Author Archives: Leslie

Poetry Available Now

After the incredibly successful reading on June 25, 2023, there were a number of inquiries about how to find or buy poetry by the participants. Lively’s Artistic Director, Leslie Friedman, organized the program and also was one of the five readers. The readers included Randall Nicholas,  Judith Offer, Joy Passanante, David Shepard, and Leslie Friedman. Leslie gathered information from each reader and put it on the FB pages. Leslie did not have the poems she read available at that time.

Now, with the help of Prodigy Press, there is a booklet of the poems she read plus one. The Lively Foundation asks $10 (that includes the postage) to send the poems to you. Please add a donation of any amount to help Lively organize another reading and maintain the International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley. Email us your request and be sure to include your complete street address. Our email address is:

Please either send a check or go to the PayPal connection on this blog. (1) make the check to The Lively Foundation/550 Mountain View Avenue/Mountain View, CA/94041-1941   OR   (2) go to the landing page of this blog. Scroll down the page to see the PayPal logo. Click on it and follow its directions.  Lively requests an additional 50 cents to cover the PayPal fee (yes, even not-for-profits have to pay a fee).

Remember that these two wonderful, LIvely Books are still on a special sale! Buy one book (of either book) and get 25% off. Buy two books (one of each or two of one) and the second book is half price. A great deal! AND, no postage payment from you. You cannot afford to pass it up. Each book has great VALENTINE value! Sale must end soon. More details on buying books: please see

THANK YOU for your interest. Last summer’s reading was so well attended, 80 in the Zoom audience, that we are planning another reading with a slightly different content. Watch the Livelyblog!


Let’s get to the main point right away: The Nutcracker run ends on Dec. 30th. Do not delay! Get tickets for it now. This is an experience you do not want to miss. The dancers are world-class wonderful. The Tchaikovsky score is full of beautiful music that makes everyone feel a lift like the ballerina in one of the astonishing lifts with her partner. The scenery will pop your eyes out. The costumes are breath-taking. Pick up the phone, dive into the SF Ballet web site, get the tickets!

No, I do not work for the Ballet, and this is the first Nutcracker I have seen for over 20 years.

The San Francisco Ballet is rightfully proud of being the first ballet company to produce and perform the Nutcracker ballet in the USA. That was in 1944. Through the decades, the SFB has presented several new versions made with respect for the original. The current, extravagant, amazing performance is Helgi Tomasson’s production, premiered in 2004. He was the artistic director and main choreographer for SFB beginning in 1985 and just retired in 2022. Tomasson decided that the tradition of having this Russian ballet take place in Germany did not make sense for today’s audience. Originally, it was choreographed by the great classical choreographer, Lev Ivanova, with a libretto by Marius Petipa, another great, classical choreographer.

Tomasson keeps an historical setting, but it is San Francisco in 1915. The opening scene is on a street with Painted Ladies, fantastic houses of Victorian styles. It is after the 1906 Earthquake, at the time of the Pan American Exposition, and before the US entered World War I. The at-home costumes are era appropriate. The family celebrating Christmas together sees the adult ladies and girls in timely but dance-able dresses.

Are you a person who does not know the “plot” of the story? A foggy night in San Francisco. Drosselmeyer is in his shop finishing his gift for the Stahlbaum family. It is a magic nutcracker. People on the street hustle this way and that. Drosselmeyer (Val Caniparoli) enters the Victorian home.

Val Caniparoli – Drosselmeyer

Inside, a Christmas party is happening. Children and adults dance. Drosselmeyer’s gifts are a life size jack-in-the-box who does fabulous leaps and turns until his wind up key runs down. There is also a ballerina doll wearing a magnificent tutu of pinks and white. She dances en pointe until she is carried back into her box. Clara (Emily Yin, an excellent student of the SFB school) the daughter, receives the Nutcracker and loves it. Her brother, Fritz (Santiago Stack-Lozano) pulls the Nutcracker away. It breaks. Drosselmeyer mends it. Everyone leaves except Clara who comes down stairs to look for her Nutcracker. In her dreams, Drosselmeyer makes the Christmas tree grow. It really happens: the tree grows on stage to 30 feet tall.# He also makes the house grow bigger: Clara now looks tiny.

