Author Archives: Leslie

Lively Foundation Creates Community: Embarcadero Publishing

This article appeared in Our Neighborhoods: Mountain View and Los Altos, December, 2019, a magazine published by the Embarcadero Publishing Co., which publishes the Mountain View Voice, Palo Alto Weekly, Menlo-Atherton Almanac newspapers. Lively thanks Embarcadero Publishing for recognizing The Lively Foundation as a leader in creating community and selecting us to represent our community.

The first thing Leslie Friedman notices when she enters a room is the floor. Wooden? Concrete? Tiled? Her dancer’s eye is always looking for good floors for dancing. She is also always searching  for ways her work can serve the community. She brings people together to dance, to enjoy dance, to learn about our many cultures, and about each other. Her dance succeeds at building community.
As an internationally touring performer, choreographer, and artistic director of the nonprofit Lively Foundation that operates in Old Mountain View, her deep passion for life and her art energizes her choreography and performances. She is first American dancer or artist of any kind to perform with joint sponsorship of the US State Department and host countries around the world. These “firsts” include performances in Moscow and Leningrad/St. Petersburg, Russia; Beijing, Shenyang, and Shanghai, China; Barcelona and Madrid, Spain; Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow, Poznan, Poland; New Delhi, Bengaluru (Bangalore), Kolkata (Calcutta), Chennai (Madras), India; Bucharest, Romania; Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt; Tunis, Tunisia, and more. Her performances in these cities plus London, Tokyo, Toronto, Seoul, were all given ovations and invitations to return.
She stirs up artistic presence on the Peninsula by inviting renowned dancers to teach and  perform in the annual International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley that she hosts in Mountain View.

Artistic Director, Leslie Friedman
First launched in 2012, the week long festival seeks to create performance opportunities for professional dance artists, offers intensive training for dancers and dance students, and invites the whole community to experience dance in professional performance. “Some audience members would be dance lovers, for some it would be their first time watching, for all we hope to give them the excitement and beauty of dance,” says Leslie. The Festival also attracts adults aged 15 and up to classes in a wide variety of dances and  exposes them to the new choreography created by the teaching artists.  Performances and classes include traditional dances from many cultures flourishing in the Bay Area: Irish set dancing, Salsa, Polish folk dance, Mexican Folclorico, Afro-Haitian, several kinds of classical Indian dances, classical Chinese dance. These are in addition to Ballet, Tap, Line Dances, Contemporary, Jazz, and Ballroom dances.

Crystal Bella Chen and Oscar Adrian Rodriguez perform Ballroom dance in the International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley, 2019

“There is a rich variety of movement styles available for our open Master Classes on the Festival’s Full Day of Dance©,” says Leslie, “We encourage everyone to do what they love and also try something new.” All the classes are mixed levels. That includes beginners and pros.
“A ballerina will have an opportunity to learn Afro-Haitian Dance and love it as a beginner in the class. A complete beginner might have a wonderful time in Line dances or find a gift for Tap,” Friedman explains. “Professional dancers can showcase their work here. It gives them new audiences, a chance  to demonstrate and develop their art.”
Through the IDF@SV, Friedman said she hopes to bring the diversity of arts of different origins while involving the community in dance. She also believes it is possible and important that everyone finds a way to move that they enjoy enough to keep doing.
“Move whatever moves, wiggle whatever wiggles,” she said. “If my work inspires someone to keep moving, wow!”
]ennifer Urmson, a mother of two boys, was happy to endorse the way Leslie Friedman and The Lively Foundation build community. She started taking Friedman’s weekly ballet classes when a friend invited her two years ago. “I had not been dancing for a very long time, and I was nervous about the idea of doing ballet as an adult,” Urmson said, adding that as a child, she was told ballet was for bodies of a certain shape. “But Leslie is wonderful as a teacher, very open and supportive. I was really pleased that after a couple of lessons, I felt myself getting stronger and improving my balance.”
Within Jennifer’s class there was a woman in her early 20s, other moms, and retirees. A few of them were organize activities for their dance class friends outside class, such as going together to attend a ballet performance at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
Urmson said whether you attend several classes or take part in a single workshop at the Festival, The Lively Foundation seems to have a way of connecting people.
“Months after the dance Festival, you’ll hear people exchanging highlights from the event when they run into one another around town,” she said. “Even if it’s just one class, you see a different side of people. You feel you know them better.” For more information about the International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley, contact livelyfoundation@sbcglobal.net
­—Esther Young, 2019; photo of Leslie Friedman demonstrating a movement for Julie Van Gelder, private student and Festival participant, by Magali Gauthier

Esa-Pekka Salonen & SF Symphony: Explore, Disrupt, Create

The San Francisco Symphony’s audience had an exciting encounter with Music Director Designate Esa-Pekka Salonen on Thursday, February 27. The program included Beethoven’s Overture to King Stephen, Opus 117 (1811); Salonen’s own Violin Concerto (2009); Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5, Opus 50 (1922). Repeated on the 28th and 29th, the program presented three big works each of which had muscular qualities that shook up classical expectations.

