Impressive line-up for San Francisco Dance Film Festival

This week sees the opening of the 8th San Francisco Dance Film Festival – an annual celebration of dance on film, featuring over 90 films, on all forms of dance.  As well as celebrating the finest dance films in the world, the purpose of the Dance Film Festival is to encourage and assist Bay Area choreographers and filmmakers in their endeavors to create new dance works for the screen, and it was greatly honored to receive a 2016 Isadora Duncan Dance Award earlier this year. Known affectionately as Izzies, these awards are an annual recognition of exceptional creative achievements in the performance and presentation of dance.

The festival opening features a selection of exciting new Screendance Shorts, taken from an international range of films, such as SAMT (or Silence), about a dictatorship where dance is the secret code of silent resistance, a powerful sequence entitled Persecuta by the Lombard Twins, and Dancin’ the Camera – described as “a tap dancer’s adventure in the mechanical world of black-and-white film”, shot on an original 1920s 35mm camera.

Friday is crammed full of interesting presentations. Included in the program are a Filmmaker Forum which will hold a discussion – Directing the Eye – on how dance filmmakers guide the focus of the viewer. There’s a documentary entitled Fire and Ashes, Making the ballet RAkU, in which composer Shinji Eshima and Yuri Possokhov – resident choreographer San Francisco Ballet – relive the experience of creating this work with the original cast of RAkU, and Rebels on Pointe, which takes a close look at the all-male drag company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

A new feature this year will be a full day dedicated to Live Performance Capture films, in which important works from Europe will be introduced to a San Francisco audience for the first time. Included in these are Alexander Ekman’s A Swan Lake and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Dutch National Ballet’s production of Mata Hari, and Maurice Béjart’s visually stunning The Ninth Symphony.

Among the presentations on Sunday are a discussion by a panel of industry and creative professionals on the challenges and opportunities in creating Virtual Reality dance films, a program of international shorts entitled Dancing the World, The Co-Laboratory – a collaboration between two teams of choreographers and filmmakers who were charged with creating two short dance films in a week prior to the festival – and the annual Awards Presentation.

It’s a huge selection to pack into just four days – from October 19 to 22. For a full schedule, and details of venues and tickets, visit the San Francisco Dance Film Festival website.

 

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Dynamic duo for San Francisco Symphony

Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbánski – Photo © Caroline Doutre – Festival de Paques

This week the San Francisco Symphony welcomes two dynamic young musicians to the stage of Davies Symphony Hall – Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbánski and American cellist Joshua Roman – both making return visits to the Symphony. Joshua Roman plays the Dvořák Cello Concerto in a program which includes Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute, and Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra.

Krzysztof Urbánski last appeared with the Symphony just two weeks ago, prompting Jonathan Kosman (San Francisco Chronicle) to remark that he “takes to the the podium like a cross between Arturo Toscanini and Fred Astaire, turning each interpretive decision into a balletic piece of performance art”. Musical Toronto refers to his “compelling style that is both unique and bewitching”, but – far from being just a stylish conductor – this young Maestro also attracts rave reviews for his ability – “a musician of extraordinary intelligence and perception” says Kölner Stadtanzeiger. In June 2015, he was the recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Award at the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival – the first conductor ever to have received this prestigious award.

Now in his seventh season as Music Director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Urbánski was this year appointed Honorary Guest Conductor of the Trondheim Symfoniorkester & Opera, following a four-season tenure as Chief Conductor and Artistic Leader of the Orchestra, which he held concurrently with the role of Principal Guest Conductor of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. He is also Principal Guest Conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra – a German radio orchestra based in Hamburg at the Elbphilharmonie, a concert hall which is described as one of the largest and most acoustically advanced in the world.

Krzysztof Urbánski also guests with orchestras of the caliber of Staatskapelle Dresden, London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, Wiener Symphoniker, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics. Forthcoming debuts include those with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and Orchestre de Paris.

