a one-time member of the jazz orchestra known as the Bratislava Hot Serenaders, before joining the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra for a three-year term. Still appearing as a guest soloist with this orchestra, Masaryk has also guested with the Slovak Philharmonic, the Slovak Chamber Orchestra of Bohdan Warchal, Košice State Philharmonic, Cappella Istropolitana, the State Chamber Orchestra Žilina, and with the chamber symphony orchestras of the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava and the Slovak Youth Orchestra.

In Maestro Bychkov’s words, “Even more than ever we all need the kind of music that is life affirming, that simply carries the joy of living, the strength of the human spirit and its capacity to absorb the losses that come its way. The music of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Haydn ….. represents exactly the life we lead, the challenges we face and our ability to overcome them. Welcome to our Celebration of Life!”.

Semyon Bychkov leads the Czech Philharmonic in a live concert on Wednesday 24th June from 8.00 pm CET, which will be streamed on the Czech Philharmonic’s Facebook page. It will also be broadcast live on Czech TV.

Information sourced from:

Czech Philharmonic programme notes

Semyon Bychkov

Sychrov Castle

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English National Ballet presents MacMillan’s ‘Manon’

A scene from English National Ballet’s production of MacMillan’s ‘Manon’
© Laurent Liotardo

English National Ballet once again presents a Kenneth MacMillan ballet in its series of free-to-view online performances, and this week’s production is his gorgeous interpretation of Manon – the passionate and ultimately tragic story of a young girl who was as much in love with romance as with the trappings of wealth.

Starring Alina Cojocaru in the title role, the ballet features Joseph Caley as her lover, Des Grieux, and Jeffrey Cirio as her brother, Lescaut. It was filmed at the Manchester Opera House in October 2018, with Music Director, Gavin Sutherland, leading the English National Ballet Philharmonic.

Alina Cojocaru and Joseph Caley in MacMillan’s ‘Manon’ © Laurent Liotardo

The story of Manon is based on the 1731 novel L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Benedictine Abbé Prévost. Set in 18th century Paris, it reflects a time when decadence, corruption and depravity were rife in the city. Manon, a beautiful but desperately poor young girl, is adored by the student Des Grieux, and she loves him in return. Her brother, however, sells her to Monsieur GM, a wealthy older man, and – attracted by the lure of the luxury on offer – Manon deserts Des Grieux, setting in train a chain of events that ultimately lead to tragedy.

James Streeter, Alina Cojocaru and Jeffrey Cirio in MacMillan’s ‘Manon’ © Laurent Liotardo

MacMillan wrote the ballet in 1974, with choreography which is – as always with MacMillan – elegant, apposite and highly creative. The score is an orchestral arrangement of the music which Jules Massenet wrote for his opera, Manon. He was regarded as the leading French operatic composer of his day, and Manon – written in 1884 – was considered by many to be his masterpiece.

Alina Cojocaru and Joseph Caley in MacMillan’s ‘Manon’ © Laurent Liotardo

English National Ballet’s performance of Manon premieres at 7pm BST on Wednesday, 24th June, on Facebook and YouTube, and will be available to watch online for 48 hours thereafter. 

Information sourced from:

English National Ballet programme notes

Kenneth MacMillan

Jules Massenet

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San Francisco Opera streams ‘Salome’, ‘Manon’ and ‘Susannah’

Richard Strauss’ ‘Salome’ has Nadja Michael in the title role
© Terrence McCarthy/San Francisco Opera

Continuing the Opera is ON series of online presentations, San Francisco Opera has three acclaimed works scheduled for streaming, free of charge, over the next few weeks – Richard Strauss’ Salome on June 20, Jules Massenet’s Manon on June 27 and Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah on July 4. All were filmed live in high-definition at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

Strauss’ 1905 one-act opera, Salome, is based on the Biblical events surrounding the execution of John the Baptist. Adapted from Oscar Wilde’s 1891 tragedy Salomé – the original version of which was in French – it has a libretto by Hedwig Lachmann who translated play into German.

So shocking was the opera deemed to be that, following its premiere in Dresden on December 9th, 1905, it was originally banned in London – and not performed at Covent Garden until 1910 – also in Berlin and Vienna, and withdrawn after its first performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Today, however, it has become part of the operatic repertoire and is frequently performed.

