Michael Tilson Thomas leads San Francisco Symphony’s Beethoven Festival


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

May is an important month for the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, as they devote the first two weeks to a festival of the music of Beethoven, featuring some of the most significant of the composer’s works.  During this festival, to be held at Davies Symphony Hall, MTT leads the Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and guest soloists in a three- concert programme, exploring some of Beethoven’s earliest inspirations, and how they influenced his own work, as well as that of subsequent composers, right up to the present.

“This Beethoven Festival,” says Michael Tilson Thomas, “is an opportunity, in the context of major masterpieces, to hear works that were precursors to them; these are unusual pieces that many people have not had a chance to hear in live performance. When you have a figure like Beethoven in your life,” he explains, “you have two kinds of relationships: one is to come back to certain things that you know, to have your impressions confirmed and deepened, but it’s also interesting to be discovering new things about that figure, about his contribution and the progression of his thought. That’s what this festival offers.”


MTT and the San Francisco Symphony
Credit: Bill Swerbenski

Part of a multi-season study of the works of Beethoven by MTT and the Symphony, the festival opens on May 2nd with a programme entitled MTT Explores Early Beethoven.  This concert presents the first SF Symphony performance of Beethoven’s Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, with the SF Symphony Chorus and guest soloists Sally Matthews (soprano), mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, tenor Barry Banks and bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams.

The opening work of the concert is Adelaide, Beethoven’s song for solo voice and piano, based on an early Romantic German poem by Friedrich von Matthisson, to whom Beethoven dedicated the work. This arrangement is by Ragnar Bohlin, Director of the SF Symphony Chorus.

Mandolinist Joseph Brent is the soloist in the Sonatina for Mandolin and Fortepiano – one of four compositions for mandolin with keyboard accompaniment which Beethoven wrote in 1796.  Joseph Brent is accompanied by Eric Zivian.

The concert ends with Beethoven’s Second Symphony, written in 1802, a year which signified the start of a particularly prolific period in his composing life, and a time during which he spoke of taking his creativity in a new direction.


Painting of Beethoven – Joseph Karl Stieler in 1819 or 1820
via Wikimedia Commons

The second programme of the festival, opening on May 4th, is entitled MTT Leads Beethoven and Adams, so named because it features a work – Absolute Jest – by contemporary Bay Area composer, John Adams.  The work was inspired by the scherzos from Beethoven’s late string quartets, and for this performance the Symphony is joined by the St Lawrence String Quartet.  A San Francisco Symphony co-commission, Absolute Jest was premiered during the Orchestra’s American Mavericks Festival in 2012, and will be recorded live, for future release, on SFS Media, the Symphony’s in-house recording label.

The brass section of the San Francisco Symphony takes the spotlight in the opening work of the concert, Beethoven’s sombre Three Equali for Four Trombones – a first performance by the Orchestra.  This is followed by his 1816 song cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved), six songs which he composed for voice and piano to poems by Alois Jeitteles.  Tenor Michael Fabiano is the guest soloist, accompanied by pianist Robin Sutherland. The programme also features Beethoven’s Symphony No 4.  Written in 1806, it was premiered in March 1807 at a private concert at the home of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz, and is probably the least frequently performed of his nine symphonies.

The third and final concert in this Beethoven Festival features his choral masterpiece, the Missa Solemnis, a work which the San Francisco Symphony first performed in January 1932 at the Tivoli Opera House.  In this 2013 festival performance, the Orchestra and Chorus are joined by soprano Laura Claycomb, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Michael Fabiano and bass Shenyang.  Michael Tilson Thomas says of this work that “Beethoven offers very powerful musical ideas.  There are references to early music that harken back to the Renaissance but at the same time very advanced musical ideas as far forward into the future as Wagner.  We hope to more powerfully reveal these many musical streams and the incredible impact of this work.”

An example of those early Renaissance references is Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, three extracts from which are the opening works of this concert – the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei.  Palestrina wrote the Mass in 1562, in honour of Pope Marcellus II, and it was performed at all papal coronation masses through to the coronation of Paul VI in 1963.