Enter the Mice. Clara is scared of the mice. She has no table to jump onto. She does not scream, as I might, but the Nutcracker comes to defend her. He now has a sword. The mice are not ordinary mice; they wear wonderful costumes and the King of the Mice (danced by Sean Bennett) has an impressive head piece.

Sean Bennett – King of the Mice

They battle; the Nutcracker wins. He removes his big nutcracker head piece and becomes the Nutcracker Prince (Wei Wang). The Nutcracker offers exquisite solo dance roles for ballerinas. The Queen of the Snow, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the Grand Pas de Deux. Through these beautiful, technically challenging roles, there is a male dancer partner. Wei Wang performs as Nutcracker Prince and the Grand Pas de Deux. He is an engine that keeps the two acts humming along. His partnering is superb. His leaps and spins are superb. Watch for him in other leading roles; his dancing is absolutely…just right.

Wei Wang – Nutcracker Prince, Grand Pas de Deux

The Nutcracker is exhausted from the fight. Clara looks to Drosselmeyer. Using his magic skills, Drosselmeyer turns the Nutcracker into a handsome Prince. They go to the Land of Snow. In each performance, and there are 31 performances!, 150 pounds of “snow” falls from the top of the opera house stage.#

Frances Chung – Queen of the Snow  Cavan Conley – King of the Snow

This creates an amazing vision of falling snow while the Queen of the Snow (Frances Chung) and the King of the Snow (Cavan Conley) dance with ballerina Snowflakes. It is beautiful: the dance, dancers, atmosphere, costumes. The Snow Queen’s tutu is decorated with 300-500 Swarovski crystals and took about 80 hours to construct by hand.#

The Sugar Plum Fairy (Sasha Mukhamedov) appears in the Second Act. This lovely dancer introduces Clara and the Prince to her realm.

Sasha Mukhamedov – Sugar Plum Fairy

She also presents entertainments of wonderful variations in dance styles: Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, French, Russian, and Madame Du Cirque with her Buffoons. The Buffoons are very young SFB school dancers with Davide Occhipinti as a charming trained bear. Each of the variations are exciting to watch. The Russian dance begins with an explosion of energy as the dancers jump through pictures breaking the paper as they fly through the frames.

The Sugar Plum Fairy  leads the Waltz of the Flowers, one of Tchaikovsky’s great, romantic waltzes.

There are so many great moments in all of the dances, I regret not being able to picture every dancer. However, this is the largest production ever presented by the SFB. That means there are 83 company dancers and 110 SFB students.# The Sugar Plum Fairy gives Clara a special Christmas gift: she makes Clara a ballerina to dance with her Prince.

Wona Park – Grand Pas de Deux

The Grand Pas de Deux, danced by Wona Park and Wei Wang was thrilling. They performed every difficult step as though they were walking on a garden path – easy – but it was impressive and beautiful. Brava, Bravo. Extra bows for them and for the entire cast. Your audience loved you.

# Courtesy of the San Francisco Ballet: these numbers are taken from the Nutcracker program book. Dancers’ head shots are from the SF Ballet Nutcracker program book.



SPECTACULAR CHAMBER MUSIC @ The Legion of Honor Museum


The Gunn Theater in the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum was the site for a magnificent performance, Dec. 3. 2023. Gunn Theater holds three hundred and sixteen in a jewel box setting. The San Francisco Symphony presents chamber music concerts there through the season always featuring outstanding musicians. The music selections are usually something different, something new even if, as in this program, the music is very old.

The program was all trios; two by Bach and one by Schubert. Anton Nel was the harpsichordist for the Sonata No. 3 in E major for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1016 and the Sonata No. 3 in G minor for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, BWV 1029. Alexander Barantschik, Concertmaster of the SF Symphony, was the violinist who leads the music in this Sonata. It was an audio treat to hear the harpsichord, especially as the Gunn Theater is far smaller than the Davies Hall. It awakens a different way to listen for the notes. In the Sonata No. 3 in E major the violin opens the experience with an expressive sound that seems to reach across broad vistas. It is followed by a delightful, light Allegro as though accessible to young people or even presented for the folk instead of the elite. Bach goes back to an Adagio – ma non tanto (but not too much)– which opens into keys unusual in a Bach sonata; that’s the new in the old. At the end, Bach allows the sound more energy and, as though on the brink of cliff, the music sweeps through the air on a lift off of counterpoint. Barantschik presented a marvelous touch from the elegance of the first Adagio to the delicacy of the second movement to the energy and reach of the finale.