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Beethoven wrote Overture to King Stephen for a play by a German playwright, August von Kotzbue. The playwright was also a lawyer and journalist who was assassinated by a theology student who accused him of being a spy for the Russians. King Stephen is considered the founder of modern Hungary, late 10th to early 11th century. The reader may be excused if unfamiliar with the play; it is known mostly for what Beethoven created for it. It is an unusual piece of music. There are dramatic, long rests. There are themes that grow from Hungarian dances. There is intriguing syncopation, a rhythmic motivation for Hungarian dance. In addition to being completely different all on its own, Overture to King Stephen, written more than ten years before the Ninth Symphony, seems to offer musical predictions of what will come. There is even a theme suggestive of the Ode to Joy.  Like the other selections on the program and befitting for the Overture of a play, this work presents a sense of drama that captures the imagination.

Violinist Leila Josefowicz performs Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony and Salonen conducting, February 27, 2020 at Davies Symphony Hall

Maestro Salonen composed his Violin Concerto for Ms Leila Josefowicz. A much honored artist, to say she is a dynamic performer is an understatement. The Concerto begins with nearly violent bowing which quickly repeats many times the same sounds. The qualities expressed by the work shift from orchestra section to section, sometimes led by the orchestra and sometimes by the violin, but the violin still dominates. In addition to being a master work for orchestra and soloist, it is an Olympic event of the physicality of making music. In its slow movement, the colors flow through the orchestra while a timpani insists on maintaining its beat. “I decided to cover as wide a range of expression as I could imagine over the four movements of the concerto: from the virtuosic and flashy to the aggressive and brutal, from the meditative and static to the nostalgic and autumnal,” says Esa-Pekka Salonen of his Violin Concerto. Surely its energy punches the music forward. There is a barely restrained explosion which is anticipated but still shocks with its sudden presence. Salonen’s Concerto is disruptive of form and style. Written for the classical orchestra, it takes the possible sounds, shakes them, steps out of line, and makes its own dance. It is not a shy, introspective dance. It is out there, in the open, daring but not especially caring if anyone else takes the dare. The San Francisco Symphony seemed to revel in it.

Carl Nielsen (1865-1931)

Danish composer Carl Nielsen began life in a large, poor family. He discovered music on his own at age three. He found that he could get different pitches from the sticks in the woodpile depending on their length and thickness. Throughout his life, he explored music from its most basic sources to the grandeur of his symphonies. A scholarship to the Copenhagen  Conservatory to study piano and violin began his understanding of music theory. He supported himself by performing violin and conducting in orchestras in the Tivoli Gardens, the Royal Chapel, the Royal Theater, Copenhagen Music Society, and Music Society Orchestra in Gothenburg, Sweden. His Symphony No. 5 is fantastically interesting and also dramatic. At first the music is anxious, and the anxiety is contagious to those who listen. The adagio is sensual and creamy. It is dangerous to get caught up in the adagio because the timpani will interrupt. In Nielsen’s symphonies there is a feeling of the confrontation of different poles, different energies combat for space. There may be a peace negotiation, but neither side will give in. A gift to his audience: after the changes of key alter our focus, the music rewards us by nodding, “yes.”

This was a triumphant program for both the SFS and its future Music Director. Watching them work together is thrilling.

Photo of San Francisco Symphony, Leila Josefowicz, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting by Brandon Patoc, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony.

BRILLIANT BALLET: SF BALLET’S CLASSICAL (RE)VISION

The San Francisco Ballet is a ballet lover’s dream: a company of gorgeous dancers who are precise, elegant, and bursting with energy and style. This season’s Program 2, CLASSICAL (RE)VISION offers SFB’s devoted audience a selection of five ballets.

On February 16, the program included Bespoke, choreography by Stanley Welch, music of Johann Sebastian Bach; Pas de Deux from After the Rain, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, music of Arvo Part; Pas de Deux from Swan Lake, choreography by David Dawson, music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Concerto Grosso, choreography by Helgi Tomasson, music by Francesco Geminiani after Corelli; and Sandpaper Ballet, choreography by Mark Morris, music of Leroy Anderson. The middle three were “Director’s Choice,” and can change places with other dances through the run of the program, February 11-22.