1 dsh_ext_wide1 by Craig Mole

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony’s multi-year exploration of Beethoven includes a range of projects and releases on the SFS Media label. In early April, a CD was released of a live recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9, featuring the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus, soprano Erin Wall, mezzo-soprano Kendall Gladen, tenor William Burden, and bass Nathan Berg.  Other recordings by the Orchestra include Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos 5 and 7, his Piano Concerto No 4 – with Emanuel Ax – and the Leonore Overture No 3.  MTT and the SF Symphony also explored Beethoven’s Symphony No 3, the Eroica, in a documentary broadcast during the first season of their PBS television series Keeping Score (now available on DVD and companion audio CD.)  All SFS Media titles are available from the Symphony Store at sfsymphony.org/store.

Concerts in the Beethoven Festival run at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, from May 2nd to 11th.  For more information, please visit the San Francisco Symphony website www.sfsymphony.org

New York City Ballet celebrates the music of Richard Rodgers


Sara Mearns and Jared Angle in Peter Martins’ ‘Thou Swell’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

In the second programme of its American Music Festival, New York City Ballet pays tribute to one of America’s greatest songwriters, Richard Rogers.  In a career that spanned more than six decades, Richard Rodgers composed the music for more than 900 songs and for 43 Broadway musicals, for film and television.

NYCB’s programme opens with a work entitled Thou Swell, choreographed by the Company’s Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins, in 2002, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Rodgers’ birth.  Danish-born Martins was recently made a Commander of the Knights of Dannebrog, Denmark’s highest civilian honour, by HM Queen Margretha II of Denmark, at the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen.

Thou Swell epitomizes the café society era of the early 20th century – all glitz and glamour, luxury and elegance – and some of the most unashamedly romantic songs ever written – arranged by Glen Kelly and orchestrated by Don Sebesky.  In the setting of an art deco ballroom, four couples take to the floor in a whirl of sumptuous Rodgers favorites, which include Manhattan, Mountain Greenery, My Heart Stood Still, Blue Moon, With a Song in My Heart, Isn’t it Romantic, Falling in Love with Love, and, of course, Thou Swell.

The ballet was premiered on January 22, 2003, as part of an All Rodgers gala performance which also included Robert La Fosse’s Land of Nod and Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousel, A Dance, the next work on this programme.

British choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, is one of today’s most innovative creators in the world of dance.  Having started his career at The Royal Ballet in 1991, he joined New York City Ballet in 1993, started creating ballets for the Company in 1997, and retired from dancing in 2000, to concentrate on choreography.


The Company in Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Carousel, A Dance’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

Wheeldon’s Carousel is a balletic version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, in which he sets the story of the innocent romance and high drama of the original Broadway production to the music of Rodgers’ glorious Carousel Waltz and If I Loved You – arranged and orchestrated by William David Brohn.  Carousel is the musical which Richard Rodgers was said to have considered his favorite.


The performance closes with the dazzling vaudeville-style ballet, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.  Originally created by George Balanchine for the 1936 Rodgers and Hart musical, On Your Toes, the ballet was Richard Rodger’s first major orchestral score for a ballet sequence. The Slaughter sequence is the story-within-a-story of On Your Toes, in which a hoofer falls in love with a dance-hall girl who is shot and killed by her jealous boyfriend, but not before we are treated to some of Balanchine’s sensational and seductive choreography, to an orchestration of the Rodgers score by Hershy Kay. On Your Toes was the first of four Rodgers and Hart musicals choreographed by Balanchine during the 1930s – the others were Babes in Arms, I Married an Angel, and The Boys from Syracuse.


Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle in George Balanchine’s ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

Watch a video clip from the New York City Ballet production

New York City Ballet’s All Rodgers programme takes place on May 2nd, 5th and 7th, at the David H Koch Theater, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza  New York, NY 10023.  For further information and tickets visit the New York City Ballet website.

Richard Rogers

The George Balanchine Foundation

Christopher Wheeldon



The Violins of Hope


The Violins of Hope

The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra presents a performance of particular poignancy on May 5th.  Entitled The Violins of Hope, this is a unique event, since some of the instruments to be played belonged to victims of the Holocaust – and have lain silent for 70 years.  These violins were found, almost destroyed, in the desolation of the liberated camps and empty ghettos at the end of the Second World War – each instrument representing a human life, someone who died, or, in some cases, a life which the violin helped to save.