Johann Sebastian Bach, composer (1685-1750)

In the Sonata No. 3 in G minor for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, BWV. Peter Wyrick played the cello, and demonstrated that the Viola da Gamba has a higher pitched string than the cello so he added a string to his cello. It gave the audience the feeling that they could notice how he bowed diagonally to make the higher sound. This trio was livelier than the one in E major. The playing of the harpsichord and cello was a pleasing sound as the two sound sources found places to alternate or reach over each other’s music. The three movements ranged from Vivace to Adagio to an exciting Allegro conclusion. Did you think that Bach could not be exciting? Listen to these elegant and totally innovative pieces; you will have an exciting surprise.

The trio included Alexander Barantschik, Concertmaster of the SF Symphony, on the Naoum Blinder Chair, Violin. He has been concertmaster of the London and Bamberg Symphony Orchestras, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. He was concertmaster for major symphonic cycles with Michael Tilson Thomas, Rostropovich, and Bernard Haitink.

Peter Wyrick, ’cellist on the Lyman & Carol Casey Second Century Chair, served as Associate Principal Cello, 2022-2023. Previously, he was principal cello of New York’s Mostly Mozart Orchestra and associate principal cello of the New York City Opera. His chamber music collaborations include Yo -Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Yefim Bronfman, Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Anton Nel, pianist, has an active performing life having performed with the Cleveland, Orchestra, Chicago , Dallas, and Seattle Symphonies as well as international venues such as Wigmore Hall, the Concertgebouw, Suntory Hall, and in China, Korea, and South Africa, his home. He holds the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Chair at the University of Texas at Austin. In summers he is at the Aspen Festival and School and the Ravinia Festival and its Steans Institute.

Franz Schubert, composer, 1797-1828) (posthumous painting by Rieder, 1875)

Franz Schubert’s remarkable Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat major, D. 898 is a soaring, gorgeous forty minute long sail to happiness. I know that art connoisseurs are suspicious of happiness and beauty, but this is art of a different species. Schubert’s genius is above it all. When he wrote this music, he was thirty years old. He had only one year more to live and to create music that is essential for us, two hundred and twenty-six years later.

From the opening Allegro moderato, Schubert shows his originality by playing with the sonata form. He writes in “wrong keys” several times. It is a gentle wake up call to the listeners, “do not let the beauty lull you so much that you will miss the floating sensation and the changing scenery of sound. The composer, Robert Schumann, was especially taken by the first movement as “graceful and virginal.” The second movement, Andante, is slower, and this writer must use the term that pops up in others’ descriptions; it is dreamlike. And yet, this dream is not one for sleep or inactivity. It carries us along on a breath as though riding on a kite through a forest. The Scherzo offers surprise musical changes keeping the listeners just enough off balance to laugh at ourselves. Schubert closes with a Rondo: Allegro vivace. It leads our imaginations and memories to cherish the moment, so lovely but never lasting. Schubert was aware that he was terribly ill. He still shared joy.

This threesome will perform again at the Gunn on Jan. 28. That concert is sold out, but it is worth it to see if someone seeking snow goes to Tahoe. There is another concert on June 2 with the same noble artists, music by Mozart, R. Strauss, and Smetana. It is too good to miss.



Daniil Trifonov Lights Up Davies Symphony Hall

Daniil Trifonov lit up Davies Symphony Hall, Nov. 19, San Francisco. The audience was fascinated by his playing and only a few minutes into Rameau’s Suite in A minor, RCT 5 (1729/30), we were all transfixed. The program itself was a jewel: Rameau, Mozart’s Piano Sonata No.12 in F major, K.332 (300k) (ca. 1783), Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses, Opus 54 (1841), Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29 in-B flat major, Opus 106, Hammerklavier (1818).

The selections were not random choices from famous composers. Each piece had special challenges for the pianist and brought unique charm and glory for the listeners.

