Mahler’s 9th Meets MTT: Not a Farewell

Gustav Mahler (July 7, 1860 – May 18, 1911)

Gustav Mahler composed nine symphonies and began his tenth. His Symphony No. 9 was completed in April, 1910, one year before his death, and premiered June, 1912, one year after. With ahistorical hindsight, many have regarded the 9th as a summation of the composer’s life and a farewell to life and music. This is faulty history and a bad way to hear the complex, astonishing music. In the course of this ninety minute symphony, one may hear myriad forces of nature, human experience, and the poignant, irregular pulse in the music. There are pauses; floods of sweeping phrases; galumphing, country dances; a final, transcendent adagio. The movements end as though falling apart, with a harsh punch, or evaporate into another form of being. This writer has heard it said the Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 is not the most sought after for performance. It happens in multiple dimensions at once. It cannot be summed up — it is not “the one with a thousand voices”–it is music made of Mahler’s measureless understanding of music. In the few years preceding his death, Mahler’s life was full of events. He resigned from a ten year tenure as the Artistic Director of the Vienna Court Opera, a role in which he and the orchestra flourished despite constant difficulties, not least the anti-Semitic attacks on Mahler. He desired more time for composing. His four year old daughter, Maria, died. Within days of her death, Mahler learned he had a severe heart problem and needed to curb his activities. An energetic outdoorsman, hiker, swimmer, Mahler was forced to limit the athleticism he loved. This was not a time of giving up: he became Director of the New York Philharmonic and composed Das Lied von der Erde.  He continued to lead a life of creative accomplishment and leadership given to large institutions. He was not an artist in retirement or an invalid marking time. Having seen tv dramas in which someone plays more than one chess game simultaneously, and having tried but not pursued playing even one chess game at a time, one could imagine an unusual person succeeding at that but could not guess how . The structure of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 has a multi-layered complexity put together in a way that creates a unified beauty. It encompasses human emotions and the endless fascination of the natural world. To know one flower, one must look closely and also envision the earth.

Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the superb, mind-opening, heart-tearing performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, June 13-16, 2019. The Hedgehogs attended the June 16th concert which will be Maestro Tilson Thomas’ last performance with the SFS until his return on September 4. He is taking a leave to have heart surgery, in Cleveland. He was to conduct the Symphony’s programs programs June 20-22 and June 27-30. His composition, Street Song for Symphonic Brass, on the program for June 20-22, will not be performed. His devoted following, truly a chorus of thousands, wish him well and await his return.

 

 

MONET: The Late Years, De Young Museum, SF

By the time you read this, the exhibition MONET: The Late Years may have closed. It is scheduled at the De Young Museum from opening February 16 to closing May 27, 2019. I went twice. I had to see it more. I felt a need to be surrounded by the jumping, flowing, springing energy of these pictures. The light beams from them in colors which pulsed into my own pulse. This great exhibition was organized by the Fine Arts Museums San Francisco and the Kimbell Art Museum, Ft. Worth, “with the exceptional support of the Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris” which was the source of many of the paintings. Waterlilies, yes, and also there were the Japanese bridge Claude Monet created for his garden and his paintings, the willows, agapanthus, iris, day lilies, and roses. The onlooker feels there is a mystery to these flowers and trees which on an average spring or summer day one might walk past, hardly noticing them.

Water lilies under the Japanese Bridge.

Monet observed his own powers of observation quickening as he looked with more care. He wrote: “It took me some time to understand my water lilies…I cultivated them with no thought of painting them….One does not fully appreciate a landscape in one day….And then, suddenly, I had a revelation of the magic of my pond. I took my palette. From this moment, I have had almost no other model.” The model includes the reflection of the sky’s colors and clouds in the lily pond. He pictures the inclusive reality of the plant he might touch and the entire atmosphere in which that plant and the reflection of the plant must live. The colors do not stop anywhere between these realities.

The roses arching over a path.

