Author Archives: Leslie

San Francisco Symphony: Power & Versatility

The San Francisco Symphony demonstrated its expressive depth and powerful musicality playing inventive “new” music by Jorg Widmann and inventive slightly older music by Gustav Mahler, on January 21, 2023. Robin Ticciati was the superb conductor. He succeeded in seeming, first, a conductor devoted to and promoting new works and then became a great Mahler exponent. He was equal to the challenge in San Francisco; a population of Mahler-ites thanks to Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas. Maestro Ticciati is the music director of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and music director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

Jorg Widmann, Composer, Conductor, Clarinetist

Widmann’s Violin Concerto occupied the first half of the concert. It demonstrates the composer’s interests in varying emotions, colors, tonality. Widmann’s Violin Concerto called upon the violin soloist, Alina Ibragimova, to play straight through the 30 minute piece with tremendous vigor, emotion, and the stunning, wonderful, all embracing philosophy which is heard in Widmann’s creation. The concerto could not have a more fitting soloist. Ms Ibragimova embodied the very three dimensional world of sound. There are two brief moments of silence which intensify the the sound through its absence. The San Francisco Symphony was with Ms ibragimova as though the music had grown organically especially for them. The music demanded focus from its audience in order to hear the layers of music and accompany it on the many paths that made its journey. The concerto was premiered in 2007, Essen, Germany. This was its first performance in San Francisco. The Alban Berg Violin Concerto may be an ancestor of Widmann’s; however, Mr. Widmann’s concerto comes to Earth 88 years later than Mr. Berg’s. There is so much more to consider, consolidate, commune with in the look and feel of our world even though our loves and human lives carry forward similar longings. All this was compressed and still audible in Widmann’s blazing work.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911): Composer & Conductor

Then, it was Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. It is called the sunniest of Mahler’s symphonies. It is a Mahler symphony so there are recognizable meetings with love, country folk, heaven on earth, Death and the Devil. Mahler is about life in its largest, most world encompassing ways of expressing the back bone of human existence and the beyond 20/20 human vision. While this No. 4 visits the country folk, it is not for buffoonery. The tune of the violin is pleasant but cannot be brushed off because of the very quiet, pianissimo way it presents itself. The sections of the orchestra take turns interrupting or interpreting one another’s rhythms and melodies: from the clarinets and bassoons to a horn, then a bassoon, and then cellos and basses carry the musical thoughts away. It could resemble athletic practice on a field passing a ball while running and dodging, jumping in time, and crossing over the line of runners. Michael Steinberg, the late, great music writer, points out that Mahler had wonderful titles for his movements but did not like “to betray them to the rabble of critics and listeners” who would not understand their meanings. Mahler’s name for the Scherzo, for example, was Freund Hein spielt auf (Death Strikes Up – Freund Hein being the evil one in a fairy tale).

The Adagio could lull the listeners into a peaceful but absent minded state. There are warnings. The tempting melody is punctuated with a quiet tolling sound from the basses and even quieter harmonies from cellos and bases. A solo voice appears suddenly. Soprano Ying Fang entered the stage quietly to sit near the percussionists. Her voice is  arresting, beautiful, and, in this context, somewhat alarming. Her performance must have stopped everyone in their mental tracks. Mahler gave the vocalist a very silly song to sing, and yet the three movements that preceded it were intentionally directed to this goal. As the Symphony No. 4 began with bells, bells return. Mahler chose a Bavarian folk song for his uplifting conclusion. It is Der Himmel hungt voll Geigen (Heaven is Hung with Violins). The song lets us know how well the Saints live in Heaven. There are “Good greens of all kinds” and “Good apples, good pears, and good grapes!” If meat is what you want, “deer or rabbit,/they run free in the streets.” It seems that the good things of Earth are in plenty in Heaven. That includes the finest music which fulfills its purpose: Saint “Cecilia and her family/are first rate court musicians!/The heavenly voices/gladden our senses,/and everything wakes to joy.” If you know people who think Mahler is always tragic or difficult to understand, do a good deed and take them to Symphony No. 4.

 

 

 

LIVELY BOOKS: SPECIAL OFFER, DEC. 24 -JAN. 13

It is Christmas Eve. There will be wonderful events tonight and great celebrations tomorrow. And then…???

You could relax with a beautiful book, a highly praised book with beautiful pictures. OH, yes, it’s a great time to read. The Lively Foundation is proud to offer magnificent books around the calendar, but, right now in this special time between big holiday happenings, Lively offers two of its books on special prices. Buy two and (1) one of them is half price and (2) Lively will pay the postage. They can be two of the same book or one of each. Buy one and take %15 off the price.