Joshua Roman – cellist, composer and curator – is also regarded as a highly inspirational musician, described by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as “A musician of imagination and expressive breadth”. In 2006, at the age of 22, he was appointed principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony, a position which he held for two years before setting out on his career as a soloist, a career which has included appearances with orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mariinsky Orchestra, New World Symphony, Alabama Symphony and Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional del Ecuador.

As a chamber musician, Joshua Roman has collaborated with a wide range of artists, including pianist Andrius Zlabys, conductor and pianist Christian Zacharias, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, New York’s JACK and Enso String quartets, Talea Ensemble, and composer, clarinetist and conductor Derek Bermel. Composer Mason Bates dedicated his Cello Concerto to Joshua Roman, who gave the work its world premiere with the Seattle Symphony in 2014.  Joshua Roman has also premiered his own Cello Concerto, Awakening, with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, and subsequently performed it with orchestras such as the New World and Seattle symphonies, as well as with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Among his other achievements, he has served as Alumnus-in-Residence at the prestigious Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, is Artistic Director of TownMusic in Seattle, is a Creative Partner of the Colorado Music Festival & Center for Musical Arts, is the inaugural Artistic Advisor of a contemporary Seattle-based streaming channel to cultivate the next generation of classical audiences, and was a member of the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors artists committee.

Twentieth-century composer and conductor, Witold Lutosławski, was regarded as one of Poland’s most outstanding composers. Widely respected during his lifetime, he was the recipient of a number of international awards, and held honorary degrees from sixteen universities. Not only did he make his musical mark in Poland, but in international circles as well, conducting in France, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Norway and Austria, and also carrying out engagements with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Orchestre de Paris, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphony which he led on three different occasions. His last visit here was in 1993.

Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra was written at the request of conductor Witold Rowicki, who wanted a piece based on Polish folk music, to be performed by the Warsaw National Philharmonic which Rowicki had founded in 1950. It took Lutosławski four years to complete, but in the words of San Francisco Symphony program annotator James M Keller, it turned out to be “a brilliant orchestral showpiece …. a virtuoso vehicle for the ensemble as a whole”.

Krzysztof Urbánski leads the San Francisco Symphony and guest artist Joshua Roman in a program of works by Dvořák, Mozart and Lutosławski, on October 19, 20 and 21. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

 

Sources:

 

San Francisco Symphony Program notes:

Dvořák – Cello Concerto

Mozart – Overture to The Magic Flute

Lutosławski –  Concerto for Orchestra

 

Artist websites:

Krzysztof Urbánski

Joshua Roman

Witold Lutosławski

 

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Jakub Hrůša leads San Francisco Symphony in ‘Pursuits of Passion’

Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša – Photo Zbynek_Maderyc

This week the San Francisco Symphony brings us the debut appearance of Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, and a return visit by Polish-Hungarian pianist Piotr Anderszewski – who first appeared with the Symphony in 2009. The program, Pursuits of Passion, is something to look forward to as well, featuring music by Czech composers Dvořák, Smetana and Janáček – and one of Mozart’s loveliest piano concertos.

Described by Classical Iconoclast as “one of the most exciting conductors around”, Jakub Hrůša is certainly making his mark on the world of music. Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, Permanent Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic and Principal Guest Conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, he served as Music Director and Chief Conductor of PKF–Prague Philharmonia from 2009 to 2015, and was recently appointed Principal Chief Conductor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. He is also the current President of the International Martinů Circle, and in 2015 was the inaugural recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize.

Maestro Hrůša has just ended an impressive season of debuts – with the Boston and Chicago symphonies, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra.  He also made his first appearance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in this year’s Proms season, following which The Times wrote that “…. the rising Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša instilled such passion into the BBC Symphony Orchestra that an evening of rarities made a thrilling impression”.

A frequent guest with many of the world’s finest orchestras, Maestro Hrůša is equally gifted as an opera conductor, regularly guesting with Glyndebourne Festival, and has led productions for Vienna State Opera, Opéra National de Paris, Frankfurt Opera, Finnish National Opera, Royal Danish Opera and Prague National Theatre.