The “late years” of Monet’s life, he was born in 1840 and passed away in 1926, brought him personal grief as well as new artistic visions. He lost his wife, Alice Hoschede,1911; his first wife, Camille, had also died; his step daughter, Suzanne, died in 1899; his eldest son died, in 1914, the year World War I began. His eyesight was failing due to cataracts. He had surgery, which he had feared, in 1923. It was successful enough to allow him to work more vigorously. The exhibition includes works which come in series: a weeping willow described in swirling lines and dense brush strokes is seen in mostly red tones, mostly blue, mostly green. He is captivated by the changes we see every moment depending upon the time of day and weather as well as one’s own point of view.## See it now, that now is already gone and replaced by this, oops, no, that, new now. The motion of the water, the drifting clouds change the reflections one may see; both phenomena will move the waterlilies just as a breeze will make the iris leaves lift and fall. These plants are alive. That means that in the deepest reality they are always moving. Comments about his broad, free brush strokes which suggest more than delineate the exact shape of a flower overlook this fact: the rose is never the same, the lily is never still, they are in motion because they are alive.

Claude Monet in his garden.

When I arrived in Golden Gate Park for the first visit to this exhibition, there was no place to park. It took a lot of time circling to find a place. We had driven from Mountain View, about 48 miles away. It took nearly two hours to get there. Could they all be there for Monet? I thought it was the most crowded I had seen the park and a museum since the days of King Tut. Why were so many drawn to this exhibition. My theory is this: we hunger for beauty. We give our love for this gift of beauty. Is it out of fashion? Do serious artists turn away from beauty? The audience for Monet felt excited, surrounded, maybe caressed, by color and beauty. Monet painted to present the reality of the plants and water and sky all around him, and the reality was beauty.

##Please see Susan Embers’ review of Jonathan Clark’s photography exhibition, “Gator Time: Gulf Variations” in Hedgehog Highlights. The link is www.livelyfoundation.org/wordpress/?p=2722. Ms Embers points out the mastery of technique and vision that allows Clark to be perhaps the one other artist who has purposefully made his art by penetrating the mystery of time, place, weather changing what one may see even when looking at the very same place and subjects.

MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN: Phenomenal Pianist at San Francisco Symphony

The recital by pianist Marc-André Hamelin, Sunday, March 31, at Davies Symphony Hall was phenomenal. Mr. Hamelin is a great artist. Read this article, then get a ticket to fly somewhere soon to hear him. His technical brilliance is well matched by what appears to be his total immersion in the music; he understands it, he knows it, there is not a note that is not important to him. Not only can he play at warp speed, he can play slowly, even very, very quietly. I am tempted to call it playing “magically,” except it is not magic. The music is real. The musician is of this real world. The program knocked my sox off. Mr. Hamelin, however, is not a flamboyant presence. He is all about the music.

Marc-André Hamelin (photo by Fran Kaufman)

J.S. Bach’s Chaconne from Violin Partita in D minor, No. 2, BWV 1004 as arranged by stellar pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) opened the performance. It was representative of the now seldom performed 19th-early 20th century transcriptions of Bach’s monumental works. Whatever the historical instrument and performance style fans might think, it was fascinating musically. There was Bach but something different. It thoroughly engaged the listener’s attention. Written for the violin, translating it into piano language gave it different sounds, textures, and a different spirit. It was a wonderful introduction to Mr. Hamelin’s playing as he demonstrated his total mastery over the many dimensions of the piano.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Robert Schumann’s Fantasy in C major, Opus 17 is a gigantic work conveying myriad emotions as it ventures into different rhythms and suggests images. Having seen Mr. Hamelin play it, one can barely think anyone else would approach its technical difficulty and multiple meanings. The music explodes with Romantic energy and ideals and, in its third movement, seems to hover in moon glow. It is sometimes closer to a symphony than a sonata and draws on all of the young Schumann’s piano knowledge and technique as well as imagination unbound. Schumann wrote part of it in 1838, during the time he was separated from Clara Wieck, his true love, by her father. He wrote to Clara telling her, “I think  it is more impassioned than anything I have ever written–a deep lament for you.” Yes, romantic in every sense. They were married in 1840: she recognized as one of the great if not greatest pianists in Europe and he as a leading composer. Let us leave their history there before the tragic story’s end.