This 2009 San Francisco Opera production is a co-production with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Opéra de Montréal. The title role is sung by German soprano Nadja Michael, Jokanaan (John the Baptist) by American bass-baritone Greer Grimsley, English tenor Kim Begley is Herod, Russian mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura is Herodias, and American tenor Garrett Sorenson is Narraboth. Direction and choreography is by Séan Curran, production designs by Bruno Schwengl, and lighting by Christoper Maravich. Directed for the screen is by Frank Zamacona.

Former San Francisco Opera Music Director, Nicola Luisotti, leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (director Ian Robertson) in this production of Salome, which is performed in German with English subtitles.

Salome can be viewed online at 10.00 am PT on June 20 on sfopera.com and will be available until 11.59 pm PT on the following day.

Michael Fabiano and Ellie Dehn in Massenet’s ‘Manon’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The production of Jules Massenet’s Manon – to be streamed on June 27 – is SF Opera’s most recent staging of the work. This five-act opéra comique, which premiered in Paris in January 1884, has a French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille. It’s based on what is regarded as one of the greatest works in French literature – the 1731 novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, by the Benedictine Abbé Prévost d’Exiles, about a wilful girl who is torn between true love and a desire for wealth and luxury. Massenet and his librettists took a fair amount of poetic license with their adaptation of the story, but this Manon is neither wilful nor conniving. She is portrayed instead as frivolous and impetuous, and possibly rather naive.

This co-production with Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre and the Israeli Opera features the role debuts of soprano Ellie Dehn as Manon and tenor Michael Fabiano as Chevalier des Grieux. The cast also includes baritone David Pershall as Manon’s cousin Lescaut, bass James Creswell as Comte des Grieux, baritone Timothy Mix as the wealthy De Brétigny and tenor Robert Brubaker as Guillot de Morfontaine. Stage direction and costume designs are by Vincent Boussard, the set designer is Vincent Lemaire and lighting is by Gary Marder.

French conductor Patrick Fournillier leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (prepared by Chorus Director Ian Robertson) in this production of Manon which is performed in French with English subtitles.

Manon will be available to view on sfopera.com, at 10.00 am PT on Saturday, June 27, and until 11.59 pm PT the following day.  

Patricia Racette in the title role of Floyd’s ‘Susannah’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Carlisle Floyd’s 1955 opera Susannah is one of the most frequently performed 20th-century works in the American operatic repertoire. With a libretto by the composer, it is loosely based on the Apochryphal Book Susannah and the Elders and set in New Hope Valley, Tennessee, where Susannah, an innocent teenage girl, is falsely accused as a sinner by her church community. Written while Floyd was a member of the piano faculty at Florida State University, the opera was premiered at the university on February 24, 1955.

Starring soprano Patricia Racette in the title role, this 2014 premiere by San Francisco Opera is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Houston Grand Opera. Tenor Brandon Jovanovich is Susannah’s brother Sam Polk, bass Raymond Aceto is the villain Reverend Olin Blitch, tenor James Kryshak is Little Bat and mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook is Little Bat’s mother, Mrs McLean. Directed by Michael Cavanagh, Susannah has set designs by Erhard Rom, with costumes by Michael Yeargan, lighting designs by Gary Marder, choreography by Lawrence Pech and fight direction by Dave Maier.

American conductor Karen Kamensek – in her Company debut – leads the cast and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (director Ian Robertson) in a performance sung in English with English subtitles.

Susannah will be available to view on sfopera.com on Saturday, July 4, at 10.00 am PT until 11:59 pm the following day.
 

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

opera wire.com
World of Opera

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English National Ballet streams MacMillan’s ‘Song of the Earth’

Tamara Rojo, Joseph Caley and Fernando Carratalá Coloma in ‘Song of the Earth’
© Laurent Liotardo

English National Ballet’s Wednesday Watch Party this evening features Kenneth MacMillan’s 1965 ballet Song of the Earth. Set to Gustav Mahler’s symphonic song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde, this online performance stars Tamara Rojo – ENB’s Artistic Director and Lead Principal – and Lead Principals Joseph Caley and Jeffrey Cirio, in the roles of a Woman, a Man and an enigmatic Messenger.