The violins have been lovingly restored by internationally renowned Israeli master luthier, Amnon Weinstein, and they will be brought to life again in the first performance of a world tour, by violinists Shlomo Mintz, Cihat Aşkin and musicians of the Monte- Carlo Philharmonic, led by the Orchestra’s Artistic and Musical Director, Gianluigi Gelmetti.

This performance, organised by the Association of Friends of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, under the High Patronage of HSH Prince Albert, Honorary President of the Association, will take place, in the presence of the Prince, at the Salle des Princes, at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte-Carlo.


Master luthier, Amnon Weinstein

Amnon Weinstein is the initiator of the Violins of Hope project, and has devoted 16 years to the sourcing and restoration of what has become a collection of 28 violins, 25 of which are now able to be played.  The violins are mainly of European origin, some donated by private owners, and the full story of most of them is known.  21 have a direct connection to the Holocaust, and 15 are inlaid with the Star of David.


“One of the most important violins I have is decorated with five Stars of David,” Mr Weinstein says. “I received it in a nylon bag; it was in pieces. The restoration took one and a half years. Every violin has a story to tell. Many of them saved musicians’ lives.”

Having learned his craft from his father, Moshe, Mr Weinstein studied in Cremona, with Pietro Sgarabotto, Giuseppe Ornati and Ferdinando Garimberti, and in Paris with Etienne Vatelot.  He works with orchestras and artists both in Israel and abroad.

An entry on the website of Shlomo Mintz describes the story of The Violins of Hope as one of contrasts: “of sadness and joy, of darkness and light, of despair and hope. It’s a legacy of a lost generation rescued from oblivion. Many personal stories were collected. Violins that saved lives and violins that were lost. Violins that tell a story of revenge and violins that remain silent, having disappeared without a trace. In this painful chapter of history these instruments played a role that was never shared in the past. Amnon Weinstein felt that it was time to make the voice of a lost generation heard.”


This concert marks the first performance in the Principality of Monaco by the Russian-born Israeli violinist, who started playing the violin with his father, at the age of three-and-a-half.  He made his concerto debut with the Israel Philharmonic at the age of 11, and played the Paganini Violin Concerto at age 13.  His Carnegie Hall debut was with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra when he was 16, the age at which he entered the Juilliard School of Music to study with Dorothy DeLay.


Shlomo Mintz

Shlomo Mintz has toured throughout Europe with conductors such as Carlo-Maria Giulini, Antal Dorati and Eugene Ormandi.  Amongst the awards he has received is one from the American-Israel Cultural Foundation, under the auspices of Isaac Stern. In 2006 Mr Mintz was granted an Honorary Doctoral Degree by the Ben-Gurion University, Israel.

Turkish violinist, Cihat Aşkin, is currently Professor of Music at the Turkish State Music Conservatory, where he started violin lessons at the age of 11 with Professor Ayhan Turan.  He gave his first recital at the age of 12.  Mr Aşkin completed his studies in at the Royal College of Music in London, under Rodney Friend, and took his doctorate at City University London under Yfrah Neaman. Following his return to Istanbul, he founded the Advanced Music Research Center (MIAM), becoming its first director in 2000.


Cihat Aşkin

Cihat Aşkin has been a guest soloist for all the major orchestras in Turkey, and tours throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the USA.  The founder and music director of the Istanbul Chamber Orchestra, he was also the founder of the Istanbul Modern Music Ensemble (IMME).  He  established an educational project, CAKA (Cihat Aşkın and Little Friends) to develop education in the study of the violin throughout Turkey, and he recently established the ‘Aşkın Ensemble’ which has a wide repertoire, from chamber works to experimental Turkish music.

The performance on May 5th will feature Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, the Symphony No 5 by Beethhoven, Ernest Bloch’s Baal Shem, an arrangement by Cihat Aşkin of a traditional work, AvinuMalkeynu, and the world premiere of a work entitled Ke’ev by Maestro Gelmetti, specially written for the occasion.