Mr. Hamelin is known for exploring less well known composers as well as the most celebrated, classical masters. His program included Six Arrangements of Songs Sung by Charles Trénet. Mr. Hamelin found a recording, Mr. Nobody Plays Trénet, of Trénet’s songs which typify French cabaret in the era from 1930s-1950s. The pianist who recorded the songs was Alexis Weissenberg (1929-2012). Mr. Hamelin created a score from listening to the recording and then received arrangements of four of the six songs from Mr. Weissenberg’s granddaughter. The performance of the six very different songs was a delight: personal and intriguing music with a special lilt and character. A wonderful addition to the recital.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Cipressi (Cypresses), Opus 17 was a revelation to those of us unfamiliar with this composer. The music calls out visions of the cypress trees which were in the environment of the place in Italy where Castelnuovo-Tedesco spent summers in the 1920s. For this listener, the image of eucalyptus in the Bay Area mist immediately came to mind. It is a relatively brief, but beautiful and completely original work. The composer wrote extensively for the guitar as well as piano, symphony and voice. Like other artists who were fortunate to leave Europe in the 1930s, Castelnuovo escaped to Los Angeles in 1938. The beauty of this composition with its slightly mysterious sound impels me to look for his operatic work for Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well.

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

One may often hear Chopin’s work described as “jewel like” meaning both brilliant and, especially in comparison to a symphony, small. The thing about Chopin’s work is that it is perfect. This was my rejoinder to a friend who thought Chopin’s lack of symphonies made him less a composer. No. His work is perfect, that is in addition to enchanting, beautiful, entirely only itself. The two pieces chosen by Mr. Hamelin, the Polonaise-Fantasy in A-flat major, Opus 61, and the Scherzo No. 4 in E major, Opus 54, were vigorous and large, full of invention. Chopin’s performances and compositions helped to enlarge the piano’s world in technique and sound. Mr. Hamelin seemed to revel in the bright, ebullient and continually challenging music, and so did the audience.

Standing and cheering for Marc-André Hamelin, the audience brought him back for bows and then received two encores. The first was his own composition, Toccata on L’homme armé. Fast, incredibly intricate, it had thirty premieres as all the contestants in the 2017 Van Cliburn contest had to play this work by Hamelin, one of their judges. Bowing to the insistence of music lovers greedy for more, Mr. Hamelin also played Herberge from Schumann’s Forest Scenes. It was played lovingly, and with careful attention to the unusual phrasing and a surprise rest before the delicate ending.

Mr. Hamelin performs all over the world, and he will be in Madison, WI, April 12- 14. The ice has probably melted. You will be glad to be there even if it has not.

FERLINGHETTI’S 100th BIRTHDAY! GET THE POSTER!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s birthday is March 24. Just a few days ago he turned 100. Celebrate this great life landmark with an exclusive poster designed by Jonathan Clark. His birthday is also March 24th! but not his 100th. Not yet. The poster is colorful with a strong image of Lawrence’s painting. Buy one now for yourself and another as a gift. It was a limited edition poster of which Jonathan is offering some of what he has in his own collection.  In 1994, Jonathan –Lively’s technical director as well as an internationally acclaimed photographer and fine art printer—was the Chair of the Visual Arts Committee for the City of Mountain View, CA. He organized and presented the first major exhibition of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s paintings. Well known as a poet and publisher, Ferlinghetti’s visual art was not well known. Soon after the exhibition in the Mountain View City Hall, the exhibition moved to San Francisco to be shown in The Lively Foundation’s new studio at the corner of Grove and Gough Street, just a block from the SF Ballet and the SF Opera House. It was Lawrence’s 75th Birthday Party and our opening; a great day with a great crowd of art lovers and many who were devoted to Lawrence’s role in the cultural life of San Francisco.