Song of the Earth is different from any other ballet which MacMillan had created. He blended the combination of Mahler’s music with Chinese poetry and his own unique style of choreography to create a modern classic of love, loss and death. The choreographer himself described it thus: ‘A man and a woman; death takes the man; they both return to her and at the end of the ballet, we find that in death there is the promise of renewal’.

When The Royal Ballet declined MacMillan’s concept for the ballet, he turned to his friend John Cranko, director of the Stuttgart Ballet, who had extended an invitation to MacMillan to choreograph whatever he wanted. Thus it was that the Stuttgart Ballet premiered Song of the Earth in 1965 as part of a triple bill which also included MacMillan’s Danses Concertantes and a new Cranko work, Opus 1.

Mahler composed the work in 1908, after one of the worst periods in his life, in which he was forced to resign as Director of Vienna Court Opera, he lost his daughter, Maria, and he was diagnosed with a terminal heart defect. Having been sent a book of T’ang dynasty poems – “bitter-sweet reflections on human joys, concluding with a farewell to the world” – and loosely translated into German, Mahler was inspired to set them to music. The work is scored for two voices and orchestra, and in the words of ENB Music Director, Gavin Sutherland, combined the composer’s two great loves – the human voice and the song, and symphonic form.

This performance by English National Ballet was filmed at the Palace Theatre Manchester in October 2017 – the 25th anniversary of Kenneth MacMillan’s death – with vocalists Rhonda Browne and Samuel Sakker and the English National Ballet Philharmonic, conducted by Gavin Sutherland.

It premieres today, Wednesday 17th June, on Facebook and YouTube, and will be available to view online in full, free of charge, for 48 hours thereafter.

Information sourced from:
English National Ballet programme notes
Kenneth MacMillan/Song of the Earth

See also:
English National Ballet on the origins of the work
Music Director, Gavin Sutherland on the score
Tamaro Rojo and Lady MacMillan in conversation on Song of the Earth

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SFJAZZ – Fridays at Five in June

The SFJAZZ Fridays at Five online transmissions – the JAZZ Center’s lockdown programs – continue to keep jazz alive for its many followers, and help enthusiasts stay connected to the artists they love. Every Friday from 5.00 to 6.00 pm PDT, a concert – recorded during a live performance at the JAZZ Center – is available free to view for SFJAZZ Digital Members for just $5 a month.

This week’s Friday concert features GRAMMY-winning American folk singer, Rhiannon Giddens, withItalian pianist and multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. Also a composer, violinist, banjo player, actress, and founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Giddens was the recipient of the 2017 the MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Grant’ fellowship. She’s online this week with Turrisi and bassist Jason Sypher, in a film made during her week-long residency at the JAZZ Center in February this year. In today’s transmission – June 12th – Giddens performs music from her latest album There Is No Other (Nonesuch) which focuses on the ways in which Africa and the Middle East have have influenced the musical traditions of Europe and the Americas.

The following week’s online broadcast – on June 19 – stars the cosmopolitan and sophisticated Paris Combo, filmed during the SFJAZZ Summer Sessions in July 2018. Fronted by vocalist Belle du Berry, the ensemble features Australian trumpeter and keyboard artist David Lewis, bassist Benoît Dunoyer de Segonzac, drummer François Jeannin, percussionist Rémy Kaprielan, and Algerian Gypsy guitarist Potzi. Combining Gypsy swing with a dash of flamenco, chanson and alt-cabaret, Paris Combo is hugely popular with SFJAZZ audiences, so the JAZZ Center is delighted to salute the group with this online performance, since its 2019-20 appearances hacanceled as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The performance which streams on June 26, The Wayne Shorter Celebration Part 2, takes the form of a special tribute to saxophonist, composer and jazz legend, Wayne Shorter – 11-time GRAMMY winner, 1998 NEA Jazz Master, and Kennedy Center Honoree. Shorter had been scheduled to perform a four-night program at SFJAZZ in January 2019, but was prevented from traveling that week, due to an illness. His friend, pianist Herbie Hancock, arranged instead a benefit concert at SFJAZZ to help with Shorter’s medical expenses, and drew together a group of jazz luminaries to perform some of his classic numbers. The line-up included Shorter’s quartet – pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade – and the opening night performance featured Hancock on piano and keyboards, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and saxophonist and keyboardist Terrace Martin. 100% of the proceeds of the Tip Jar for this particular online broadcast will go to Shorter, to help with his ongoing medical expenses.