The Story of Our Butterflies: Mourning Cloaks in Mountain View

The Dancer’s Garden

Two: Natural history and garden memoirs by Leslie Friedman:

The Dancer’s Garden, “I love it. It is a perfect book, in conception and execution….a marvelous writer…” Diana Ketcham, House & Garden, Editor; Books Editor, The Oakland Tribune (ret)

“There is so much delight and poetry and wisdom to be found in the garden and in your book!” Sharon Abe, CA Academy of Sciences (ret)

The Story of Our Butterflies: Mourning Cloaks in Mountain View, “This is a wonderful book. I look forward to sharing it with the rest of our staff here.” Joe Melisi, Center for Biological Diversity, (national conservation organization)

“Leslie Friedman is an historian, a dancer and choreographer, and now a perceptive writer about nature…in a second splendid work she takes wing into the world of butterflies…One is grateful for this delightful book, so well written and illustrated.” Professor Peter Stansky, Author, Historian, Stanford University

HOW TO BUY THE BOOKS?   DO IT SOON!

For example: One copy of The Dancer’s Garden (without postage) costs $42.00

One copy of The Story of Our Butterflies (without postage) costs $27

BUY ONE OF EACH and get them both for $55.50 or $48.00

OR   BUY Two Dancer’s Garden for $63   OR  BUY two Our Butterflies $40.50

If you live in California, please add tax $4.11 for Dancer’s Garden and $2.20 for Our Butterflies

SEND A CHECK MADE OUT TO THE LIVELY FOUNDATION to The Lively Foundation/550 Mountain View Avenue/Mountain View, CA 94041-1941     OR

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QUESTIONS? EMAIL US AT                   LIVELYFOUNDATION@SBCGLOBAL.NET     THANK YOU!

 

Chamber Music Fits Davies Symphony Hall

Chamber music is loved by many and ignored by others. That reminds me of the text on cookie packages: sold by weight not bulk. In case you do not frequent the cookie aisle, that means that if the cookies inside do not seem to fill the bag to the top, that does not mean you are getting fewer cookies! Chamber music has heft and impact. The concert on Sunday, December 18, is a good example. Stars of the San Francisco Symphony gathered to play Pastorales de Noel, by Andre Jolivet; Phantasy Quartet in F minor, Opus 2, by Benjamin Britten; and String Quartet no. 2 in B-flat major, Opus 87 by Felix Mendelssohn. it was an interesting program with seldom heard music which offered innovative composing.

Andre Jolivet, French composer, 1905-1974

Jolivet was part of a group of young French composers, La Jeune France, which included Olivier Messiaen. Their aim was to develop spirituality in music. Jolivet admired Schoenberg and Varese, but his own work evolved in other ways. He was the Music Director of the Comedie Francaise, an anchor of the French dramatic arts. He created “incidental music” for classic theater by Shakespeare, Moliere, and Greek dramas. Pastorales de Noel, composed in 1943, the opening piece on this concert, was something completely different from any expectations of “normal” chamber music. First, the combination of instruments was surprising: bassoon, flute, and harp. Each of the four pieces making the whole had a title referring to the Christmas narrative. There was “The Star,” “The Magi,” “The Virgin and Child,” and “The Entrance and Dance of the Shepherds.” Knowing the names of the images, one could imagine the star lighting the sky. The music for the Magi sustains a rhythmic processional; the creche scene is hushed and peaceful. The shepherds bring energy and a folk dance feeling which is exuberant but controlled. It is a lovely, inventive piece with its complexity well hidden behind the communication of Christmas images. The fine, sensitive performers were Catherine Payne, flute; Meredith Clark, harp; Steven Dibner, bassoon.

  Steven Dibner, Associate Principal Bassoon in the SF Symphony, introduced the program by explaining that many years ago, he convinced the SFS that they needed a Chamber Music series. In addition to offering the wonderful, extensive chamber music repertory, it also gives the audience a chance to get to know the players and see them better making music. He is right. It is a much more personal experience to see a small group of musicians taking over Davies Hall.

Benjamin Britten, composer, 1913-1976

English composer, Benjamin Britten, was beginning the process of becoming well known when he wrote Phantasy Quartet in F minor, Opus 2, 1932. He had written a Phantasy Quintet For Strings, in 1932. His interest in  “phantasy” compositions led him to create another one, this time three strings with an oboe. While it has 4 episodes which could be considered movements, there is a unity in the four that makes the sound flow like a ribbon. The music begins with unusual sounds coming from the cello with no particular rhythm. Then, the violin, viola, and oboe join the fantasy. The movements are Andante alla marcia ( like a march) —, Allegro gusto (with gusto)—, Con fuoco (with fire)—, Tempo 1: Andante alla marcia. Ending where the music began completes the sense of one fascinating, stream of music. It is something different that captures the listeners’ intellect as well as emotional and aesthetic pleasure. The future of Britten’s work and English music is beginning here. The musicians were James Button, oboe; Jessie Fellows, violin; Katie Kadarauch, viola; Amos Yang, cello. They delivered with aplomb the engaging Britten music with its newness.