Original poster. It is 18″ x 24″

Cost for one poster is $18. If we mail it to you, cost is $25; that includes mailing tube and postage. Yes, that really is the postage. This is a real deal. You will not find this anywhere else, and it is terrific. Email us at livelyfoundation.org   Let us know your name, address and how many posters you would like. This is first come, first served. Mail a check made out to Jonathan Clark to Jonathan Clark, 550 Mountain View Avenue, Mountain View, CA 94041-1941. You will love having this historic poster celebrating an individual who is a significant cultural force and who has done so much for many artists. Do it today!

Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey at de Young Museum, SF

The story of Paul Gauguin’s life (1848-1903) lends mystery and romance to the idea of an artist. He left the over developed, over civilized, expensive world of Paris to free himself and find his art in Tahiti. The exhibition at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey, expands the reality of Paul Gauguin as artist and spiritual seeker. It is not so much denying the romance of a man working as a stockbroker, a humdrum job, and revolting against number crunching to seek primitive beauty as it is enriching our understanding of the complicated, thoughtful greatly talented individual. The works in the exhibition come from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek , Copenhagen, and from works in the Fine Arts Museums of SF own collection.

Photograph of Paul Gauguin

In his early life in France’s Merchant Marine and Navy, he sailed around the world and completed his military service. When he returned home, he established a close relationship with Gustave Arosa, who became his legal guardian after the death of his mother. Arosa had a an art collection distinguished by works of Delacroix, artists of the French Salon, and ceramics from world wide origins. In this environment, Gauguin’s interest in art became a passion. Through Arosa, he met Camille Pissaro. The great Impressionist became Gauguin’s friend and mentor. Gauguin had no formal art training. Mette Sophie Gad, a Danish woman, met him in Paris; they married in 1873 and had five children. The stock market  crash in 1882 was a fortunate fall; it opened a door for Gauguin’s full time devotion to his art. Although Mette and Paul would eventrually separate when he turned to painting full time, she loyally supported his work, organized an exhibition in Copenhagen, and sold his paintings. Other painters were also important in his life as friends and companions. He and Emile Bernard met in Brittany where Gauguin made important strides in creating his own style. The Bretons with their distinctive dress and their emphatically not-Parisian life style and environment were nearly foreign and exotic.

Breton Girl, 1889, is in exhibition at de Young

Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh painted side by side in Arles, in the south of France. Each had his own vision creating art, but the few months together surely had an impact. Gauguin left Provence shortly after Van Gogh cut off his own ear. Gauguin continued searching for a pure, wild or “sauvage” home in which he could get in touch with a culture and spirituality which was not influenced by the industrialized, urban world of Copenhagen or Paris. He left Mette and his family to travel to Panama and Martinique. He made his first trip to Tahiti in 1891 under the auspices of the French Ministry of Fine Arts. What he found in Papeete was not an untouched paradise; the colonialism of the French empire had inevitably modified Tahitian existence. He moved onward to another part of the island, Mataiea. On his second trip to Tahiti, his ship was delayed in Auckland, New Zealand. He closely observed and collected Maori art.

Flowers and Cats, 1899, Tahiti, in the de Young exhibtion

His story is not one of finding the original, pure society he sought; instead, it is one of continual seeking. He went to Hivo Oa in the Marquesas Islands, in 1901, and died there in 1903. Among the many glorious surprises in this brilliant exhibition are Gauguin’s ceramics. These are not thrown on a wheel but hand worked in fascinating character. To see his earlier paintings which glory in nature and humanity in nature, and his drawings and paintings of Breton life which present the differences of life style, forms, and pattern established through the shapes of costume and patterns of movement is a spiritual journey for the exhibition visitor. It expands one’s understanding of this artist’s many journeys to come closer to the world as a whole and to immerse himself in particular ways of living which were never entirely his own. Gauguin was also a collector of art. His collections expose his profound interest in other forms of living and other forms of worship. The exhibition closes on June 23. Do not miss it.