To watch these Fridays at Five performances, you’ll need to subscribe to Digital Membership of SFJAZZ, and then log on to the SFJAZZ website for the relevant link.

For more information on becoming a Digital Member of SFJAZZ, follow this link.

To contribute to the SFJAZZ Tip Jar, and support the featured artists, follow this link. Each donation will be divided, on a 50/50 basis, between working musicians and the artistic and educational programs at SFJAZZ.

For more details on these online broadcasts, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Information sourced from SFJAZZ program notes

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The Royal Ballet presents ‘La Fille mal gardée’ online

Frederick Ashton’s delightful ballet La Fille mal gardée is the next online production from The Royal Ballet – available to view free of charge.

Starring Marianela Nuñez as Lise, Carlos Acosta as Colas and William Tuckett as Widow Simone, the ballet is set to music by John Lanchbery, arranged and orchestrated from the original 1828 score by Ferdinand Hérold. It’s a lyrical, fun and colourful work, with a melodious score and plenty of lighthearted humour.

La Fille mal gardée – which translates as The Wayward Daughter – was originally choreographed by French Ballet Master Jean D’Auberval in 1789. Not only was it one of the first comic ballets, but also one of the first to feature realistic – as opposed to mythological or idealistic – characters. Although the original choreography is no longer in existence, the ballet is regarded as one of the oldest still in the repertoire of contemporary companies, and Ashton’s version – premiered by The Royal Ballet in 1960 – is one of the more recent interpretations, another being the 1882 version by Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa.

Ashton’s ballet, reflecting his love of the Suffolk countryside, has a rural setting, the action taking place on a farm. It tells of Widow Simone’s desire to have her daughter Lise marry Alain, son of a wealthy landowner, but Lise, who’s in love with a young farmer Colas is determined to get her own way. The fact that Alain has as little interest in her as she has in him, helps Lise to win her mother over, and secure her blessing to a match with Colas.

Featuring some of Ashton’s most creative – and technically challenging – choreography, the ballet has some lovely comic touches – with dancing chickens in the farmyard, and Widow Simone’s clog dance – and the maypole dance and pas de ruban are simply lovely.

Anthony Twiner leads the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in this performance of La Fille mal gardée, which is available to view on Friday 12 June at 7.00 pm on Youtube and Facebook – and on these channels until 26th June.

Information sourced from:

Royal Ballet programme notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica

For more information on Sir Frederick Ashton, visit www.frederickashton.org.uk

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San Francisco Symphony honors Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas

San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas –
courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony is dedicating the month of June to an online tribute to the truly remarkable Michael Tilson Thomas who retires as Music Director of the Symphony at the end of the month, after a hugely successful 25-year tenure.

MTT, as he’s affectionately known, has been an inspiration for countless music lovers, recent and long-term converts, and scores of young people, in his quest to take classical music to as wide a national and international audience as possible, and to demonstrate the sheer pleasure that it brings to all who love it.

This virtual tribute to MTT takes the form of an online cavalcade of celebratory milestones in the unique history of his relationship with the Symphony – regarded as one of the most productive artistic partnerships in the world of the orchestra – and includes audio recordings, videos, photographs and personal memories sourced from the orchestra’s archives.

The MTT25 website – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

To participate in this amazing reflection of MTT’s partnership with the Symphony, visit sfsymphony.org/MTT25 – where you can also sign up for regular updates. Each day focuses on a specific season of MTT’s tenure, and already you can see content covering the 1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons, and every day more content – highlighting achievements, milestones and relationships – will be posted on the site, until June 28th.

You can also see the growing number of tributes already posted on the Public Memory Wall, and if you’d like to post your own, you can do so on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, using the hashtags #MTT25 and #MTTXXV.