Bespoke is a moving showcase for twelve dancers: five Principals, five Soloists, and two from the Corps de Ballet. The two Corps members, Alexandre Cagnat and Ellen Rose Hummel, show that SFB has its future insured with outstanding artists. This is a wonderful ballet in its musicality, design, and restrained but powerful emotion. Not having read the program note before seeing the performance, this audience member missed an important layer of the dance. However, the dance works on its own without explanation. Stanley Welch uses the technical heart of ballet to create art that can speak to everyone, even those who have never stepped inside a studio. He builds the dance from the basic positions and movements all ballet students and dancers practice around the world. Seeing these movements performed exquisitely to each angle, forward and backward, jumping and spinning makes the dance lover’s breath stop for a second. It is familiar and unknown. The dancers accelerate their movements, join together, exit the stage and return. Something is happening to them. That something is time. It happens to everyone. It happens without our permission. It happens to dancers so soon, too soon. As it turned out, those long, straight arms I admired were meant to suggest a clock. Some movements were there to suggest life scurrying past our eyes as a dancer flies from our visual and emotional connection to him. At the end of this ballet, the dancers sink into the stage floor two by two. Two men together, two women together, males and females together. As the final couple sinks to the floor, the light closes over the rest of the stage. Only one spotlight captures the pained expression of the last dancer down. It is a wonderful ballet, beautifully danced.

Helgi Tomasson, Artistic Director of SFB, created Concerto Grosso in 2003 for the SF Ballet’s 70th Anniversary. It is terrific; brilliantly performed and exciting to watch. Five fabulous men danced at the height of their power and technical achievement. Once again, two members of the Corps showed that SFB has, in baseball terms, a very deep bench. All five danced at a great level of artistry. They included Lucas Erni, Corps; Max Cauthorn, Soloist; Benjamin Freemantle, Principal; MingXuan Wang, Corps; Lonnie Weeks, Soloist. This ballet sends shooting stars across the War Memorial Opera House stage. Graceful, lyrical, explosive, and soaring, the dancers showed all the virtuoso, versatile, thrilling dancing of San Francisco Ballet’s stellar male dancers.

See the San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2, now through February 22. San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, SF. Contact: 415/865-2000 and www.sfballet.org

 

 

 

 

 

Beethoven & Anne-Sophie Mutter: BRAVO! BRAVA!Part II

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter brought a full program of Beethoven chamber music to San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, January 27. it was a stunning event which demonstrated that chamber music, in this case two trios and one quartet, is not something slight or limited in its musical character or expression. This music being all Beethoven, that thought should be underlined and in bold-face type. It was an enormously successful performance both in the artistry of the musicians and the thrills experienced by the audience.

Anne-Sophie Mutter

Among her good works, Ms Mutter is dedicated to the development of young artists. The three musicians who played with her in this performance all began their careers with the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation. These artists include: Vladimir Babeshko, violist; Daniel Muller-Schott, ‘cellist; Ye-Eun Choi, violinist. In addition to touring with Ms Mutter, each one appears independently with distinguished orchestras around the world as well as their extensive touring performances with Ms Mutter through Europe, the US, Asia, and South America. Together with Anne-Sophie Mutter they achieved the remarkable effect of becoming what Ms Muller describes as “this one huge string instrument in which to tackle the profoundly philosophical string trios [in E-Flat major, Opus 3 and in C minor, Opus 9, no. 3] and the Harp Quartet [Opus 74] by Beethoven.”

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Trio in C minor (Opus 9, no. 3), written 1796-98, is a forceful, tempestuous work which contrasts precise decorum with drama, dissonance, and defiance toward the conventional. Although early in his career, Beethoven is already Beethoven. A passionate, almost anxious expression emerges. Beethoven, central to the tradition of Western classical music, is always innovative and even seems to laugh musically at what his audience would expect serious music to be. His minor mode music shifts to a calm, quiet major mode to end the Trio in a whisper.

A special delight of chamber music is that the audience can easily watch the music move from instrument to instrument, see the rhythm overlapping or interrupting from one instrument to another, experience the force when they suddenly play together. The String Quartet in E-flat major, Opus 74, 1809, offered many opportunities to see the instruments run after one another, skip rhythms, and finally catch up to express a musical energy. The Quartet ends with a view of too-many-clowns-running-out-from-too-small-a-car which lifts this listener’s heart when Beethoven creates that event in his symphonies. This was a splendid performance of a piece with deep philosophy of both fear and joy.