Considered one of the outstanding musicians of his generation, Gilmore award-winning Piotr Anderszewski is also known for the unusual approach he adopts to his interpretations.  Following a recital in London in 2005, The Guardian wrote that it was “delivered in the intensely engaging, self-effacing way that almost disguises the sheer technical mastery and musicianship of his playing …”.

Mr Anderszewski has more recently given recitals at London’s Royal Festival Hall, the Wiener Konzerthaus, Carnegie Hall and the Mariinsky Concert Hall in St Petersburg. He has appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic and Berlin Staatskapelle orchestras, the Chicago and London Symphony orchestras, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Royal Concertgebouw, as well as conducting orchestras such as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Sinfonia Varsovia and Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, from the keyboard.

Piotr Anderszewski has featured in two award-winning documentaries by Bruno Monsaingeon for the European culture channel ARTEPiotr Anderszewski plays the Diabelli Variations, and an artist’s portrait, Piotr Anderszewski, Unquiet Traveller – as well as Anderszewski Plays Schumann, for Polish Television.

Lined up for this 2017-18 season are appearances with the Vienna Philharmonic and Budapest Festival orchestras, l’Orchestre de Paris, recitals at Chicago’s Symphony Centre, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and London’s Barbican Centre, and next spring he undertakes a European tour playing with, and directing, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

This week’s concerts open with Dvořák’s Carnival Overture,  the second of a group of three works entitled Nature, Life and Love, followed by Mozart’s tuneful and joyous Piano Concerto No 17  (in which Piotr Anderszewski plays Mozart’s own cadenzas). In Smetana’s patriotic tone poem Vltava (The Moldau) from Má Vlast (My Country), the composer describes the Bohemian river which flows through the city of Prague, to which the work was dedicated.   The concert closes with Janáček’s dramatic work, Taras Bulba, Rhapsody for Orchestra, based on three episodes from Nikolai Gogol’s 1835 novella about the famous hetman of the Cossacks – the composer quoting Gogol’s words as the reason for having written this piece: “… because in the whole world there are not fires or tortures strong enough to destroy the vitality of the Russian nation”.

Jakub Hrůsa leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artist Piotr Andreszewski, in a program of music by Dvořák, Mozart, Smetana and Janáček at Davies Symphony Hall on October 13, 14 and 15. For more information and tickets visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

 

Sources:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Artists’ websites:

Jakub Hrůša

Piotr Anderszewski

 

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Thelonius Monk centennial at SFJAZZ

SFJAZZ celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Thelonius Monk this week with performances by three fabulous jazz musicians – Danilo Pérez, Jason Moran and John Beasley.  Considered one of America’s greatest composers, Monk was also regarded as one of the most creative pianists of any musical genre, who explained his distinctive style as “different”.  “Everything I play is different,” he said, “different melody, different harmony, different structure. Each piece is different from the other. . . .”.

 

Panamanian pianist and composer Danilo Pérez opens the centennial celebrations with a program which blends the music of Monk with his own trademark Caribbean style and sound. This performance – with bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz – also marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Pérez’s own album Panamonk, described by AllMusic as “…… adventurous, rhythmic, and quite joyful. A memorable outing by the talented Danilo Pérez”.  NPR says that as a composer and bandleader “he’s practically peerless”.

 

Jason Moran’s tribute to Thelonius Monk goes beyond a live presentation of the great man’s music. His program, entitled In My Mind, Monk at Town Hall, 1959, was an SFJAZZ co-commission which premiered in 2007. In it, Moran re-creates Monk’s 1959 big band concert at New York’s Town Hall, including video footage, still images and recordings from the documentary The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith.  In this program, Moran – who has been described by The Los Angeles Times as “A startlingly gifted pianist with a relentless thirst for experimentation” – goes behind Monk’s music, delving into the history and creative process of the man who had such a significant influence on his own career.