Felix Mendelssohn, composer, 1809-1847

Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 2 in B-flat major, Opus 87, filled the second half of the program. This work energized the concert. The music opens as a dashing, romantic hero on horseback. Thrilling but never reckless; the Quintet explores its world, just as the composer explored his. These travels resulted in his Scottish Symphony and Italian Symphony. He made ten trips to Britain. He played for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Both royals played his music and thought of him as a friend. This Quintet includes two violins, two violas, and a cello. The opening movement, Allegro vivace, is so sprightly and energetic that Allegro alone is not enough. It needs the vivace to impress the musicians how lively it must be, and it was. There is a burst of inspiring energy from the first breath. The Andante scherzando, second movement, is an inventive approach. Andante means a walking rhythm, not running or jumping. A scherzo, a joke, could be played as something droll or satirical or even bitter. The performers found the depth in their interpretation. This drew the listeners into a musical mystery which would not let them go. The new direction for the Quintet is extended in the third movement Adagio e lento. The lento, meaning slowly, intensifies the slow adagio movement. Something is happening in this music; there is a change from the spirited beginning to these middle movements. Mendelssohn does not create music without a deeper philosophy. One feels the way through the cave of life, trying to find meaning in the darkness. A great artist, he knows dark and light and the need to express this truth. He does not despair or leave us there.  He ends with a brief, cheering lilt, all the  more meaningful because he has shown us the dark. The extraordinary performers included Jessie Fellows, violin; Nadya Tichman, violin; Katie Kadarauch, viola; Katarzyna Bryla-Weiss viola; Sebastien Gingras, cello.

A PERSONAL NOTE REGARDING MENDLESSOHN: When I was a very young piano student at the St. Louis Institute of Music, the teachers would give students a small bust of a composer if they played well or completed a section of learning. Did any of you collect those same little statues? I remember the teacher rattling off a list of the greatest composers. I think I asked her, though she may have volunteered the information, why Mendelssohn was not included? She explained to me that Mendelssohn was only a copyist. His music was not original and never could be because of his origins. Did she flatly say it was because he was Jewish that he could never create great music and only could be a parasite on the other, real composers? I do not remember that, but I soon learned that that was the way he was seen: Jewish and not very good. His statue in Leipzig was erected in 1892 in recognition of his efforts that made Leipzig recognized as a city of music. It was torn down in 1936. A city official who hated Jews and liked Nazis got together Nazi sympathizers to tear it down and hide or destroy it. The Mayor of the city, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, was out of town. When he returned, he tried to have it replaced, but it was never found. On October 18, 2008, Kurt Masur, the great conductor who had led the Gewandhaus orchestra for 25 years, spoke at the unveiling of the new Mendelssohn monument, a replica of the original. The Gewandhaus had been destroyed by bombs, 1943-44. Its rebuilding began in 1977 with Masur laying the foundation stone. Masur noted that on one side was the Gewandhaus, an institute made prominent by Mendlessohn, and on the other side the Thomaskirche where JS Bach spent most of his career. Mendelssohn was responsible for the “rediscovery” of Bach, especially accomplished by his performance of Saint Matthew’s Passion. Mayor Goerdeler had given the London Philharmonic permission to lay a wreath at the Mendelssohn statue. Now, the replica has this note written on stone: “May the language of music speak only of noble things.”

Leslie Friedman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joshua Bell & Peter Dugan@Davies Symphony Hall: SIMPLY GREAT

 

Violinist Joshua Bell’s recital at SF Symphony’s Davies Hall, Sunday, December 11, was astounding. With pianist Peter Dugan, Mr. Bell gave us the musical equivalent of a home run with the bases loaded. It was a stunning performance from every perspective: the program selections, the perfection of sound, the integration of violin and piano, the physical presence of Mr. Bell. What have I left out? If there is something missing from that list it is only because I am still envisioning the performance, and it is still breathtaking.

Ludwig Van Beethoven ( 1770-1827)

Since he is so well known, one might imagine the program Mr. Bell would perform would be familiar; instead he presented works that neither I nor the Hedgehog pianist and bass baritone knew. The opening work was a brilliant curtain raiser: Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Opus 12, no. 2. It was composed in 1797 or 1798 and published in January, 1799. It was a daring, innovative composition. The two instruments are equally featured and truly “play well together,” as a school report sent home might declare. Mr. Bell’s physical movements express the music and also gave him opportunities to turn toward the pianist and physically, visibly demonstrate their relationship. They were not playing the same notes or rhythm but interlacing each instrument’s music to make the music of the sonata. It was a delightful work from the engaging beginning to the middle section’s nostalgic, nearly despairing sound, and the final Allegro suggesting all is well — for the moment.