Gianluigi Gelmetti
Photo: Keith Saunders

The concert will be followed a Gala Dinner in the Empire Room of the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, and all proceeds from the event will be donated to the University of Jerusalem, in aid of  the Centre for Brain Research, regarded as one of the best in the world.

The Violins of Hope takes place on Sunday, May 5th at 7 pm, at the Grimaldi Forum, 10 Avenue Princesse Grâce, Monte-Carlo.

For further information and bookings call +377 99 99 30 00 or +377 98 06 28 28 or visit www.grimaldiforum.com or www.opmc.mc

Shlomo Mintz

Cihat Aşkin

All photographs courtesy of Association of Friends of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra unless otherwise stated.

San Francisco Ballet presents Balanchine, Tomasson & Possokhov


Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada in Possokhov’s Francesca da Rimini
Photo: Erik Tomasson

The penultimate program in San Francisco Ballet’s current season features an interesting combination of works – Helgi Tomasson’s Criss-Cross, Yuri Possokhov’s Francesca da Rimini, and one of the Company’s signature ballets, Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements.

Helgi Tomasson, San Francisco Ballet’s Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer, took the name of his 1997 ballet, Criss-Cross , from the score which falls into two parts, representing a crossover from the Baroque to the contemporary.  The first part is a reworking by Charles Avison, the English Baroque and Classical composer, of twelve sonatas for harpsichord by Scarlatti, and a concerto by Arnold Schoenberg, influenced by Handel.  The concept was drawn  from Tomasson’s love of Handel’s music and his fascination for the music of Schoenberg, to which he referred as “Handel, but something different”.  He was taken with the idea, of using both Avison and Schoenberg’s interpretations and demonstrating how they “cross over from one place to another”.

With two sections of the score so completely different from one another, it could be thought that Tomasson had simply placed them in direct contrast to each other.  We are told, however, that he “blurs the lines, musically and visually”, with the choreography reflecting a neo-classical style, and costumes evocative of both eras.  The first movement is characteristic of the Baroque period, and while that of the second has  a more contemporary style, Handel’s influence ensures that it retains impressions of its origins.


San Francisco Ballet in ‘Francesca de Rimini’
Photo: Erik Tomasson

Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem, Francesca da Rimini, tells of the adulterous lovers – portrayed in Dante Alighieri’s poem The Divine Comedy – who are fated to spend eternity in Hell.  Resident Choreographer, Yuri Possokhov, for whom this piece of music has held an attraction for a number of years, describes it as “the most romantic music in history, with an ending like an apocalypse”.

Premiered by the San Francisco Ballet in February 2012, Possokhov’s ballet isn’t the first based on Dante’s poem – Fokine’s version in 1915 was followed by a further four.  For Possokhov, the heart of his creation is the simply beautiful pas de deux by the two lovers.  He describes the events which surround them – marriage, betrayal, murders and condemnation – as the “frame of the painting” – with the painting itself being “the pas de deux, that glorious, passionate whirlwind of love”.

Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements was first performed by the San Francisco Ballet in the year 2000.  The ballet takes its title from Stravinsky’s score – what he referred to as his “war symphony” because it was written during World War II – and created for the 1972 Stravinsky Festival, during which it was premiered by New York City Ballet.  Balanchine had long wanted to use this piece of music, and the Festival was a perfect opportunity to achieve that ambition.  Helgi Tomasson – who created a leading role in the premiere performance in 1972 – had, for his part, long wanted to include it in the San Francisco Ballet repertoire, and not only did he, too, succeed in his goal, but since its SF Ballet premiere, the ballet has become one of the Company’s signature works.


George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky
Photo: Martha Swope, courtesy New York City Ballet

The ballet, says Tomasson is “high-energy, fun”, and – despite the fact that the War was the inspiration for the score, he says:  “I don’t see anything about war in it. Like Mr B said, ‘Just dance, dear. Don’t make it complicated’.”  The preparation for the Stravinsky Festival was a time of high energy and activity.  “There was so much going on,” Tomasson recalls. “Mr B was choreographing; Jerry [Robbins] was choreographing; we had a few other choreographers doing things. It was just nonstop” – a fair description, it would seem, of Symphony in Three Movements as well.