String Trio in E-flat major, Opus 3, 1796, reminds the listener of the Classical world’s sounds that surrounded Beethoven as he moved into the physical and imaginary world of Mozart. Order and clarity are the rule. Beethoven was able to assimilate those values into his own deeply colored, sometimes wild, always Natural while thoroughly human world. Which is, of course how Mozart had created Mozart, assimilating what was into what he was, too. A favorite portion of the lengthy Trio for this listener was in the second Minuet when the violin soars into space while the others accompany with a steady, repetitive rhythm and sound. The Trio is clear and present Beauty.

The audience knew it was hearing music that had both beauty and meaning. We all stayed on our feet applauding. The musicians, after four curtain calls, relented and repeated the Scherzo of the first trio. The moment was rhapsodic. Ms Mutter will return June 4-6 to perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. She is one of the Artists-in-Residence for this Beethoven250 Birthday festival.

Fashion note:  As reported in Beethoven & Mutter, Part I, Ms Mutter is noted for her beauty as well as her trademark strapless gowns. For this chamber music performance, she kept the strapless concept but took a creative step. She appeared wearing pants fitted to the legs and a strapless top. The pants had black and silver designs. The top was a soft yellow color. Fitted close to the body, it had a short skirt beginning at the waist, divided on the sides, and extending just over the hips. She wore black shoes which had very high, narrow heels and appeared to have a platform under the metatarsal. Fantastic.

 

 

 

Beethoven & Anne-Sophie Mutter: Spectacular!, Part I

Anne-Sophie Mutter performed a recital of Beethoven Sonatas, January 26, and a chamber music concert of Beethoven Trios and a Quartet, January 27, at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall. Two days of great music performed by great artists: proof that heaven can be here on earth.

Anne-Sophie Mutter, violinist, Lambert Okris, pianist

Ms Mutter was the main reason that Davies Hall was filled with avid fans. Those who did not know the pianist playing with her were in for an amazing treat. Mr. Okris is a superb, eye opening musician. He has performed with Ms Mutter for thirty years. He has also toured with Mstislav Rostropovich for more than eleven years. He performs as a guest artist with symphonies and specializes in both period instruments and contemporary works. The partnership of Ms Mutter and Mr. Okris lifts the character of their performance into the sublime. One could revert to out of date, show biz phrases and say there is no second banana here.

Anne-Sophie Mutter

The first of their three sonatas was Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 4 in A minor, Opus 23 (1801). It is a tightly focused, brilliant piece. The piano and violin have an interesting conversation, but each instrument has a mind of its own. The program note by James M. Keller refers to it as “repartee.” It is the kind of repartee one might expect from Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy: not when they are cooing, but when they are lawyers on different sides of a case. Sharp and bright, the rhythms are surprising, always something unexpected. There was something new around each corner, and it had more corners than easy curves. Intricate and challenging, it was a complete delight.

Lambert Okris

Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 5 in F major, Opus 24, “Spring,” (1801) was fresh, bigger, very different from Opus 23. Beethoven seems to give himself more room to develop the innovative presentation of this sonata. The violin and piano are equals but it is the violin that takes the lead. While Beethoven did not give this sonata its nickname, “Spring,” it is fitting. The music suggests the weather is just right for an amble through the arboretum. We are pleased by the new leaves and early blooms which open us to nature as they open themselves to life. We do not hurry even though we want to see it all. The Scherzo shows the piano and violin meeting, deciding to dance together but not quite together until they whirl around in the middle of the movement. Closing with a Rondo, this sonata is all warmth and smiles, and was played above the artistic heights.

The Kreutzer sonata, Sonata for Piano and Violin in A major, Opus 47 (1802-03) is twice so long as either Opus 23 or Opus 24. It is symphonic in its breadth and power. The two instruments were able to reach the effects one might imagine only coming from a full orchestra. Beethoven makes the music run full tilt and stop suddenly. He plays with breath and rhythm, always challenging what the human heart and mind can do. Imagine a great ballet dancer leaping, spinning in air, and, in mid-spin, suddenly stopped. Body and mind are suspended. Just as suddenly as the pause began, an apparently reckless, headlong race begins again.

It was a privilege to be in the audience for this performance. This writer had known about Anne-Sophie Mutter, and this was our first time to hear her live. She is an extraordinary artist, full of power and grace. Beethoven & Anne-Sophie Mutter, Part II, appears in the next post.

Ms Mutter and Mr. Orkris satisfied the applauding, bravo-ing crowd with an encore. It was a selection by John Williams from the movie, Cinderella Liberty. Her latest recording is Across the Stars with adaptations of his movie scores made for her by Williams.