Pianist Peter Dugan

 

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Robert Schumann’s Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Opus 121 is a hurricane of sound, a stage 4 emotional storm. While the music could be said to crash like the ocean under the hurricane, the composer does not lose his way with his creation. He is in control of his ship. Schumann composed it in 1851, a year of tremendous productivity. He completed 18 works in that year, reworked his Symphony No. 4, plus three overtures, a piano trio, works for piano and violin, lieders; it is an amazing year. Early in 1854, he attempted suicide by jumping into the Rhine. He died in 1856, in an asylum in Bonn. Fortunately for him and us, he was able to create great works before the internal storms incapacitated him. This work also was a new sound for the Hedgehogs. It kept the audience leaning forward, awaiting the next tumult. Despite my descriptions of the Sonata as a hurricane, the work is not a single dimension. There is a graceful lyricism in the first movement and the third, Andante, has a touch of happiness. In all, the Sonata ends by turning toward a hopeful moment. This is an extraordinary way to experience Schumann’s depth.

Joshua Bell

The page for this recital in the program book shows in very small print, “Additional works will be announced from the stage.” Just seeing that one line created a thrill of expectation. In the second half of the performance, the personable, at ease Mr. Bell shone as he took a microphone to introduce the next pieces. It was remarkable to see his relaxed personality apparently talking with each person in the audience though he was talking to thousands of us.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918

The second half was to begin with Claude Debussy’s Violin Sonata in G minor (1917). It was another splendid selection which I do not think I had ever heard. I am grateful to Mr. Bell for choosing it. Debussy was suffering terminal cancer when he wrote it. He worked on it in 1916, put it aside, and finished it in 1917. It is a culmination of the beauties that one hears in Debussy’s music. It demonstrates how strong and lasting something transparent, light, and gentle can be. It could be light in terms of weight but also music as light; it is a real thing which one cannot ever touch. Debussy performed its premiere in Paris, May, 1917, and passed away less than a year later. Although the Debussy was the only work listed for the second half, Mr. Bell and Mr. Dugan actually began with Nigun from Baal Schem Suite by Ernst Bloch. When he introduced the piece, Mr. Bell noted that  Bloch was Jewish and, since Chanukah was only a week away, he was proud to present it. He paused exactly the right number of moments and then commented that Ye probably was not in the audience. Albert Camus reflected on the political essence of art; it was a completely justifiable addition to the Joshua Bell and Peter Dugan performance. The music was stunning; original and also embodying tradition, ways of living, ways of surviving. Nigun is said to be a pleading with heaven; Bell and Dugan achieved the effect of reaching deeply into one’s being. Bloch was Swiss, came to the US in 1916, became the Music Director of the Cleveland Institute of Music, then the Director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and joined the faculty of UC, Berkeley. This Nigun was a marvelous reunion of Bloch and the Bay Area.

Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

One more addition to the program was Bartok’s Rhapsody No. 1. None of these additions were brief or light weight. The Bartok work and the Bloch and the Debussy all existed in different worlds of sound, rhythm, emotion. As one might expect the Bartok piece activated the strange music of the Romanian/Hungarian folk tunes and dances, but that does not mean that the music was as expected. Each section was diverse within the whole and each section had the wild heart of the villages stirring souls and hearing this wildness. Both musicians became completely someone else in each of these remarkable, peak performances. It was an amazing thing to see as well as to hear: a transformation and a musical life in perhaps ten minutes.

Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

Those pieces were considered part of the program. Then, there were the encores! We all must find out what Joshua Bell eats for breakfast and whether he and Peter Dugan prefer running or swimming. The focus of the performers and their energy was amazing. The first encore was Clara Schumann’s Romance #1. Clara Wieck Schumann, married to Robert Schumann with whom she had nine children, was recognized as the finest pianist in Europe. They fell in love when very young. Her father did not approve, but they married. This Romance is one of three, Romances, all fine compositions. This writer has heard it on a cd and on the radio, but it never touched me until hearing it not only live but performed by Bell and Dugan. It is graceful with an underlying power; the performance was eye opening, reminding the listener what Clara Schumann, who toured her performances across Europe, could do if she had had more time to write.

Scherzo-Tarantella by Henryk Wieniawski was the opposite of Clara Schumann’s Romance#1. This was fast and then even faster. It was a mad dance taking its name from the motions of one bitten by a tarantula. Another fantastic, seldom if ever heard piece, this one sent the giddy audience up to the roof top and down again. After sitting for  a couple of hours, I believe everyone present felt sure in their nerves and blood that they could prance, run, leap for however much time and music they could have. This concert was beautiful, powerful, and world moving.