The program was not only about the majestic music. All of these great composers were also great musicians, especially as pianists. Daniil Trifonov was playing the music which was made by and played by the best. He meets their music and brings his understanding to its complex beauties. He also plays on their level. He is there with the top seeded players. They know their game. Each one in his own way recreated playing. The program is an encounter of great pianists through nearly four centuries.

Jean-Philippe Rameau, Composer (1683-1764)

Jean-Philippe Rameau, Suite in A minor, RCT 5 (1729/30) has seven parts: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Les Trois Mains, Fanfarinette, La Triomphante, Gavotte et ses Doubles. The first three are named for the dances popular for 17th century composers, like JS Bach. They create a serious environment. This is for harpsichord virtuosi ready to play the multiple sounds of their tradition. However, with Trifonov at the keyboard, these have an enchanting delicacy. The next four parts are “character” music rather than from the dance forms. Les Trois Mains calls upon the pianist to move arms and hands as though he has a third hand, at least a third hand. Fanfarinette, a “small braggart,” teases the listener to follow the music. La Triomphate is bolder. The Gavotte conclusion branches into six complex variations all with transparent sounds of the main theme. James M. Keller writes that this piece may show that Rameau kept up with Handel’s developments and plays can-you-top-this. Handel had five variations, but Rameau has six. The fast, occasionally explosive, thoughtful music ends by drifting away. Other selections on the program also end with sound disappearing, gently, but in the outskirts of sadness.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote three piano sonatas between July and November, 1783, all published in Vienna. The Piano Sonata in F-major apparently is the last of the group. While it begins with a relatively quiet, inward facing Allegro, it grows and puts forth melodies that have dramatic qualities. The second movement, an Adagio, also begins in an understated way which becomes full of expression without abandoning Classical restraint. The closing movement, Allegro assai tosses its hat and flings surprises to the audience. Just when the listener thinks she knows how the composer is feeling about music and life, he turns on a dime and releases astonishing changes of direction. The fascination stops short of hypnotic due to the excitement which Mozart creates and delivers without any hints or preparation. Despite the energy of the movement, this music also quietly evaporates.

Felix Mendelssohn, composer (1809-1847)

Felix Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses, Opus 54, is mind opening music. One may not take a break from listening; so much is happening in the brilliant piece. Yosemite Falls is a wonder. After rain or snow melt, the unbelievable happens: Yosemite Falls becomes even more impressive and inspiring. Mendelssohn’s twelve minute work is the musical Falls at its greatest. The fast rhythms become faster, daring the pianist and challenging the listener’s attention to sound. From sixteenth notes in the first variation, he moves to sextuplets, (Un poco piu animato –a little more animated)). Next there are staccato notes (Piu animato). More variations all filled by not one marvel of variation but it seems at least two at a time He finds syncopation, expressive passages; how many variations? eighteen. Each one is deeper in musical life developed and bursting with fire. Imagination on top of rhythm is woven into Time escaping, shaped by the composer’s call for poco a poco piu animato (little by little livelier and livelier). The super liveliness has seized Time, wound it higher into spirals of musical life which the composer, being an honest genius, then allows us to hear Time die away. It is another ending which drifts away like smoke, untraceable as life.

Daniil Trifonov, pianist

Through out the concert, Trifonov played with power, finesse, astounding speed, and still has ,heart left for expression. Part demon, part angel. He delicately caressed the keys in the Rameau as though he was bringing an inanimate thing to life. He may have channeled Mozart himself in the sonata. Trifonov did not shy away from taking Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F major that begins quietly into soaring, airborne changes of direction or altitude. As Rameau’s music was first for the harpsichord, could one state he was a master of the keyboards? I can imagine he was or he would not have written the Suite in A Minor. Both Mozart and Mendelssohn were known as master pianists, perhaps at a level above mere masters. Clara Schumann, renown as the star pianist of Europe before her marriage, wrote about Mendelssohn: “When all is said and done, he remains, for me, the most cherished pianist of all.”