P.S. A fashion note: Through her career, Ms Mutter has been known for her beauty and her trademark strapless gowns. Her appearance in this recital did not disappoint. She wore a gown which could be every woman’s dream. Strapless, it had a full skirt which puffed away from her body. The skirt alternated matte black panels with panels which seemed to be laid over that matte silk. These were darker black, maybe velvet, maybe lace, with charming designs, maybe appliques, going up and down. A black ribbon around her waist was tied in a bow in the back. Her strapless bodice repeated the black and lace theme and appeared to be a layer over the base of the bodice. It had what I remember as a black lace ruffle at the top. I remember very long ago reading a review of a pianist. The writer criticized her for what she wore. I thought then and still think now that was a terrible thing to do. I believe commenting on a musician’s appearance is a dreadful faux pas. However, Ms Mutter and that dress defy the rule.

 

 

San Francisco Symphony, Sibelius, Beethoven, Widmann: BREATHTAKING

Conductor Dima Slobodeniouk        It is a day and a half since we attended the stunning matinee performance, January 23, 2020, of the San Francisco Symphony  with violinist Sergey Khachatryan and conductor Dima Slobodeniouk. We are still breathless. The SF Symphony, always outstanding, truly played above any symphonic group could in a normal world. The musicians seemed to rally together and just go up into the music. The program selections, an astounding conductor, a soloist who plays like an angel: it was an inspired performance which inspired the whole audience.

Jorg Widmann, composer, conductor, clarinetist

The program opened with Con Brio, by contemporary composer, Jorg Widmann. It was totally original, a delight. The conductor, Dima Slobodeniouk, made comments which contributed greatly to the audience’s enjoyment. He advised us to imagine a page of music. Then, see it torn into many pieces. Think of it arranged as the pieces fell. That is the composition of it. While it may also be true, as the program note informed us, that it reflects the composer’s devotion to Beethoven, that is not so obvious. Widmann has found ways to make the symphony instruments make sounds which are not mechanical or electronic but fascinating. There are whooshes. There are residual sounds which might have gotten brushed aside and then picked up again. Rapid clicking and tapping notes seem to be falling downhill, maybe falling off of a music stand. The basses become percussion. The most musical music comes from the trumpets. The sounds make a curling shape. The absence of sound creates suspense. There is an odd matter of rhythm in the opposition of sounds from one section of the orchestra to another. It is running, accelerating and then running down. The woodwinds announce butterflies. We hear air coming out of tires. The mysterious sound of light; it is over.

Violinist Sergey Khachatryan

In the program note by Michael Steinberg, the late, very great music writer, he describes Sibelius’s desire to be a virtuoso violinist and his failure to achieve that dream. Sergey Khachatryan is the violinist Sibelius yearned to become. With the SFS, he performed Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor, Opus 47 (written 1902-1905). This is a huge masterwork. Khachatryan plays it as though the music lives through every fiber of him. If it is true that this concerto was written to embody the violin’s possibilities and Sibelius’s grief at losing the experience of playing at the height of the music the violin could achieve, it also expresses what music can be; the desperate struggles and love of every human journey. I have heard this work in recordings. This performance – as is true of the performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 – demonstrated how much more there is in the experience of being there as the music is performed live. I am sure I heard notes that I missed hearing a recording. The great overlaying of rhythms in new dimensions of time which also created physical space between the sounds and between the instruments was eye and ear awakening. The concerto demands the violinist play as a soloist for much of the work. Khachatryan is a charismatic stage presence whose playing of this fiendishly difficult work is nothing less than angelic. Although I have reflected on the superiority of being there while the music happens, I will still search for the recording of Sergey Khachatryan performing this concerto with the Sinfonia Varsovia to try to recreate this experience. Readers, you might do that, too.

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

This year is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. The San Francisco Symphony is honoring the great artist whose work is at the center of Western civilization with multiple programs of his works. Symphony No. 7 in A major, Opus 92, (written 1811-1812) is grand, enormous, and seems to encompass the world. There is not a phrase that is slow. It goes from grandeur to energy to harmonies one might wish to stop to hear again. And again. In fact, in its premiere concerts, the audiences demanded the second movement encored right then. Familiar though one might think it is, it is powered by the creation of new rhythmic patterns, new melodies, daring repetitions, even a creative use of “off key” sounds.  When this explosive beauty comes to an end, it is impossible to believe that the energy has gone. The edifice structured with intense care soars with rhythmic force. The last movement lives fast and loose, a herd of wild horses on the plains. It left me and the entire, packed to the ceiling audience out of breath, cheering the SF Symphony and Slobodeniouk, lifted up out of their chairs by the extraordinary force of music, something physical we felt but could not see or touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SF Symphony & Michael Tilson Thomas: BRILLIANT!