Every day, this website will also feature a recording relevant to each season – available for streaming for the first time. The work from the 1995-96 season is Schumann’s Symphony No 8 – recorded in December 1995 – and that from the 1996-97 season is a recording from the archives of the world premiere of Solus for Thirty Violins, by former SF Symphony Assistant Concertmaster Mark Volkert, recorded in October 1996. The 1997-98 choice is Carl Ruggles’ Sun-treader, recorded in September 1997, and that for 1998-99 is Gordon Getty’s Annabel Lee, recorded in October 1998.

Michael Tilson Thomas leading the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus –
courtesy San Francisco Symphony

During the month of June, Classical KDFC, the Bay Area’s classical radio station, will broadcast a daily program entitled MTT Time – featuring live performance recordings by MTT and the SF Symphony from each year of his tenure as Music Director. Hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone, they will also feature interviews with MTT from his home. The broadcasts will air every day at 3.00 pm on Classical KDFC for listeners in the Bay Area, and on www.kdfc.com they will be available for on demand streaming for 21 days following the broadcast.

Also for Bay Area audiences, The San Francisco Chronicle’s Datebook will mark this occasion with special coverage on datebook.sfchronicle.com. The project launches on June 10th, and the print package will be available on June 14th.

The Symphony will mark Father’s Day on June 21st with the release of a special video recording of a new song which MTT composed in March of this year. Entitled Whistle Tune, it was inspired by a melody which the composer used to whistle with his father Ted, and will be performed by members of the Symphony filmed in their homes. This unusual performance will be available to view on the Symphony’s YouTube page – YouTube.com/SFSymphony.

This celebration of Michael Tilson Thomas’ partnership with the San Francisco Symphony also includes the release of a new album on the SFS Media label on June 26th. There are two works on the album, both composed by MTT – From the Diary of Anne Frank and Meditations on Rilke, marking his first composition for the Symphony and also his latest.

From the Diary of Anne Frank – the earlier of the two compositions – is a narration of extracts from the diary written by the young Anne Frank whilst in hiding during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands during the Second World War. MTT set these extracts to a piece of music, commissioned by UNICEF, which he composed for his friend and UNICEF ambassador, Audrey Hepburn, to whom the work was dedicated. Narration on this recording is by American soprano Isabel Leonard, and it was recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall in November 2018.

The second work featured on this album, Meditations on Rilke, is a musical setting of poems by the Bohemian-Austrian novelist and poet, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), who was regarded as one of the most lyrical of German-language writers. This song cycle is performed by the Symphony’s Artist-in-Residence, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, and recorded at a live performance at Davies Symphony Hall in January of this year.

This album will be available for download in high quality, 24-bit/192kHz Studio Master, for streaming via all major retailers worldwide on June 26th, and in 5.1 surround-capable SACD on July 17.

Also available on June 26 is a new short-form documentary video about both of these compositions, featuring commentary from MTT, Isabel Leonard and Sasha Cooke, and live performance footage. For more information, program notes, performance video footage, and for commentary from MTT, visit sfsymphony.org/tilsonthomas, where the album is now available to pre-order.

The culmination of this virtual tribute to MTT takes place on June 28th, at 5.00 pm PDT, with MTT25: An Online Tribute Event for Michael Tilson Thomas. Hosted by Audra McDonald and Susan Graham, it will feature personal stories and performances by an impressive line-up of guest artists, friends and musical colleagues of MTT’s, including members of the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus. This event will be streamed free of charge in a special YouTube Premieres event on the Symphony’s YouTube page YouTube.com/SFSymphony, and for international audiences unable to watch the initial broadcast, it will be available to view the following day.

Although the San Francisco Symphony is bidding farewell to a truly gifted and wonderfully creative Music Director, MTT will become Music Director Laureate of the Symphony – and his many fans will be delighted to know that he’ll still be seen on the podium of Davies Symphony Hall.

Information sourced from San Francisco Symphony program notes.

Read more about Michael Tilson Thomas on his website

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Chorus of the Sicilian Opera makes its mark on the national and international stage

The Chorus of the Sicilian Opera in a performance of Zeffirelli’s ‘Aida’ at the Guangzhou Opera House – courtesy Coro Lirico Siciliano

The Chorus of the Sicilian Opera (Coro Lirico Siciliano) might be a relatively young ensemble, but it’s most certainly making its mark on the musical, theatrical, operatic and symphonic output of the island of Sicily, whilst devoting itself to the research, development and promotion of Sicilian art, both nationally and internationally.