Battery Dance Film at Cinequest: MOVING STORIES

Great news for dance and film lovers, especially in the South Bay area. The Cinequest Film Festival will present MOVING STORIES, at the Hammer Theatre, 101 Paseo De San Antonio Walk, San Jose, 95112, Saturday, March 16, 4:15 p.m. Tickets are $12. Information: contact@cinequest.org     phone: 408/295-3378

Link for online tickets: https://www.cinequest.org/tickets-passes

This film shows the work of Battery Dance Company of New York as their dancers travel around the world to bring the experiences of dance performance to at-risk youth. Battery’s dancers traveled to India, Romania, South Korea, and Iraq to inspire the young people and “transform their lives” through the effort, training, and magic of dance. The Battery dancers took only one week in each locale to teach a choreographed work to the youth who would then perform it. The film shows the struggles and triumphs that come through this amazing program. Battery Dance Founder/ Director, Jonathan Hollander has pioneered this work both at home in New York and across the globe. The Battery dancers learn about the extremely difficult conditions of their youthful collaborators’ lives. Together, they create something unique which will last forever in the hearts of all participants.

Jonathan Hollander,Founder/Director of Battery Dance Company

Mr. Hollander and company dancer Sean Scantlebury will also screen the film in San Francisco and follow the showing with a dance workshop led by Mr. Scantlebury who is a dancer in the film. The event is Saturday, March 16, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Film showing is from 10 a.m.-noon; workshop from noon- 1 p.m. Event is at 188 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, the Google Community Space. Tickets are $16.78. Please purchase before March 14. For tickets and more please go to this link:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/film-screening-of-movingstories-dance-workshop-by-battery-dance-company-tickets-5695886952

Sean Scantlebury (standing dancer) Company member of Battery Dance Company

This is a thrilling opportunity for everyone who loves dance and who puzzles over how individuals from different cultures could ever work together. The Battery Dance Company answer is there is a universal language: DANCE!

Esa-Pekka Salonen Debuts as Newly Named Director SF Symphony

A completely full house at Davies Symphony Hall, January 19, 2019, greeted Esa-Pekka Salonen with applause and cheers before he even reached the podium. This was his first performance with the San Francisco Symphony after being named Michael Tilson Thomas’ successor as Music Director of the SFS. Although he had led the orchestra previously, there was a feeling in the house that this was something different, a time to listen and watch intently for hints of what is ahead for San Francisco.

Esa-Pekka Salonen addressing the SF audience at the Sound Box

The program featured Also sprach Zarathustra, by Richard Strauss (1896) and Four Legends from the Kalevala, by Jean Sibelius (1896). The West Coast Premiere of Metacosmos Anna Thorvaldsdottir (2017) opened the concert.

Richard Strauss

Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) is familiar to many as the theme music of the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey which opened in 1968. Being the theme of a hugely popular movie has pluses and minuses. On the plus side is the immense, world wide audience now exposed to the music. On the possibly negative side is the permanent association of the movie and the music making it difficult to think of one without the other. 2001, tragically, now has other associations, as does 1968, a year of war, assassinations, political turmoil. The SF Symphony’s performance of the thrilling music was so effective that the audience was totally involved and could not have pondered anything else. R. Strauss took a work by Friedrich Nietzsche as his inspiration for the music. Nietzsche had as his inspiration Zarathustra, a Persian philosopher from the 6th century B.C.E.  After isolating himself from society, Zarathustra sees a sunrise and realizes he must rejoin his world. R. Strauss wrote that he intended his music to transmit “the evolution of the human race from its origin.” It is a roller coaster ride from the stratosphere to Earth and back again. If this is humanity, it has endless pitfalls and triumphs and mysteries. This is music that should be experienced as the SF Symphony played it, no movie required, lifting the listeners, opening their eyes as they let go of the safety rail and ride.