The San Francisco Symphony started the New Year and their music director Michael Tilson Thomas’s 25th and final year with a brilliant concert. The ovations given to MTT promise that his devoted audience will not let him go easily. Among his many gifts, Maestro MTT is a magician of the art of program design. January 5 – 12, SFS and MTT presented Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, Opus 23, (1837) by Hector Berlioz; Meditations on Rilke (2019), by Michael Tilson Thomas; selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1892-1898), by Gustav Mahler; and La Valse (1920), by Maurice Ravel. Each work was performed with zest, deep feeling, flawless musicianship. There was a distant but worthy relationship between Meditations on Rilke and Des Knaben Wunderhorn that increased the audience’s appreciation of both. Do you have a great-uncle who is related only by marriage to someone who is your great-aunt living in another state, but you are crazy about him? It’s that kind of relation.

Hector Berlioz (1801-1869) French

The Overture to Benvenuto Cellini premiered in Paris, in 1838. The Overture was a hit, but the opera for which it was written was not. The story goes that all composers wanted to have their music performed there; regrettably, performances there were famous for being sloppy and under rehearsed. “The Overture was extravagantly applauded,” wrote Berlioz, “the rest was hissed with exemplary precision.” What a grand disappointment! The Overture in the SFS’s rousing performance on January 12 was full of musical interest from gorgeous melodies to a lively allegro. There is a melody for the woodwinds that represents Harlequin at a carnival. In fact, the Overture has so much character and rhythmic variation that it could be heard as a compact opera in itself. Far from a lightweight curtain opener for the evening, this Overture deserves the fine performance it received. Hearing it again will reward the listener with more insight to its structure and colors and great enjoyment.

Michael Tilson Thomas (born December, 1944) American, born in California

MTT has composed other works in which a text is the inspiration or accompaniment for the music. These include Three Songs to Poems by Walt Whitman (1999); Poems of Emily Dickinson (2002); and From the Diary of Anne Frank (2018) for narrator and orchestra. The premiere performances of Meditations on Rilke at Davies Symphony Hall, Jan. 5 -12, created a great event. In addition to the SFS, mezzo-soprano, Sasha Cooke, and bass-baritone, Ryan McKinny embodied the Rilke poetry which became exciting and lovely songs as MTT created them. The singers were a great pair for these songs. The composer-conductor tells that these songs came about by reflecting on events in his father’s life. A fine pianist, his father and friends got stuck without money in Oatman, AZ. His father filled the cafe-bar’s need for a piano player. His playing merged classical works, Gershwin and Irving Berlin songs with performances of requests such as the Bear Fat Fling. It is not 100% clear how that experience in the 1930s relates to MTT’s choice of poems by Rilke for his new songs, except that the Rilke works do resonate with sounds originating in contemporary classical music, maybe a bit of Mahler, perhaps a reference to Schubert, but over all Michael Tilson Thomas. This work was a huge favorite with the audience and has dazzling musical complexities woven in among the moods and melodies that unite it.

Rainier Maria Rilke (1875-1926)Bohemian (Czech)-Austrian

Rainier Maria Rilke is read by some to be a mystic and by others to be an existentialist poet trying to find peace in a time of anxiety and isolation. His work is lyrical and searching, such a fitting partner to MTT’s music. His consolation for his readers was “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to learn to love the questions.” The San Francisco Symphony promises the release of recordings of this and other MTT music later this year.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) born in Bohemia (now Czech Republic)

Four Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn provided a brief but satisfying venture into Mahler-land, a destination MTT has made his own. Sasha Cooke returned to sing the folk song styled works from a collection that was published in 1805. The Romantic movement embraced the music and stories of national or ethnic origins, even when it was written and arranged anew. The four songs performed by the SFS and Ms Cooke expressed the trials of living in the country, loss of love and loss of life. The songs might begin with a cheerful outlook but also  were somber and alluded to barely hidden sadness. Ms Cooke delved into these emotions with understanding and appreciation for both the lyrics and the wonderful music. It was a performance revealing a root of the Romantic experience of life.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) French

La Valse, poeme choregraphique pour orchestre is such a fabulous, swirling piece that the listener feels as though she has been lifted up, repeatedly turned fast in the air, and, before long, danced so quickly and become so dizzy that she sails through the air forgetting that eventually she will fall. It is an emphatic, ever growing dance that dances itself. The room spins, but the dance does not care. Ravel originally planned a tribute to Johann Strauss. By 1920, after World War I and the destruction of much of a generation, the gracious image of waltzing was no more. The sound of this work becomes a terror. The ballroom where it takes place seems haunted by evil. It is a piece of music not to be missed, especially if the listener is willing to imagine himself in that scene and, by doing that, understand better the cost of war. Bravo, Ravel! Bravo, San Francisco Symphony!