 

Anton Nel & Peter Wyrick: This is What Classics are About

December 4, 2022: Gunn Theater at The Legion of Honor, San Francisco – Pianist Anton Nel and Cellist Peter Wyrick performed works by Beethoven, Debussy, and Shostakovich. They proved that sometimes a whole orchestra would be too much. Playing selections written for their two instruments demonstrated that this music can reach 21st century hearts and minds from their origins in past centuries. That’s what “a classic” does. Handel and Hayden, Scott Joplin and George Gershwin, their creations can go on and on.

Ludwig von Beethoven

Beethoven’s Sonata No. 3 in A Major for Piano and Cello, Op. 69 is important in musical history because it is the first known piano-cello sonata in which the instruments are truly equal partners. Written in 1807- 1808, it is the third of a set of five sonatas for this pairing. Beethoven was never shy about making bold changes in the accepted way of things. This sonata was first performed in 1809. It has qualities of “bravura” as well as gentle, pleasant musical expression. Its Adagio is “Cantabile,” a singing Adagio, not a sad adagio. This sonata is said to be the most popular of the five. It fascinates the listener and also is pleasing and lovely. It reflects Beethoven’s mastery of musical imagination and his endless innovation. He wrote it at a time when he had to end his career as a pianist due to his growing deafness. This “middle period,” despite the loss of hearing, produced many creations including great symphonies: #5 and #6.

Anton Nel, pianist

Mr. Nel was the winner of the 1987 Naumburg International Piano Competition. He tours the world as a recitalist and performs with the great orchestras of the US -Cleveland, Chicago, Dallas, and Seattle Symphonies- as well as international venues like the Wigmore Hall, England; Concertgebouw, Netherlands; and in Japan, China, Korea. He holds an endowed chair at the University of Texas, Austin. He was born in South Africa and made his debut at age 12.

Peter Wyrick, ‘cellist

Mr. Wyrick has been the Associate Principal Cello of the San Francisco Symphony since 1999. Before joining SFS, he was principal cello of the Mostly Mozart Orchestra and associate principal cello of the New York Opera. He has performed chamber music with Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yefim Bronfman among other leading musicians. He began his musical studies at Juilliard at age 8 and made his solo debut at age 12.

Mr. Nel performed the Preludes from Book 2 by Claude Debussy. These pieces are for solo piano. Each prelude has a distinct characteristic. General Lavine…eccentric; La terasse des audiences du claire du lune; and Feux d’artifice. Debussy was suffering from cancer as he wrote these, and yet his clear vision and unique musical expression is so true one feels that it is possible to see the music as well as hear it. The selections are amusing, satiric, surprising. Feux d’artifice means “fire works.” It can also mean bright wit, and in these pieces the fine wit shines.

Claude Debussy

 

Chopin

Mr. Nel has tremendous energy as well as his talents. He followed Debussy with Chopin, Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 47. Chopin was a pianist of astounding ability all of which he put into his piano works. Chopin would have been delighted by Mr. Nel’s presentation. I have heard that this Ballade grew from a fairy tale poem by Adam Mickiewicz. A water nymph loves a man, but she worries that he is not faithful. She decides to disguise herself, tempt her lover, and learn if he loves only her. In the poem, the nymph drowns the man, but Chopin did not like that ending; he lets both live and be happy together. it must be the only Romantic era fairy tale with such a happy ending. The piece seems to have two endings, one very long, and the next one is brief and brisk. This Ballade has everything this writer loves about Chopin. The music dances, waltzes, shines with deep colors of glowing gems; it is grounded in reality but takes the listener to another reality.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Mr Wyrick rejoined Mr. Nel for Shostakovich’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Minor, Op.40. Their performance was a triumph for them and for Shostakovich. He composed the Sonata, in 1934. This was a dangerous time for him. Stalin had criticized him as “bourgeois.” The murderous dictator had walked out on Shostakovich’s opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. it was the opportunity to denounce Shostakovich and his music. Much of his work was withdrawn from publication or performance. The government banned the opera from production in the USSR until 1961. This Sonata in four movements is powerful in its expression of cynicism and despair. Shostakovich musically mocks the establishment standards. The cello opens the event, for it is an event. The Scherzo offers the cello harsh sawing sounds. Hope and passion appear, then bottomless silence. The composer gives us a haunted, mysterious sound and also – for a very short time – folk tunes. The Sonata ends abruptly. Where are we? What happened? Shostakovich lived with the constant uncertainty and threats around him and after him.

This was a great performance by two of the most outstanding artists of their instruments.

 

 

 

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9: Nine Cheers for Life

It was a stroke of luck to be in the San Francisco Symphony’s audience on Dec. 3 to experience Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The music acknowledges struggles, yearning, even hints at despair and still it expands into a universe, a glorious affirmation of life. I read another writer call this music an “old warhorse;” I could never think that. There are good reasons why everyone cherishes it – mostly everyone. Sometimes a person gets a Vitamin B shot. Sometimes it takes a Jacuzzi. This symphony is what works every time. It opens the world, lets the listener feel part of it, realize how all life can befriend other lives, and feel the joy propelling us through this phenomenal experience.