Jean Sibelius, 1913

Four Legends from the Kalevala is a suite of pieces representing episodes in the Finnish epic story. A young man, Lemminkainen, has fabulous adventures as he hunts, finds love, battles, and defies death. Each episode has a different character and sound: Lemminkainen and the Maidens of the Island; Lemminkainen in Tuonela; The Swan of Tuonela; Lemminkainen’s Return. The writing creates a deeply colored and emotional atmosphere more than representing specific narrative actions. The encounter with the Maidens of the Island begins with an announcement suitable to opening the entire suite and ends with carefree, sensuous dancing. In Tuonela, Lemminkainen begins his quest to kill the Swan of Tuonela but is killed himself instead. In the Finnish myths, Tuonela is death’s habitat. As in many epics, the hero has a polar opposite, a blind cowherd who manages to overcome the hero. Lemminkainen’s mother finds her son’s body and is able to bring him back to life. The tension in this movement comes forth in intense harmony that leads to the music of a solo cello. In the epic, the Swan of Tuonela swims in dark water of a large river. The Swan sings. The music in this movement is exquisite and strange. The string sections are composed in 13 different parts on top of each other and from that complex, but unified sound comes the voice of a solo English horn. It is eerily beautiful. The Journey home unifies the different aspects of the music and introduces a rondo which brings all the adventures together. The work demands and richly rewards attention. This was an extraordinary performance by the SFS. The musicians played themselves into the mysterious world of the Kalevala giving their audience a superb, personal experience of a distant world. The audience stood, applauding for the Music Director designate to return for more bows. This event promises a close creative partnership of orchestra, conductor, and audience.

For more on Sibelius’ Swan of Tuonela, see post on Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony at    livelyfoundation.org/wordpress/?p=1073

 

 

 

 

 

Itzhak Perlman Plays Klezmer

Itzhak Perlman performed “In the Fiddler’s House,” San Franciso Symphony, January 14, 2019

The music began, and I felt myself smile. Not because the music was an old, familiar tune. Just because it was rollicking, joyful sounding music. Those of us lucky enough to be at Davies Symphony Hall, Monday night, January 14, were treated to a full concert of Klezmer music led by the great violinist, conductor, fiddler Itzhak Perlman. He shared the stage with a crowd of gifted musicians playing accordion, bass, bass clarinet, clarinet, tsimbl(cymbalom), drums, guitar, mandolin, piano, saxophone, tambourine, trombone, trumpet, violin, and singing. I think there was a total of 15 musicians, but since most of them played more than one instrument it became hard to keep track. This music is “something completely different.” In his typical fashion, Mr. Perlman was modest and also brilliant. When the musicians came on stage, I did not see him. Then, I realized he was there but allowed himself to be camouflaged by his colleagues. Pianist Hankus Netsky acted as MC, offering bits of history and musical introductions. He and Mr. Perlman established an occasionally competitive conversation with Mr. Perlman urging Mr. Netsky to get on with it instead of talking and adding his own commentary. It was a playful Pat and Mike act that was informative without being weighty. Mr. Netsky is Founder/Director of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, and was music director and arranger for Eternal Echoes, Itzhak Perlman’s collaboration with cantorial, Hassidic, and Yiddish music, available on Sony Masterworks.

Brave Old World, members of this international Klezmer group were onstage “In the Fiddler’s House,” including Michael Alpert, vocals, guitar, accordion, violin

The name Klezmer comes from combining the words for “tool” and “to make music,” translated as “vessels of song” or “musical instruments.” It also referred to the musicians themselves, not always in a positive way. In the 16th – 18th centuries, “Klezmer” replaced an earlier word for them, “leyts” which means clowns. Mr. Perlman injected this information as his partner described them as scholars. In the early 20th century, recordings referred to it as Yiddish music. It was also called “Freilech” music, “Happy Music” and my recent 21st century reaction attests this is apt. The music has an Eastern sound to it and also a distinctly Romani (Gypsy) sound. The Hedgehog musician says it has a different mode, plays in different scales. It is expressive as well as lively; one can hear sounds like a human voice laughing or sobbing, The oldest written record of Klezmer is from the 15th century, but that music would not be what we can hear now. The strongest 19th century influence came from Romania. The Klezmer like the Romani musicians, Lautari, were traveling musicians and they played music together. The Rabbis did not approve of the Klezmer because of their on the road lifestyle, but they were needed for weddings. The Bible mentions orchestras of musicians and Levites playing music. After the destruction of the Second Temple, some Rabbis disapproved of making music, but back then also it was necessary for wedding celebrations.