The Dancer’s Garden: How to buy it!

Thank you all for your queries about buying The Dancer’s Garden. Your interest is profoundly appreciated. Here is how to buy it:

Choose which edition you prefer. Both have the complete text and more than 60 full color photos by the author, Leslie Friedman, plus 10 by photographer, Jonathan Clark, and one by actor Dennis Parks. Both are printed on fine, glossy paper. Both are hard back books.

Version A:  Costs $45. That price includes tax and mailing cost.

Version B: Costs $75. It is printed on extra heavy paper. It comes with a photographic print by Jonathan Clark. It is signed and suitable for framing. It also can fit into the book. The price  includes tax and mailing cost.

Please mail a check made out to The Lively Foundation to The Lively Foundation/550 Mountain View Avenue/Mountain View, CA 94041-1941

We will send you The Dancer’s Garden right away. Thank you again!

 

Artist in Residence: Dr. Leslie Friedman, Dancer, Choreographer, Writer

This is an article by author Don McPhail. It appeared in the November issue of OMVNA (vol. 31, Number 4) which covers the Old Mountain View, CA area.

ARTIST IN RESIDENCE: Dr. Leslie Friedman, Dancer, Choreographer, Writer

With quiet energy and a generous nature, Leslie Friedman is a local treasure. Her willingness to share and motivate other is distinctive. Residents who have participated in Leslie’s dance classes or the International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley which she founded and directs may be surprised to learn that this same unselfish teacher is an award winning, world-renowned dancer and ambassador of art. All of Leslie’s classes, the Festival, and other Lively Foundation events take place at Mountain View’s Masonic Lodge, in the heart of Old Mountain View.

Leslie Friedman’s extraordinary background is documented on The Lively Foundation’s website/blog  www.livelyfoundation.org   Leslie’s remarkable career as a dancer and choreographer has earned her acclaim from audiences and critics alike on four continents. She has performed with the support of the US State Department and host countries in Russia, China, India,England, Spain, Poland, Egypt, South Korea, Japan, and more. A writer and former history professor, she received her Ph.D. in Modern British History from Stanford. She taught at Stanford, Vassar, and Case Western Reserve before returning to dance professionally.

An invitation to introduce American modern dance to the artists of India’s National School of Drama led to a Fulbright Lectureship to support her work and travel. Beginning at Viswa Bharati University, home of Tagore, India’s Nobel winning poet, she performed across India: new Delhi, Bangalore, Madras, Calcutta, and Jaipur. Her work was so well received that each place invited her back for more performances.

Representatives of Indian arts institutions, US consulates or Fulbright in India took her to the next plane or train, but she traveled as she danced: solo. She was welcomed by people with whom she maintains long friendships. On China or Bulgaria she says, “I met wonderful individuals and learned so much.”

The success of her first India trips led to more. She performed and taught in Sri Lanka, Egypt, and Tunisia on that journey. Word of her beautiful dancing and ability to relate to new people and places spread, leading to more journeys touring her art. Next: Budapest, Pecs, and Gyor, Hungary; Barcelona and Madrid, Spain; Moscow and Leningrad, USSR. She knew these were peak experiences and was thrilled to be doing what she loved for appreciative, knowledgeable audiences.

The US State Department and The Place, London’s foremost theater for modern dance, co-sponsored her performances there. She taught her choreography to London’s Ballet Rambert. In China, she taught modern dance and created choreography for the national ballet academies: Beijing, Shenyang, and Shanghai. She introduced modern dance to Poland’s national ballets, making four extensive trips to Poland and Romania performing and choreographing.

Lively Foundation Artistic Director Leslie Friedman

She continued performing concerts across the US and the Bay Area. She and her company performed education performances about the the Gold Rush for thousands of students from San Jose to Marin. She created several firsts: concerts honoring the many holidays at year’s end; benefit concerts for breast cancer patients; Heroic, Beloved, a concert for Women’s History Month performed in multiple states’ universities and arts centers.

For this writer, Leslie Friedman’s delight in sharing her art is most inspiring see in the context of tumultuous historic events going on around her as she keeps dancing.