San Francisco Ballet’s production of Criss-Cross, Francesca da Rimini and Symphony in Three Movements takes place on April 11, 13, 16, 17, 19 and 21, at the War Memorial Opera House, Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.

For more information, for tickets, and to see a video clip of Francesca da Rimini, please visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

A diverse mixed bill for San Francisco Ballet


Yuan Yuan Tan and Vito Mazzeo in Liang’s Symphonic Dances
Photo: Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet continues to display its impressive versatility, with three very different works, in its programme which opens on April 9th.  It features Rudolf Nureyev’s Raymonda Act III, and two works choreographers with a local link – Ibsen’s House by Company member Val Caniparoli, and Symphonic Dances by Edwaard Liang who trained as a dancer in the Bay Area.

It’s appropriate that the name of Rudolf Nureyev should be linked with Raymonda – a work of pure classical ballet in the grand Russian Imperial style, the essence of which formed the background to his training.  Created by legendary ballet master and choreographer, Marius Petipa, it exudes that pure classical elegance which typified Russian ballet during Petipa’s time, as well as the spirited folk dances of Eastern Europe, where the ballet is set. The score, by Alexander Glazunov, was his first for a ballet, which was first performed by the Imperial Ballet at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, in January 1898.


Sofiane Sylve in Nureyev’s Raymonda Act III
Photo: Erik Tomasson

Nureyev appeared in Raymonda in 1959 – soon after joining the Mariinsky Ballet – and after his defection to the West in 1961, he staged his own version of the complete work for The Royal Ballet in 1964, in which he danced the role of Jean de Brienne, partnered by Doreen Wells.  Margot Fonteyn had been scheduled to perform in this production, but was unable to, since it took place shortly after the assassination attempt on her husband.  Nureyev’s one-act version of the ballet was premiered by The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden in 1966, and it’s this version which San Francisco Ballet performs this season.

Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House was inspired by the women portrayed in some of the plays written by Henrik Ibsen, written towards the end of the 19th century.  In these works, the Norwegian playwright challenged the conventions that surrounded the role of the woman in Victorian society, and Caniparoli has based his ballet on the dominant female characters from five of these plays – A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Rosmersholm, The Lady From the Sea and Hedda Gabler.  “They were being challenged about what was the norm, what you could or couldn’t talk about,” says Caniparoli.

A  principal character dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, Caniparoli has also choreographed works for Richmond Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Ballet West and Singapore Dance Theatre.  He has chosen for the score of Ibsen’s House the Allegro, Andante and Finale of Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No 2, because it was written in 1887 – around the same time as Ibsen’s works – and because Caniparoli feels that the layers of feeling in Dvořák’s score reflects the passions submerged within the characters of Ibsen’s heroines.


Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets in Liang’s Symphonic Dances

Symphonic Dances was Edwaard Liang’s first work created for San Francisco Ballet.  It takes its title from the score, which was the last piece of music written by Rachmaninov, and represents what Liang refers to as “a spiritual, abstract world”.  “Some people would call it dark,” he says, “but I consider it intensely spiritual.”  Symphonic Dances was created for San Francisco Ballet in 2012 – Liang’s first commission for the Company.  He’d loved this Rachmaninov work for many years, and felt that it was perfect for SF Ballet.  He refers to it as “a huge orchestration, really just big, bold music, and that’s one of the reasons why I was drawn to it.”

Liang, who was born in Taipei, grew up in the Bay Area, training initially with Marin Ballet, and then at the School of American Ballet in New York.  He was a soloist with New York City Ballet, appeared on Broadway in Fosse and later joined Nederlands Dans Theater.  He has now retired from dancing, to choreograph full time.


San Francisco Ballet in ‘Symphonic Dances’
Photo: Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s production of Raymonda, Ibsen’s House and Symphonic Dances at the War Memorial Opera House, Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, opens on Tuesday, April 9. For details on performance dates and times, and for ticketing, visit the San Francisco Ballet website,  where you can also view video clips of the program.