The Klezmatics: members of this band were featured artists “In the Fiddler’s House,” including Frank London, Lorin Sklamberg

In Ukraine, the Ukrainian authorities would not allow them to play loud music, so they began to play string instruments and cymbalom. When more Jewish Eastern Europeans arrived in the US, 1880s – 1924, they heard American jazz. Elements of jazz can show up in Klezmer and, like the connection to the Romani music, an exchange occurred. The concert at Davies Hall was a feast of wild rhythms, fantastic interplays of vocal and instrumental music, speed demon virtuoso performances. Mr. Perlman performed with Andy Statman, a blue grass and Klezmer star; they blew away any observers’ desire to find a bunch of words to describe what they were hearing. When Klezmer’s popularity faded, other composers found treasures in it: Mahler and Shostakovich, jazz and swing leaders Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Ziggy Elman; Gershwin, Bernstein, and Copland. There have been several significant Klezmer revivals: in the 1970s; a new wave in the 1980s with non-Jewish musicians; in the SF Bay Area in the 1990s.

The Klezmer Conservatory Band, based in Boston, members were “In the Fiddler’s House,” including Judy Bressler, Hankus Netsky

The January 14 program featured tunes that might be played for a riotous, happy, dancing wedding. When the invitation came for the audience to dance, hundreds jumped up, held hands, and danced through the aisles. As Mr. Netsky mentioned, tunes also took them back to the synagogue. Their version of Shalom Aleichem was lovely and touching. That song welcomes the Sabbath “Peace be upon you, blessed peace of Sabbath eve,” and the “ministering angels of most high.” Itzhak Perlman is not only the great violinist, he is the great human carrying his message of peace and joy through his music as he travels the world like Klezmers of all time.

Featured, astonishing musicians: Hankus Netsky, music director, saxophone, piano, arrangements; Michael Alpert, vocals, guitar, accordion, violin; Judy Bressler, vocals, tambourine; Lorin Sklamberg, vocals, accordion; Frank London, trumpet; Andy Statman, clarinet, mandolin; Mark Berney, trumpet; James Guttmann, bass; Mark Hamilton, trombone; Pete Rushefsky, bass clarinet, tsimbl; Grantley Smith, drums; Ilene Stahl, clarinet.

Thibaudet & Capucon: An Astonishing Performance

Gautier Capucon, ‘cello, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano, presented a duo recital, December 2, 2018, at Davies Symphony Hall, which was in every way great. Each is technically above brilliant. Their musicality opens new experiences of being in the music. The program selections were outstanding, presenting sonatas that reflected the composers’ greatness and differing characters.

Jean-Ives Thibaudet

Gautier Capucon

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)  Claude Debussy’s Sonata No. 1 in D minor (1915) was an eye-opening visit to Debussy’s imagination and boundless invention.  Known as an “Impressionist” composer, a title which gives a false, gauzy idea of his music, this sonata was altogether more modern sounding than most “new” music of our current time. It demanded a wide range of technical mastery from the ‘cellist: vibratos, pizzicato, glissando. Watching the music being made grabbed the attention as much as listening. The pianist also changes technique and mood incredibly quickly. There is no point to guessing what comes next. Debussy changes the colors and the tonal direction of his music. The exhilarating final movement leaves the audience gasping for breath from this rapidly turning dance and also in amazement at the virtuoso music making.

Johannes Brahms(1833-1897) Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 in E minor for Cello and Piano, Opus 38 (1865) is a grand, musical landmark of music for the two instruments. It is fascinating in its combination of play with musical forms and the sense that an overarching meaning arises from what is built out of sound puzzles and structures. Brahms explores how many variations he can make with a five note phrase. In Brahmsian fashion, the music is sweeping, broad, embracing while it is, underneath it all, built so neatly. The second movement, Allegretto quasi menuetto, goes beyond its minuet inspiration. Brahms’ delightful dance opens up the view from the Sonata. Now it overlooks a vast, sunlit garden. It is a lighter and brighter dance than humans in Eighteenth Century clothing could jump into; Thibaudet and Capucon took over as though the music had been written for them. The final Allegro continues to explore the fugues of the first. It is powerful, all encompassing music. Yes, here we are with Brahms. The immense energy and technical power of the performers was astonishing.