Since the founding of the Coro Lirico Siciliano in 2008 – by the current choir master Francesco Costa, soprano Giovanna Collica and the organisation’s president, Alberto Munafó – it has become the official choir of the two major Sicilian operatic seasons – the Taormina Opera Festival and the Luglio Musicale Trapenese. The versatility and style of its members have enabled the Chorus to diversify from the traditional operatic repertoire to include both symphonic and sacred music in its range of virtuosity.

The Chorus of the Siciian Opera at a Bellini Opera Gala directed by Steven Mercurio at the Greek Theater of Taormina – courtesy Coro Lirico Siciliano

Among the honours which have been bestowed on this ensemble are the Golden Opera Award at the 2017 International Opera Awards – the ‘Oscars of Opera’ – held in Verona, the International Sicilian Prize ‘Il Paladino’ on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the award, the 2015 Bellini Prize, the Belcanto Ambassador Prize and the Academy of Arts Prize.

Drawing artists from the various provinces of Sicily, the Chorus is based in the city of Catania – a city steeped in musical history, and the birthplace of Vincenzo Bellini. It’s not surprising, then, that the Chorus of the Sicilian Opera identifies closely with the composer of operas such as I Capuleti e i Montecchi, La sonnambula, Norma and I puritani. Indeed, the Chorus has dedicated itself to promoting the music of the composer known as Cigno Etneo, which translates as ‘the Swan of Catania’ because of the poignant melancholy of much of his music. (Etneo, an adjective meaning ‘Catania’, is derived from the name of the Sicilian volcano ‘Etna’.) The first Opera Gala at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina, under the direction of Steven Mercurio, was devoted to the music of Bellini, and the ensemble’s first appearance in China – at the Macau International Festival – was in a production of Norma by the Royal Theatre of Turin.

One of the proudest achievements of the Sicilian Lyric Chorus has been its production of Bellini’s little-known opera Zaira, which was presented in Catania at the Greek-Roman Theatre on the occasion of the Bellini Festival in September 2012 – a production which featured some of the performers of the original cast of the opera’s world premiere in 1976. The ensemble hopes, in the future, to take a revised version of this opera to the world, with the inclusion of excerpts which have since been discovered, but never performed.

The Choral Institution has also performed some of the sacred works of the young Bellini, including some first performances which it has discovered, and it’s hoped that the ensemble will be able to create and record the complete collection of his sacred works.

As of last year, the Chorus of the Sicilian Opera has become the organiser of the annual Festival dei Teatri di Pietra which takes place in the three ancient theatres of Sicily – the Greek theatre of Taormina, built in the 3rd century BC; the Greek theatre of Syracuse first built in the 5th century BC, rebuilt in the 3rd century BC and renovated again in the Roman period; and the Greek Theatre of Tindari, an amphitheatre built in the 4th century, with views of the ocean, in the Province of Messina.

In the field of sacred music, the Chorus works with the annual International Sacred and Renaissance Music Week, held in early September, with concerts taking place in the churches of San Martino, San Cataldo, San Cataldo and San Giovanni Battista, and live broadcasts from the Teatro Antico in Taormina via the RAI and Sky channels, and to over 700 cinemas worldwide via the Microcinema circuit.

The Chorus collaborates with institutions such as the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana, the International Music Festival of Macau, the China Opera Festival and the Orchestre national d’Île de France. Illustrious names with which it has been associated include José Carreras – at a special New Year’s gala at the inauguration of the Harbin Opera House in Heilongjiang Province, China, in 2017 – Fabio Armiliato, Marius Stravinsky, Franco Zeffirelli, Andrea Bocelli and the Sistine Chapel Choir

At the present time, of course, the Chorus has had to suspend live performances, but planning has already started for the second edition of the Festival dei Teatri di Pietra, at which the ensemble hopes to appear in productions which include Verdi’s La Traviata, Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, and Beethoven’s Symphony No 9. Tours of Spain, China and the Lebanon are also currently being negotiated for the forthcoming autumn and winter seasons, when – it is hoped – music and art will again be thriving.

This article has also appeared in the Features section of Riviera Buzz

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