Ludwig Van Beethoven, Dec. 16,1770 – March 26, 1827

The concert’s opening selections were both enjoying premier performances at the SF Symphony. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade, Opus 33, written in 1898, was the composer’s first big, prestigious presentation. The Three Choirs Festival invited Edward Elgar to present a short piece for orchestra, but he was too busy. He recommended the young Coleridge-Taylor as “he is far and away the cleverest fellow going amongst the young men.” The Ballade is lyrical and uses interesting back and forth themes and rhythms trading from one section to another. It is a delightful rondo. The listener thinks she has caught the pattern just before there is a shift in the part of the orchestra expressing the energetic song. It is a delightful piece of music. Sadly, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died, age 32. from a combination of over work and illness. His star had shone brightly for too short a time.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor August 15, 1875- September 1, 1912

Emerge, by Michael Abels, is a fascinating narrative in music of what happened to musicians and what they did about it during the pandemic. It was a bonus to hear the recorded voice of the composer describing the progress from individuals playing music on their own – do you remember videos of musicians playing great music alone in their kitchens and sometimes a whole ensemble all playing in separate places but somehow making the music together? Then, in Emerge, they gather to play together. Blues phrases happen but in a canon instead of musicians playing together. There are scales from the strings and wind instruments and, the composer has written, “When the brass get involved, the strings are finally able to play a melody all together in unison… The scale volley becomes faster until it finally comes together…” The music absolutely does what the composer intends. It is full of a happy kind of energy. Music can be made again, full out. There is a feeling of rejoicing and dancing forward. Mr. Abels has won many awards for his music. The SFS audience wanted to give him another one that night

Michael Abels

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Opus 125 (1824) is huge from any perspective. It lasts about 65 minutes. It employs the entire orchestra plus four solo vocalists – Gabriella Reyes, soprano, Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano, Issachah Savage, tenor, Reginald Smith, Jr., baritone/bass, and a grand chorus of singers. The SFS Chorus includes 32 professional and more than 120 volunteer singers. Together these artists embody a population, a world. The conductor, Xian Zhang, was a revelation. Her deep knowledge of the music and her dedication to bring out for all of us what Beethoven put in were visible. She encompassed all the music and the musicians in her own being through her energetic, compelling leadership of the orchestra. She is exciting to watch; more than that, she made each sound matter, and, by the way, matter is energy, too.

Conductor Xian Zhang

This symphony is a journey for each of us and all of us together. I really do not like the constant use of “it’s a journey” for everything, but being moved by this music takes us on a journey from dense darkness to brilliant light. Even knowing the light will break through because one has heard this music before, it comes as a surprise. At the very beginning, one cannot say what is happening or what is surrounding us. Then, the enormous sound of the D minor takes our breath away. Immediately we hear different themes pelting us with more blows pounded by the timpani. Once in a quick while, we hear what might be tiny paws running past us while a Beethoven parkland message is played. The Adagio movement flows gracefully around us. It seems to promise a peaceful presence which has not yet arrived. We may hope for it, but there is no promise that it will come. This quiet sound, almost like breathing, is interrupted by the orchestra. Is it a new setting, a new way of being? Or has all we have traveled through: fear, failure, feelings beyond mere sadness changed us? The music presents more variations until the bass singer announces, a capella, Beethoven’s own message; “Oh, Friends, no more of these sounds!/Instead, let’s strike up a song that’s more pleasant,/And more joyful.” We are rewarded with the most uplifting of moments hearing the great sound of the Chorus and Orchestra together. Schiller’s poem praises Nature which gives us “kisses and grapevines,/a friend, faithful unto death./Pleasure was given even to the lowly worm,/And the cherub stands before God.” Human lives and the lives of worms all feel joy. There is frequent carping against this poem, and yet, in it Beethoven found what he was looking for: a statement including all life. No wonder the audience literally jumped and cheered.

photo credits: Michael Abels, by Eric Schwabel; Xian Zhang, by B. Ealovega

Brahms, MTT, Emanuel Ax: The Great Reunion

Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, San Francisco – The enthusiastic music lovers who filled Davies Symphony Hall were on the edges of their seats before the concert began. They were there for the splendid, colorful, soul searing, soul lifting Brahms music. They came to hail their recently retired Music Director, now Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, hero of San Francisco and the world of music. They cheered pianist Emanuel Ax as they might for a rock star, one who is loved by a very wide range of ages. This was a great reunion of artists who have performed together for many years. The coordination and unity of Maestro, Pianist, and Composer was breathtaking. They seemed to breathe in unison. Yes, that included Brahms, the reason the others were there. When remembering the concert, I visualize its end: MTT and Emanuel Ax standing side by side with their arms linked. The SF Symphony performed at the height of their great musicality. The Brahms program could not be beat, and  the image of the two men on stage lasts.

Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director Laureate, SF Symphony, conductor laureate of the London Symphony, co-founder and artistic director laureate of the New World Symphony.

The program opened with Serenade No. 1 in D major, Opus 11. This glorious, inventive piece is rarely performed. Johannes Brahms led his creation through several versions. He changed the instruments from an ensemble to a symphonic work, completed in 1858, and debuted its final version,1860. It could well have been a symphony, it has that grandeur, but it is a little more as Brahms includes two Minuets and two Scherzos. Its first movement starts with an easy going sound and develops by wandering happily through images and feelings. Toward the end, it begins to float like substantial but delicate summer clouds. The movement that follows begins with dark, threatening sounds as though proving that our lives are not lived only on sunny hillsides like the places where Brahms liked to visit and compose. And yet, he does not linger in the dark. He moves on to an Adagio that offers so much of Brahms’ heart that it invites profound sadness and then beams pure light as music. He follows with two Minuets. Surprisingly, the Minuets lead to another dark passage, but Brahms will not abandon us there. He takes off his hat and jacket and shows himself, the Brahms who can express love of life in its full, complex, troubling, loving nature. From then on in the next Scherzo and the final Rondo, the music puts on more muscle; it is the muscle of a thrilling dancer, flexible and strong. Brahms gives us a Rondo with the full-hearted power of joy.

Johannes Brahms, (May, 7, 1833, Hamburg – April 3, 1897 Vienna)

Emanuel Ax, Piano

Brahms finished his Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Opus 15 in 1858, the same year the Serenade in D major was begun. He began working on a sonata for two pianos, but he was not satisfied with his progress. He wrote to his friend, musician Joseph Joachim, “Actually, not even two pianos are enough for me.” His thoughts worked toward bigger expressions but held him back from writing his first symphony. That restraint lasted for 22 years and resulted in the immense, passionate, and astounding experience of his Symphony No. 1. Through years and much work, the Piano Concerto evolved. It opens with energy and grandeur. The piano does not join in for several minutes. Seeing Emanuel Ax sitting still at the piano added to the suspense begun at the very first sounds. Then, there is a gorgeous piano solo in which every listener luxuriates. “Go ahead,” the eternal music suggests, “feel the sun like a balm on your skin. Wrap yourself in a silken gown of sound.” It is a mysterious experience. Brahms bathes us in reality through his sound inventions. He is aware at all times of the complexity and wonder of life; he knows that we are all alive and gives us music that reminds us of the live moments all around us. In this fascinating, totally original concerto, Brahms switches from minor to major and sometimes combines them The result is a musical experience in all dimensions. His Adagio is in D major and has a solemn, quiet message. This great masterpiece of a Concerto brings us all together to open our eyes and hearts. Brahms embraces the world.

The huge ovation for the entire SF Symphony was encouraged by their generous leader, Michael Tillson Thomas. He gestured to every section, every soloist, and every player to take their bows. He and Emanuel Ax traded bows to the audience and to each other. And then, Mr. Ax gave us a gift from Schubert as an encore. He played the song, Seranade: “Softly my songs/cry to you through the night/come down to me my love/into the silent grove.” it was a concert to treasure.

It was a concert to treasure.

 

 

CONGRATULATIONS! International Dance Festival@ Silicon Valley; a GREAT SUCCESS!

Lively Foundation Artistic Director Leslie Friedman

Hooray for the Eleventh Season of the International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley! 18 varied classes from Nov. 7-13 led by acclaimed artists who are also Master teachers of their art. Weekday classes:  Pilates mat (Audreyanne Covarrubias), Tap(Megan Ivey Rohrbacher), Line Dances(Etta Walton), and Leslie Friedman’s internationally applauded repertory(Leslie Friedman) gave participants an up close and personal connection with the artist-teachers. On the weekend, The Full Days of Dance© featured classes in Pilates mat(Audreyanne), Jazz & Samba(Annie Wilson), Ballet(Leslie), Line Dances(Etta), and Tap(Audreyanne) on Saturday. On Sunday, Megan Ivey Rohrbacher led classes in Mime and Physical Comedy.

from L to R: Megan Ivey Rohrbacher, Etta Walton

from L to R: Audreyanne Delgado Covarrubias, Annie Wilson

Leslie Friedman taught dances from her repertory and ballet

Reactions from the participants keep coming: “It was GREAT!”  “Thank you for organizing this wonderful event!”  “I wish it would never end.” Five artists and 18 classes. How does that work? Audreyanne taught 5  Pilates mat classes, Nov. 7-11, another Pilates mat class, morning of 11/12, AND Tap class on 11/12. Megan taught 2 tap classes, 11/10 & 11/11 AND Mime & Physical Comedy, 11/13. Etta taught 2 Line Dances, 11/7 & 11/9 AND Line Dances on 11/12. Annie taught jazz & Samba all in one class, 11/12; Leslie taught Repertory, 11/12, AND Ballet, 11/12.  An opportunity to polish a technique or start learning one. An opportunity to work with acclaimed artists. An opportunity to enjoy moving, breathing, dancing: It was a wonderful experience, and it will be again.