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)  

Rachmaninoff’s Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Opus 19, is gloriously melodic, far reaching, and generally just gorgeous. It has drama, sadness, charm. The interplay between the ‘cello and piano is balanced as one instrument flies on lyrical wings and the other travels into distant lands created by diversity of sounds. Capucon and Thibaudet shared the world of this music with obvious respect and generosity. There is something about love and something about elegance revealed in the journey from the first movement, Lento-Allegro moderato-Moderato to the closing celebration of Allegro mosso–Moderato–Vivace. The audience did not stand, it levitated on Rachmaninoff’s music.

The artists responded to the cheering audience with three encores (“Oh, look, they’re coming back!”) Again, the musical choices were not only brilliantly performed, they also created a mini-program of stunning music and emotions. First was Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” Opus 34, no.14; then, Shostakovich’s Scherzo (3rd movement) from Cello Sonata in D minor, opus 40. The artists sent us all home with Saint-Saens, The Swan, from The Carnival of the Animals. Exquisite.

Look for Mr. Thibaudet in San Francisco, April, 2019, on a program with famed violinist Midori. He and Mr. Capucon continue their partnership in concerts in Australia, Antwerp, and France. Each will perform around the US with symphonies from coast to coast. Don’t miss them.

 

 

San Francisco Symphony Presents Triumphant Beethoven’s 9th

San Francisco Symphony’s Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, led the SF Symphony in a dramatic, exultant performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, November 24, 2018. The program opened with Seven Early Songs by Alban Berg. Overall, the experience left the audience on its feet cheering and seemingly not sure what to do next. Leaving appeared to be out of the question. Soaring above the chairs was much more likely.

  Alban Berg     Berg’s Seven Early Songs were written between 1905 and 1908 to be sung with piano. The orchestral score was not published until 1969. The songs are lovely, lyrical pieces set to the poems of seven poets. There are glimmering moments reflecting the natural world and Romantic reveries. The music has delicacy even as the songs express personal longing. Although the composer’s name can make some listeners apprehensive, in these songs Berg was not in his dissonant realm.

The soloist, soprano Susanna Phillips has a clear, charming voice which was the perfect match for the music and the poetry. Good news: the performances of Berg’s Seven Early Songs were recorded for SFS Media.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (written 1822-1824) is great, enormous, gorgeous, heart-rending, uplifting. It is a grand, musical summation of what’s good about Western Civilization. It celebrates the values of brotherhood, unity among differences, equality, freedom, joy in life. It lifts the top of one’s head off and cheers the heart. The SFS performance was splendid, capturing the mystery as well as the expansive energy of life. Performing with the SFS were the SF Symphony Chorus and four soloist singers. These do not join in until the Finale. All were excellent: soprano Susanna Phillips (pictured above),

(L to R): mezzo soprano Kelley O’Connor, tenor Nicholas Phan, bass baritone Davone Tine.

The giant, first movement is mysterious, disruptive, anxiety provoking. There is struggle and fear, but there is also a persistent forward motion that pushes the soul of the music onward. The Adagio has a loving expression; it is a tide pulling us–sometimes unwilling, sometimes just tired–by our hope and care. And then, the Finale. The Ode to Joy sings out as though our hearts will burst with hope for our highest selves to prevail through love and simple but ecstatic joy in friendship and living. At the end, the music speeds up, scampers, runs and jumps like an endless number of clowns happily tumbling out of a tiny car. I think that might be us: salamanders, penguins, humans; the jumble of life being alive.

The hopes that are vaunted in the Ninth are the same ones dashed when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. Beethoven removed the dedication to Napoleon from his Third Symphony, the Eroica (written 1803-1804). It is a tribute to Beethoven’s dedication to these values that, now deaf, he still celebrated them with music from his heart and every fiber of his being. If he could keep his vision alive in terrible times, can his audience hesitate?

The performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the performances of Michael Tilson Thomas’ From the Diary of Anne Frank the week before were programming to honor the 70th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.