 

The final performance in this celebratory triptych is John Beasley’s MONK’estra, the title of his album which features arrangements of the music of Thelonius Monk influenced by the sound of New Orleans, hip-hop, and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Writing for the International Review of Music, Don Heckman referred to Beasley’s arrangements as “some of the most mesmerizing big band music of recent memory”. Grammy-nominated Beasley – who appears with a 15-piece big band orchestra – is regarded as one of the most versatile musicians in jazz, and is known for his expertise as a bandleader, keyboardist and composer, as well as an arranger for music projects, film and television.

Danilo Pérez, Jason Moran and John Beasley appear in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ on October 13th, 14th and 15th respectively.  For some fascinating background information on these artists, and to buy tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

 

Sources:

SFJAZZ

Thelonius Monk

Danilo Perez

Jason Moran

John Beasley

 

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World Ballet Day LIVE streams online October 4-5

Trailer courtesy San Francisco Ballet

 

This week, lovers of ballet the world over will once again have the opportunity to watch all – or part of – a 22-hour celebration of ballet on October 4 – 5, with World Ballet Day LIVE.

This is the day on which five of the world’s leading ballet companies each takes a 5-hour segment of this live stream, giving us access to their practice studios, as their dancers are put through their paces during daily class and rehearsals for forthcoming performances. We’ll also see footage from actual productions, and watch interviews with some of the members of each company.

This fascinating concept, now in its fourth year, has captivated online viewers from all round the globe, and features The Australian Ballet in Melbourne, moving to the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, then to The Royal Ballet in London, The National Ballet of Canada in Toronto, and finally our own San Francisco Ballet.

For those of us on Pacific Daylight Time, World Ballet Day LIVE starts in the studios of the Australian Ballet at 6.00 pm tomorrow, October 4, running until 11.00 pm. This is followed by five hours with the Bolshoi Ballet, from 11.00 pm on October 4 until 4.00 am on October 5. The Royal Ballet can be seen from 4.00 am to 9.00 am on October 5, The National Ballet of Canada from 9.00 am to 11.00 am, and San Francisco Ballet from 11.00 am to 4.00 pm.

Wherever you are in the world, check the website of the ballet company in your time zone (see below) for the actual time of the local stream on Facebook Live, and if you’re fortunate enough to have the entire 22-hour timespan at your disposal, how wonderful! You’re also encouraged to participate in this event, with your thoughts and views, using the hashtag #WorldBalletDay.

The Australian Ballet

The Bolshoi Ballet

The Royal Ballet

The National Ballet of Canada

San Francisco Ballet

Prepare to enjoy some of the most fascinating insights into the realm of ballet, and some of the finest dancing in the world!

 

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All is not as it seems at the ‘Barbecue’ at San Francisco Playhouse

Lillie Anne (Halili Knox, right) explains to Adlean (Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe), James T (Adrian Roberts), and Marie (Kehinde Koyejo) how an intervention works

San Francisco Playhouse directors, Bill English and Susi Damilano, do seem to have a remarkable ability to search out – or attract – some interesting and unusual productions. The latest one to open at the Playhouse is the West Coast premiere of Barbecue, the highly entertaining comedy written by multi-award winner Robert O’Hara, and directed by Margo Hall – who also plays one of the characters in the show.

Barbecue deals with two seriously dysfunctional and foul-mouthed families – one white, one black – who appear to be living in a parallel existence. The play opens with four siblings of the white family preparing to hold a barbecue in the park ‘in honor’ of their sister who has fallen off the rails. They hatch a plan which they hope will persuade her to go to rehab to cure herself of her various undesirable dependencies.

Lillie Anne (Anne Darragh, center) explains her plans to Marie (Teri Whipple), James T (Clive Worsley), and Adlean (Jennie Brick)

The black siblings – who have the same names as their counterparts, and who are even identically dressed – are hatching a similar plan, in the same park, for their sister, who has also fallen from grace, and for the same reasons as the white sister.