All Balanchine opener for New York City Ballet’s American Music Festival


New York City Ballet in Balanchine’s ‘Stars and Stripes’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet launches its Spring Season with a Festival of American Music, featuring a sensational line-up of 25 ballets to music by 17 American composers.  NYCB Founding Choreographers, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, shared a deep passion for American music, a tradition which has been continued by Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins.  Each has a program dedicated to his works in this three-week tribute to some of the best-loved works by American composers, and for good measure, there’s another which is devoted to the music of Richard Rodgers as well.

The curtain-raiser, on April 30, is an All Balanchine program, which opens with his light-hearted caper, Who Cares?, featuring 16 songs by George Gershwin in an orchestration by Hershy Kay.  The score includes favorites such as Strike Up the Band, Somebody Loves Me, ‘S Wonderful, Stairway to Paradise, Fascinating Rhythm, I Got Rhythm and, of course, Who Cares?


Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild in Balanchine’s ‘Who Cares?’
Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

Balanchine – who collaborated with Gershwin on the film Goldwyn Follies in 1937 – incorporated these songs, written between 1924 and 1931, into a display which portrays the exhilaration and energy of the city of New York.

Ivesiana was choreographed in 1954 to a series of orchestral pieces by Charles Ives.  Described as “dramatic” with an “intense theatricality” to it, the ballet has been likened to a tone poem, presenting a combination of contrasts in terms of mood, movement and lighting. (The George Balanchine Trust)

Gottschalk’s Tarantella – reconstructed and orchestrated by Hershy Kay – provides the music for Balanchine’s ballet of the same name – a pas de deux which provides a stunning showcase for the virtuosity of the dancers.


Although the music might have something of the Italian about it, pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk came from New Orleans.  Balanchine referred to this particular work as “a dazzling display piece, full of speed and high spirits” – and he perpetuated the Italian theme, describing the choreography as “Neopolitan”, with costumes inspired by Italy – and, he added, “there are tambourines”. (The George Balanchine Trust)

The program ends with Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes, set to five of John Philip Sousa’s rousing themes, orchestrated, once more, by Hershy Kay.  Vibrant and colorful, with all-American Karinska costumes to match, Stars and Stripes is a wonderfully patriotic, Fourth of July-style tribute by George Balanchine to his adoptive home.


New York City Ballet’s All Balanchine program takes place on April 30, May 1, 4 and 11 at the David H Koch Theater, Lincoln Center Plaza at Columbus Avenue and West 63rd Street. Tickets are available at the box office, online at nycballet.com, or by calling 212-496-0600.

See a video clip of Tarantella on the NYCB website


MTT & San Francisco Symphony release Beethoven’s 9th

A new recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 has been released by Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.   Recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall in June 2012, at the conclusion of the Orchestra’s centennial season, this hybrid SACD album is available on SFS Media, the Orchestra’s in-house label.

As part of the multi-season, multi-year focus on the music of Beethoven by MTT and the SF Symphony, the album also features soprano Erin Wall, mezzo-soprano Kendall Gladen, tenor William Burden and Nathan Berg, bass.

The launch of this album precedes the forthcoming two-week Beethoven Festival – to be held between May 2 and 11 – during which Michael Tilson Thomas will lead the Symphony in exploring Beethoven’s early inspirations, and their influence on his later music.

An interesting recording which will be made by SFS Media during this Festival, will be a work by Bay Area composer, John Adams – his Absolute Jest – which was inspired by, and based on, fragments of Beethoven’s scherzos for string quartets.  This work was co-commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony, and premiered as part of last season’s American Mavericks Festival – a presentation of music by less conventional composers, which is in keeping with the Symphony’s commitment to including in its repertoire not only core classical masterworks, but those which are more contemporary and less well known.

It was, incidentally, a recording of two other John Adams works – Harmoneliehre and Short Ride in a Fast Machine – which won Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony their 15th  Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Recording in February this year.

A 5-minute video clip about the recording of the Beethoven Ninth can be viewed at http://youtu.be/krCiR04u8Ig. It features concert footage, as well as interviews with Michael Tilson Thomas, Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin, soprano Erin Wall and SFS musician Cathy Payne.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 can be pre-ordered from iTunes and on SACD from the San Francisco Symphony Store . The album is also available for purchase at the Symphony Store in Davies Symphony Hall, and other music retailers.