Ludwig Van Beethoven, composer (1770-1827)

Now, there is the Hammerklavier. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major is a world of mystery. Many consider it the most technically challenging of Beethoven’s piano sonatas; it is the longest, too. Its emotional life extends so far as one hears and feels in King Lear or experiences in an entire life. This writer/listener waited to write this brief account until she could listen to it again. The first movement, Allegro, is troubled, seems to dive into knots of thick ropes, climbs out, and then falls into more impediments: quick sand, rocky rubble, water that is deeper than it looks. Then, he, maybe it, stands up. The music finds him in a Scherzo which brightens the mood. It tries to play tricks on him, makes him jump over fallen branches, but he makes his way. It is not a jolly Scherzo, but it is Assai vivace (lively, vivacious enough) and travels away from the trials of the first movement Allegro. The third movement is a bleak ending though in the middle of the sonata’s life. Beethoven describes it Adagio sostenuto: Appassionato e con molto sentimento. It is sustained grieving, deeply felt and sounds like it cannot move forward, though this is the longest movement of any in Beethoven’s sonatas. It is nearly hopeless. It is nearly a prison cell without a window. It is beautiful but does not allow physical movement as imagined in the preceding movements. Feeling the passion of the Adagio, Beethoven will not abandon us, his listeners, or the spirit of his music. The final movement, Largo—Allegro risoluto (Fugo a tre voci) breaks away from the struggles, tricks, and grief of the other movements. Without an introduction we could notice, it leaps before us. Now there are windows and even a way into a garden. The music pays no more attention to the rigid ties it has left. How did it escape? It just took a step and, elated, revels in freedom.

The program began with Rameau’s Suite in A minor which includes Les Trois Mains and ends with Beethoven’s Fugo a tre voci, a fugue with three voices. The movement of hands and arms is so quick, crossing over, fingers flying that is looks like there must be more than two hands. The music is different, but supreme artists of the keyboard meet in their technique in this program. Rameau’s father was an organist; our composer, Rameau, was a music theorist and a professional organist until he was 49.

Mozart’s father was a violinist and “minor” composer. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began to compose at age 5, beginning with the harpsichord. He was acknowledged to be one of the best pianists in Europe. Mendelssohn was a child prodigy, similar to Mozart. He showed ability very early and took his first piano lessons from his mother, Lea Solomon Mendelssohn. His intellectual achievements in language and drawing led to the twelve year old Felix meeting Goethe; they became friends. In this program, Daniil Trifonov has had an intimate conversation with great pianists. The audience has heard and seen a very great artist of our time.

The performance could not end. The audience, amazed by all it had heard, would not stop applauding until Trifonov gave them more. There were two encores, each a splendidly original choice, and each one by a uniquely great pianist. The first was I Cover the Waterfront, written by Johnny Green & Edward Heyman, and as played by Art Tatum.

Art Tatum, pianist

Art Tatum was an astonishing pianist. His improvisations do everything; they will insert a new chord on each beat within one or two measures. Great pianists like Oscar Peterson and Bud Powell acknowledge Tatum’s influence. Few modern pianists would not adopt at least one of his “embellishments,” cascades of notes, rhythmic spurts, or weaving in and out of tempo. His “re-harmonization” of pop tunes became a regular practice among jazz musicians. This listener’s ears perked up when hearing the jazz sound of pop music from America’s ‘30s and 40s. Trifonov elegantly put on Art Tatum’s mantle. Fascination with the jazz chords and piling on of sounds took over.

Alexander Scriabin, composer (1872-1914)

More applause by the thrilled and greedy audience brought Trifonov back to play Scriabin’s Piano Sonata #3, the slow movement. Scriabin is known for his unique composition style now, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries he was equally known as a virtuoso pianist. He performed in every important hall through Europe. One of his innovations was novel pedal effects. Trifonov brought Scriabin back as one of the greatest virtuoso pianists. Cheers for Trifonov’s presentation of the works of the towering pianists who came before him. The encores were a fitting homage to Tatum and Scriabin. Trifonov’s playing honored them all.


Congratulations to Leslie Friedman, The Lively Foundation’s Artistic Director and the Founder of the International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley. The Fulbright Association selected her paper, Dance: The Universal Language (or is it?) to be featured at the Fulbright Association’s annual conference, October 21, 2023. This is the second time the Fulbright Association has selected her to speak to the whole conference about Dance. The first time was in 2000 when Leslie received the first Selma Jeanne Cohen Award for Excellence in International Dance Scholarship. The late Dr. Selma Jeanne Cohen was the founder of Dance History as a scholarly subject. Leslie’s winning paper was, Expression in Dance.