Confusing? Well, initially, yes. Humorous? Absolutely – even if at first you’re not entirely sure what’s going on. The audience hooted with laughter, enjoying every minute of the domestic train-smash unfolding before their eyes. But stay with these families – for when the light bulb moment comes at the beginning of Act II – everything suddenly falls into place, and you find yourself immersed in the twists and turns that emerge from a very clever plot.

Barbara (Margo Hall) reflects on her life

You can always rely on the Playhouse directors to bring out the best in their performers, and Margo Hall has done a brilliant job. The cast members of Barbecue are (almost all) as vulgar, loud-mouthed and lacking in self-restraint as their characters demand, and those that aren’t, still give their characters the oomph they need to counteract the cringe-worthy behavior of the other members of their respective families.

The set, as always, is wonderfully realistic, down to the last detail – like the pieces of litter lying around the park, and the rust stains on the walls of the public bathrooms – trivial, but vital for authentic scene-setting. Plaudits, once again, to Bill English for his design.

Clever, loads of fun, with plenty of jaw-dropping moments – don’t miss out on the Barbecue at the Playhouse!

Susi Damilano, Clive Worsley, and Teri Whipple in ‘Barbecue’ at the San Francisco Playhouse

Barbecue runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until November 11. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Playhouse website www.sfplayhouse.org.

 

Production photographs by Jessica Palopoli

 

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Christian Reif & San Francisco Symphony celebrate Oktoberfest

San Francisco Symphony Resident Conductor, Christian Reif, leads the Symphony’s first ever Oktoberfest celebration on Tuesday, October 3. Reif is the real deal, being German-born he knows a thing or two about Oktoberfest, the world’s largest Volksfest, an event which traditionally centers around a beer or wine festival, with a traveling funfair.

Held in Munich each year, Oktoberfest runs from mid-September to the first week in October, and attracts more than 6 million people from around the world. Having been established 1860, this festival is an important event in Bavarian culture, and this year sees the celebration of the 184th Munich Oktoberfest, which culminates on October 3, German Unity Day.

So, what have Christian Reif and the San Francisco Symphony got lined up for this fun-filled event? Well, the evening starts with beer in the lobby of Davies Symphony Hall, for all members of the audience, before the performance, and then the Symphony will regale the audience with a program of polkas by Strauss, arias – such as Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata and Fin ch’han dal vino from Mozart’s Don Giovanni – and wonderfully popular songs such as Sigmund Romberg’s Drink, Drink, Drink from The Student Prince, and Lehar’s Dein ist mein ganzes Herz from Das Land des Lächelns, as well as a selection of popular German drinking songs. Performing with the Symphony are soprano Julie Adams, mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, baritone Edward Nelson and tenor David Blalock.

Christian Reif explains why a concert hall is not just the preserve of what we consider to be strictly classical music. “A lot of the classical music that we think is holy, and only belongs in a concert hall, originated at parties,” he says, adding that a lot of music that Mozart wrote is definitely party music. “Up until the 19th century,” he continues, “often there was talking during the shows and clapping in between movements. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that composers wanted their music experienced without interruption. I mean, the reason why the opera starts with an overture—and usually quite a loud one—is to shut people up!”

Those who purchase VIP tickets for this celebratory performance will have access to the biergarten which will be set up outside Symphony Hall – both before and after the performance – where they can enjoy complimentary German fare and beer around firepits, with polka bands providing the entertainment, at the after-party.

Christian Reif leads the San Francisco Symphony, members of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, (Assistant Chorus Director David J Xiques) and guest artists, in a celebration of Oktoberfest at Davies Symphony Hall on Tuesday, October 3. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Sources:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Christian Reif

 

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Jeremy Denk guests with MTT & San Francisco Symphony

Pianist Jeremy Denk – Photo © John D & Catherine T MacArthur Foundation

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony invite us to an interesting performance this week – one that features works by two contrasting composers – Béla Bartók and Hector Berlioz. The guest artist is piano virtuoso Jeremy Denk who plays the Bartók Piano Concerto No 2 – which he recently played during this year’s BBC Proms season – and the work by Berlioz is his epic Symphonie fantastique.

Winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the Avery Fisher Prize, and Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year award, and recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Jeremy Denk is known as one of America’s foremost pianists, and “one of the most respected pianists on the planet” according to artsBHAM. He has toured widely across the United States and in the United Kingdom, and appeared with some of Europe’s finest orchestras, including, recently, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Mr Denk is described by The New York Times as “….. a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs, in whatever combination – both for his penetrating intellectual engagement with the music and for the generosity of his playing“.

Bartók wrote his two piano concertos during what are considered his most productive years – the two decades following the end of World War I. The First Piano Concerto was written in 1926, and the Second in 1931, although it wasn’t premiered until January 23, 1933.  This performance took place in Frankfurt, with the composer as soloist, and is notable for the fact that this was Bartók’s last appearance in Germany before the rise of Nazism, which was responsible for his departure from Europe for the United States in 1940. The work is described by AllMusic as one of Bartók’s “more accessible compositions for performers and audiences alike”, but it’s certainly no less challenging for that. From the opening bars, you’re left in no doubt that you’re in for a thrilling display of dazzling virtuosity – from both composer and soloist.

Berlioz referred to his Symphonie fantastique as his “descriptive” symphony – which is probably putting it very mildly. It’s a dramatic and expressive work, and – bearing the title Symphonie fantastique: épisode de la vie d’un artiste – is known to be autobiographical, since it portrays a series of dreams about a failed love affair. At the time of writing the symphony, Berlioz had apparently fallen in love – at a distance – with the actress Harriet Smithson, whom he ultimately married.  The marriage, however, didn’t last. The Symphonie fantastique premiered in Paris on December 5, 1830, contributing greatly to the reputation which Berlioz acquired as one of the most progressive composers of his time.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in a program of music by Béla Bartók – with guest artist Jeremy Denk – and Hector Berlioz, on September 28 and 30, and October 1. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

 

 

Sources:

Jeremy Denk

All Music

Encyclopaedia Britannica (Béla Bartók)

Encyclopaedia Britannica (Hector Berlioz)

San Francisco Symphony program notes:

Bartók Piano Concerto No 2

Berlioz Symphonie fantastique

 

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Three debuts in San Francisco Opera’s ‘La Traviata’

Atalla Ayan as Alfredo and Aurelia Florian as Violetta Valéry in Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera’s Fall Season continues with La Traviata, Guiseppe Verdi’s widely loved interpretation of the French play, La dame aux Camélias, by Alexandre Dumas (the younger).

While La Traviata is one of the world’s most performed operas, and one which the Company has staged on 32 occasions during the past 95 years, this season’s production has added interest with the introduction of three artists, in the leading roles, all making their San Francisco Opera debuts. Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian sings the role of Violetta Valéry, Brazilian tenor Atalla Ayan is Alfredo Germont and Polish baritone Artur Ruciński sings Giorgio Germont.

Atalla Ayan as Alfredo and Aurelia Florian as Violetta Valéry in Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera’s sumptuous and classic production, this one originally staged in 1987, is once again directed by English director John Copley, with stage direction by Shawna Lucey. Nicola Luisotti leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson), choreography is by Carola Zertuche, Artistic Director of Theatre Flamenco of San Francisco, set design is by John Conklin, costumes by David Walker and lighting Gary Marder.

La dame aux Camélias, written in 1852, was itself an adaptation – of Dumas’ 1848 novel of the same name – which tells of the tragic downfall of a society courtesan, Violetta Valéry. The opera, with an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, premiered at Teatro La Fenice in Venice on March 6, 1853.