ENDURING VIET NAM, by James Wright

This article was published in January, 2018, by the Institute for Historical Studies. I want to share it now in honor of James Wright, former President of Dartmouth and History Professor Emeritus. He passed away only a few weeks ago. In addition to a fine author and historian, he was a great guy. His service to the USA began when he was 17 and joined the Marines and, in his leadership and generous spirit, his service continues.

STILL ENDURING VIET NAM

In 1966, I got on a bus to Oakland at San Francisco Airport. I had never been to SF and don’t think I had previously heard of Oakland. I had taken a Youth Fare ticket to San Francisco to surprise my parents in Oakland. I relied “on the kindness of strangers” to find out how to get there. Three servicemen coming back from Viet Nam were the only others on the bus. They spoke in short phrases that seemed to choke them. I remember one telling about a buddy who had gotten killed and mostly eaten by a tiger. They exchanged abrupt reports about the jungle, bad food, heat, bugs, fear. In 1967, my friend L.E.L was drafted out of his Marshall Scholarship at Oxford. He went to Ft. Campbell, KY. His basic training buddies wanted to write home but needed him to show them where to put a stamp on an envelope. He went to Saigon, reviewed intelligence, and wrote reports for colonels. The colonels did not like the reports and changed them before sending them to the generals. “Sponky,” red-headed, football star two years ahead of me in high school, was the first one I knew who was killed. That’s how I remember him.

In 2017, when I heard that my college friend Susan’s husband had published a book about Viet Nam, I was perplexed. I had, thought I had, a read-no-Viet Nam-books policy, but I wanted to read Enduring Viet Nam, by James Wright, because he is married to my friend. He is also President Emeritus of Dartmouth College, Eleazar Wheelock Professor Emeritus of History. This fine book led me to remember, relive, and learn more about those war years. The names were as real and close to me as people I had lived with growing up. Try this one: Mel Laird. Is he part of your life, too?

Reading the book, I recognized that despite the boycott I thought I had lived by, I had read many Viet Nam books. I read Bernard Fall’s Hell in a Very Small Place in the mid-‘60s and knew the story of Fall’s death; Schell’s The Village of Ben Suc, Herr’s Dispatches. There’s one with newspaper pictures of the war, another with pictures of people tracing names on the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial wall. Jean Lacouture’s biography of Ho Chi Minh, more.

Last year, KQED’s many ads proclaimed VIET NAM was coming soon and “Viet Nam continues.” I thought, “Watching it will not make it end differently.” I saw Ken Burns, the film producer, on TV. He said people would be surprised as he was that Ho Chi Minh had once admired the United States. I live with the knowledge that Ho went to Paris and worked washing dishes in order to try to speak to Woodrow Wilson. He believed in Wilson and was convinced this American leader would help Viet Nam to independence. Ho was not allowed to approach Wilson or the place where the Versailles Treaty was being created. Acts of arrogance and bigotry: future, horrible wars.

A great aspect of Wright’s book is his reliance on interviews with veterans and their families. The soldiers and families are excellent witnesses of the war, of the imprint it left on their lives, and thus of its reshaping of American society.**

Wright’s book is eye opening in many ways, not least because it breaks from a wide spread idea that American soldiers lost the war, that our generation was thrown an opportunity for glory and we all balked. His interview subjects talk about wanting to serve their country to match the service of fathers and uncles. It was impossible for any of them to know what experiences awaited them. Reading this book and looking back, I know that their lives are intertwined with my own. Their history is also mine.

     Enduring Viet Nam reminded me that every individual’s life is bent this way and that by history unfolding near or far. Reading tales of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon saddled with Viet Nam, in some instances welcoming it, in others torn to illness by it, gives me anxiety I may try not to re-visit, but I need to know.

Around 1980, a co-worker found a Marine’s camouflage green jacket. Was it for ammunition? Was its slender padding meant as protection? I hung it from the molding in the front hall of my apartment. It is my memento mori. Despite grand geo-political, economic issues, I opposed the war because I didn’t want those grunts on the bus to die.

Read Enduring Viet Nam: An American Generation and Its War, by James Wright, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, New York: 2017.

** The only other book I can think of that relies on such interviews, hundreds of them, is Daring Young Men, by Robert Reeves, Simon & Schuster, 2010. The Berlin Airlift came out of an urgent crisis and lasted July, 1948-May, 1949, very different than the Viet Nam war which trudged through mud and bodies for 16 years.