Current bookThe Dancer’s Garden, published in April, 2019

Current project: International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley, Founder & Artistic Director

San Francisco Opera’s Manon Lescaut: Heartbreaking, Breathtaking Music

Tonight, 11/26, is (now “was”) this season’s last performance of Puccini’s first masterpiece, Manon Lescaut, at the San Francisco Opera. It puts the “Grand” in its rightful place in “Grand Opera.” The Hedgehogs attended the matinee, Sunday, November 24, and still think about it, hear it and see it in the minds’ eyes and ears. All of the performers were eye opening and heart rending in their characterizations and superb voices. The leads, Lianna Haroutounian, as Manon, and Brian Jagde, as Des Grieux, both made their role debuts. They were stellar. Ms Haroutounian captures the pathos, silliness, beauty, and tragedy in Manon while fulfilling all that Pucinni could desire through her voice. Mr. Jagde is ardent, naive, and heroic with a soaring voice and powerful presence.

Manon Lescaut (Lianna Haroutounian) meets Chevalier Des Grieux (Brian Jagde).

Brian Jagde

The Conductor was the first reason we chose to see this opera. Nicola Luisotti was SFO’s Music Director, 2009-2018. He is such an appealing artist: full of energy, radiating the joy of being in music, and able to summon the greatest music from his instrument, the SF Opera Orchestra. They made the music shimmer, explode, and embrace the voices. It was an extraordinary range of music and one felt as though Puccini was being channeled through Luisotti.

Nicola Luisotti,Conductor, principal guest conductor at Madrid’s Teatro Real, recently conducted La Traviata, Aida, and Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera, La Forza del Destino at the Paris Opera, Il Trovatore at Milan’s La Scala

The story follows Manon from her arrival at a coach stop on her way to enter a convent to her death on the desert plain of Louisiana. (A program note reminds us that in 1731 when Abbe Prevost wrote the novel, Louisiana could refer to the whole Territory, not only to the swampy, hurricane prone state.) Chevalier Des Grieux falls in love with her on the spot. He invites her to stay with him. The innkeeper helps them escape because just a few minutes earlier he had arranged with Manon’s brother, Lescaut, to help Geronte de Ravoir carry her off to seduce her. This “seduce” is a euphemism for “rape.”

Anthony Clark Evans (L) was Lescaut; (R)Philip Skinner as Geronte de Revoir. Both were totally believable as they embodied their roles and created their complex characters through vocal power.

Lescaut first appears to be a bad brother. He is willing to help a wealthy rake abscond with his sister for the prestige and money to be gained. Later, he realizes his sister is terribly unhappy and yearns for the peaceful love she experienced with Des Grieux in their cottage. In Act II, he runs to tell Des Grieux to come to Manon at Geronte’s palace. Manon has indulged in jewelry and fashion but still loves Des Grieux. They decide to run away together. Lescaut will help, but Manon wants to take her jewels with her. In the minutes she spends scooping up pearls, Geronte and his guards capture them. Another plan goes astray as Manon, in prison wearing rags, awaits being branded and shipped off to the New World. Des Grieux demands to be shipped away with his love and other convicts.

Lianna Haroutounian, Manon, dances a minuet as Geronte and friends look on. Zhengyi Bai is the Dancing Master (above center).

As we near the year 2020, the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the USA, it is impossible not to notice Manon’s plight. A bit of a nit wit, she is also a teenager with no sign of education in a society with few alternatives for females. The convent. A financially secure marriage. Although women appear in the opening market scene and in Manon’s boudoir, Manon is the only named female character in the opera. There is no female friend, relative or rival. She is alone at the stag party that is her world. She introduces herself saying that her father dictated her fate. Through time, her life is molded by her brother, by Geronte, less so by Des Grieux, and quite a bit by her inexperience and ignorance. A painful moment for the audience came in seeing her dance a minuet for an audience brought together by Geronte. Bewigged older men watch her. She thinks she is dancing beautifully and proudly in her gorgeous gown. From the view of the rakes, she is a delectable performing monkey exciting their desires.

Brian Jagde, as Des Grieux, Lianna Haroutounian, as Manon, face death in the New World.

The lovers’ ends are inevitable. Their last acts show them wandering alone on a desert without food, water, or a sense of where they are. One line explains that they ran away from the others so that they would not be separated. Life: as Tina Turner’s song states, What’s love got to do with it? Better not to consider if she would have been happier safe in the convent. Abbe Prevost’s novel was immediately banned by the French. Even now there is a lot to object to in the story, though our objections come from other issues. As an opera, Manon defines the genre.

Photos courtesy of the San Francisco Opera. Brian Jagde by Liesl Kundert, Nicola Luisotti by John Martin, Antony Clark Evans by Simon Pauley, Philip Skinner unattributed, all scenes from the opera by Corey Weaver.