Artur Ruciński as Giorgio Germont and Atalla Ayan as Alfredo Germont in Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian not only makes her San Francisco Opera debut in these performances of La Traviata, but sings this role for the first time in the  United States as well. A former member of the Romanian National Opera Bucharest, Ms Florian first sang Violetta at the Sarzana Opera Festival in 2011, and has made house debuts in the role with Bavarian State Opera Munich, Opera Zurich and Norske Opera Oslo, among others. She has sung leading roles in operas by Verdi and Puccini in some of the world’s major theatres, and has returned on a number of occasions to Israel Opera Tel Aviv. One of her most interesting appearances in La Traviata was with Israel Opera and Daniel Oren at the 2015 Masada Opera Festival, on the shores of the Dead Sea, in which her performance – according to Reuters – “left the audience spellbound”.

A scene from Act II, Scene I of Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Brazilian tenor Atalla Ayan made a surprise debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 2011, when he stepped in at less than 24 hours’ notice to sing five arias in the Company’s opening Summer Concert in Central Park. Following this appearance, the New York Times wrote of his “warm, rounded tone with a quality that calls to mind the young Placido Domingo”. He has also won acclaim for performances at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Teatro alla Scala Milan, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Deutsche Oper Berlin. During the 2016-17 season Mr Ayan sang the role of Alfredo Germont at the Metropolitan Opera – under the baton of Nicola Luisotti – and also at Covent Garden and the Glyndebourne Festival.

A scene from Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Polish baritone Artur Ruciński most recently appeared as Giorgio Germont at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, at Arena di Verona and Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin. He has appeared on the stages of some of the world’s major opera houses – Teatro Liceu Barcelona, Hamburg State Oper, Opéra Bastille, Teatro La Fenice, Teatro alla Scala Milan, Vienna Musikverein and the Metropolitan Opera – in a range of roles, including the title role in Eugene Onegin, Prinz Jelecky in The Queen of Spades (with Valery Gergiev), Lescaut in Manon, Count Almaviva in Nozze di Figaro and Mercutio in Romeo et Juliette.

Current and former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows complete the cast – mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier as Flora Bervoix, tenor Amitai Pati as Gastone, bass-baritone Philip Skinner as Baron Douphol, bass Anthony Reed as Doctor Grenvil, baritone Andrew G Manea as Marquis d’Obigny and soprano Amina Edris as Annina.

La Traviata, sung in Italian with English supertitles, runs at the War Memorial Opera House until October 17. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

 

Sources

San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites:

Aurelia Florian

Opera4u

Atalla Ayan

Artur Ruciński

 

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MTT & San Francisco Symphony Celebrate Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein – © Library of Congress – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

In the opening program of this new season, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony pay tribute to a man who was surely one of the most creative and charismatic musicians of the 20th century – the legendary Leonard Bernstein – whose Centennial will be celebrated throughout the 2017-18 season.

Composer, conductor, performer, educator and humanitarian, Bernstein was the recipient of countless honorary degrees and decorations by foreign governments, a host of awards – Grammy, recording, Emmy, television, arts and civic awards – honorary membership of an array of illustrious societies, and five highly prestigious honorary offices. He has had a remarkable impact on the world of music – whether classical, film or theatrical – and we know that he was a close friend of Michael Tilson Thomas, and had a significant influence on the development of his career.

It is surely with the greatest pleasure that MTT and the Symphony Celebrate Bernstein at the beginning of his Centennial season, and the program chosen for this week reflects a selection of works as eclectic and interesting as the man himself is known to have been.

Bernstein as Educator – Credit: Paul de Hueck, courtesy the Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

The program opener, Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, recalls the era of the big band. Originally intended for Woody Hermann’s jazz band in 1949, it was shelved before its completion, and it wasn’t until Bernstein’s Omnibus television broadcast in October 1955 that the completed piece – dedicated to Benny Goodman – was first performed, demonstrating what’s described as “Bernstein’s unique ability to embrace a style and make it his own”. Scored for solo clarinet and jazz ensemble, the work was performed with clarinetist Al Gallodoro as soloist, a role which this week will be taken by San Francisco Symphony Principal Clarinet, Carey Bell.

Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms is certainly one of his more intriguing works. Commissioned by the Very Rev Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, for the Southern Cathedrals Festival in 1965, it’s a work in three movements, sung in Hebrew, each featuring one complete Psalm and excerpts from another paired Psalm. Musically, it brings together both the Christian and Hebrew religious traditions, yet it has a jazzy, contemporary sound – with “a hint of West Side Story” about it, in accordance with the wishes of the Dean, a well-known patron of the arts. Bernstein described the work as “popular in feeling,” with “an old-fashioned sweetness along with its more violent moments.” This work features the voices of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus – directed by Ragnar Bohlin – and the boy soprano is 13 year-old Nicholas Hu, who has been singing with the Ragazzi Boys’ Chorus in Redwood City since the age of seven.

The somewhat unusual title of Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles is attributed to Dwight D Eisenhower, who – in complimenting the composer after a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue which he had conducted – said: “I liked that last piece you played. It’s got a theme. I like music with a theme, not all them arias and barcarolles.” This eight-part song cycle for mezzo-soprano, baritone, and two pianos, is fascinating for its range of different compositional styles. It premiered at the Equitable Center auditorium in New York City on May 9, 1988, as a benefit for Young Concert Artists.  And the two pianists? They were none other than Leonard Bernstein and Michael Tilson Thomas.

San Francisco Symphony Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The guest artists in this week’s performances are mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard – winner of two Grammy Awards – who most recently appeared with the Symphony as Claire in Bernstein’s On the Town last year, and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, described by Opera News as “one of the finest singers of his generation”, who makes his debut at San Francisco Opera this season in the world premiere of John Adams’s Girls of the Golden West. The orchestration of Arias and Barcarolles was created by Bruce Coughlin in 1993, and first heard on September 26 of that year at the Barbican Centre in London. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, with soloists Frederica von Stade and Thomas Hampson.

On August 19, 1957, Broadway was stunned by the premiere of the musical West Side Story. With a score by Leonard Bernstein, choreography by Jerome Robbins, libretto by Arthur Laurents and lyrics by a then-unknown Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story came to represent “an essential, influential chapter in the history of American theater” – a stark reflection of the social issues of the time. Placed somewhere between opera and musical comedy, Bernstein’s fabulous score – reflecting musical styles of both the Old and the New World – is still as relevant today as it was 60 years ago, and still retains its popularity. As recently as 2013, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony presented a hugely successful concert version of the score – the first time that the complete musical had ever been performed in a live concert setting. A CD of this concert version was released on the Symphony’s in-house label SFS Media.

A scene from the San Francisco Symphony’s concert performance of ‘West Side Story’ – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Four years after the show’s premiere, Bernstein took nine sections from the score, and created the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story – the final work in this week’s program. He didn’t present them in the order in which they appear in the show, but created instead an uninterrupted sequence “derived from a strictly musical rationale”, hence the title Symphonic Dances – they were symphonically conceived as a concert piece, and totally independent of the on-stage acions to which they were linked in the musical production. The now hugely popular Symphonic Dances from West Side Story were first performed on February 13, 1961, with Lukas Foss conducting the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, in a pension fund gala concert titled “A Valentine for Leonard Bernstein”.

Prior to each of this week’s concerts, a special one-hour Inside Music talk will be hosted by renowned Leonard Bernstein scholar, Humphrey Burton – former Head of Music at the BBC, concert and opera director, impresario and biographer. Mr Burton’s talks feature a rare interview with Michael Tilson Thomas, who will share memories of his working relationship with Bernstein. Other highlights include Burton’s own insights, stories, and video from his 20-year collaboration with Leonard Bernstein.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and guest artists in a celebration of the music of Leonard Bernstein at Davis Symphony Hall on September 22, 23 and 24. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

 

 

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Sources

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Leonard Bernstein  – also the source of all quotes used

Isobel Leonard

Ryan McKinny

Humphrey Burton