New Maillot work for Ballets de Monte-Carlo

'Choré' is set against the emergence of musical theatre in the United States

‘Choré’ is set against the emergence of musical theatre in the United States
Photo: Alice Blangero

Director-Choreographer of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Jean-Christophe Maillot, has created something a little different for his Company’s next production which opens on April 28th.  In a departure from full-length, narrative works, he has created five short, abstract pieces for a ballet entitled Choré – the French diminutive of ‘choreography’.

Jean-Christophe Maillot has never been one to shun controversy or to pass up the opportunity of delving into the inner meaning of life.  This somewhat enigmatic choreographer is described as being “neither classical nor contemporary, not even between the two”, refusing to adhere to any one style.  He designs dance, it is said, “like a dialogue where tradition on pointes and the avant-garde are no longer mutually exclusive”.  Rosella Hightower referred to the life of her one-time student as “a union of opposites”.

Jean-Christophe Maillot
Photo: Alice Blangero

Having initially studied dance and piano at the Conservatoire National de Région de Tours, Jean-Christophe Maillot then joined the Rosella Hightower International School of Dance in Cannes.  He won the Prix de Lausanne in 1977, and was invited to join John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet where he danced principal roles for five years until his career was brought to an end by an accident.  In 1983 he was appointed choreographer and director of the Ballet du Grand Théatre de Tours, founding the Dance Festival ‘Le Choréographique’ in 1985.  He became Artistic Advisor for the 1992-93 season of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, and was appointed to his present position by HRH the Princess of Hanover in September 1993.

For this next production, Maillot has collaborated with writer Jean Rouaud – winner of the 1990 Prix Goncourt for his novel, Fields of Glory – set designer, Dominique Drillot  and costume designer, Philippe Guillotel, setting Choré against a backdrop of the emergence of musical theatre in the United States.

The view which the ballet presents of this period in American show business history is described as characteristic of both Maillot’s work and his thinking – his ever-enquiring mind posing a series of questions, this time about the evolution of dance, dealing with an obsession of his:  the fight between the old and the new.  “What does dance feed on?” he asks. “How far can it be liberated? At what point does it demand its share of beauty, humour and the past to still feel alive?”  The world of musical theatre, he believes, offers an important insight into the answers to these questions, and he uses this theme as a basis for developing his own solutions.

…. the light and elegant style of Fred Astaire ….
Photo: Alice Blangero

Maillot reminds us that dance is primarily the response to an urge, leading him to contrast our desire to rise into the air against the force of gravity.  He reasons that the dancer has to make a choice, whether to fight against this force or to embrace it – a dilemma which he believes has long provided the demarcation between the old and the new, particularly when one takes into account the use of pointes.  To illustrate this view, Jean-Christophe Maillot compares “the light and elegant style of Fred Astaire to the furious and grounded pounding of Gene Kelly”.

To develop his theme, he uses the five sections of Choré, which he considers represent the “major, recurring antagonisms that trouble the world of dance”.  He draws into the debate the role of music, its relationship with the story, connections with theatre, cinema and literature – but doesn’t attempt to either reconcile or remove these differences.  Instead, Choré makes “the ironic observation that the constraints that we seek to shrug off are those that we will most surely find on our path. Pushing the boundaries of art only makes even those borders that we thought we had escaped more visible”.

True to the style of this highly creative choreographer, Choré looks certain to provide a thought-provoking experience.

The first section is set to music by J S Bach, and the second and third to pieces by contemporary French composers, Bertrand Maillot  and Yan Maresz respectively.  Contemporary American composer, John Cage, provides the music for the fourth section, and the accompaniment to the fifth is listed simply as “Improvised drum solo”.

‘Choré’ looks certain to provide a thought-provoking experience
Photo: Alice Blangero

Choré runs from April 25th to 28th at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco.  For further information, please visit the Ballets de Monte-Carlo website.  For tickets, please visit the Cultural Events page of the Grimaldi Forum website