Leslie received two Fulbrights: the Lectureship to India, 1983-84, and the Senior Lectureship to Bulgaria, 2006. In India, ’83-’84, she traveled throughout the country performing concerts of her work and presenting lecture-demonstrations about American Modern Dance. In Sofia, Bulgaria, she was asked to create a new work for Bulgaria’s National Academy for Theater and Film. The American Institute of Indian Studies/Smithsonian awarded her a Fellowship for research in India; she interviewed gurus of several classical Indian dance styles. Her work in India in 1983-84 and the Fellowship from AIIS/Smithsonian gave her the information and understanding for her award winning presentation.

At the October conference, Leslie will present her talk, lead a discussion, and ask the audience to join her in a short, easy dance. The audience is open to non-members of the Fulbright Association. This year the conference takes place in Denver. The talk begins at 11:15 a.m., come by for an interesting, entertaining hour!

Lively Readers: How to Find Their Work

There have been many requests to find out how to purchase the works of the readers on the Lively Reading, July 25, 2023. Here are the details.

Lively Readers: How to find more of their work.

Randall Nicholas: Will send the poem he read (concerning Chaos) to anyone who contacts him. That work is part of an epic, 120 page poem which is not yet in book form. He will also send Plague Journal, his collection of poems written during the height of the pandemic. He will send these free of charge. Neither is in book form. Contact:

Judith Offer: Says “you can find several of the poems from each of my books on the web site. “ The poems she read are not available now in book form. She suggests you contact her directly.   web:

Joy Passanante: All of her books are available on Amazon. This includes a novel, short stories, and Through a Long Absence: Words from My Father’s Wars. She will offer the essay she read free of charge. Contact her at:

David Shepard: His two poetry books are available on Amazon. Contact:

Leslie Friedman: The poems she read are not in book form. The two books from which she read, The Dancer’s Garden (read at the beginning of her reading) and The Story of Our Butterflies (read at the end of the reading) are available from The Lively Foundation. Contact: or  find purchase information for The Story of Our Butterflies   and for The Dancer’s Garden



The San Francisco Symphony invited the fabulous pianist, Igor Levit, to visit San Francisco for a two week Residence. This is unusual. This writer and officers of the Press division of the SFS could not find similar events. Levit, relatively young at 36, is a sought after recording artist, performer with the world’s great orchestras, and recipient of prestigious awards. He is hot and, from hearing his remarkable performances, there is no indication that his place in the music world will cool off.  His recital on June 27 featured music by Johannes Brahms; jazz pianist and composer, Fred Hersch; Richard Wagner, arranged by the late and wonderful Hungarian pianist, Zoltan Kocsis; and Franz Liszt.

Levit’s Themes: The program was more than a collection of great works for the piano. The selections dovetailed with the previous programs played with the SFS. There are underlying themes connecting the music. Brahms’ Six Chorale Preludes were arranged by Ferruccio Busoni, the composer/inventor of the amazing Concerto in C major, performed by Levit and the SFS on June 22, 24, 25. Levit admires Busoni for his individuality, over the top piano technique, and his ability to arrange great music by Bach, Brahms, Bizet, Beethoven, and others. Levit has expressed his fellow feelings with Busoni who was also a searching intellect. Levit said Busoni is “basically saying the the job of the creator is to set the music free again. That means making your own choices, because how could you possibly believe that what you hold in your hands, the dots and the lines on paper, could ever be the last word?” This means that a sensitive, knowledgeable arranger – like Kocsis and Busoni both great pianists and intellects – are in a way recreating the music, like a fine conservator must not only fix an injured painting, but will be doing the painting again.

Levit also said that “the musical form, which is closest to me, is the variation.” Busoni’s Concerto in C major is gigantic and its third movement contains four variations. This is one of the aspects of the Concerto which excites Levit and his audience. As written in Part II of these articles, Levit finds the truth of the music in the variations. Busoni salutes great composers from the past in the Concerto, and Levit is able to recall/recreate their styles when he plays those references. In his performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, the Emperor, one could hear that two variations, one for the piano and one for the orchestra, are at the heart of the movement both in the sounds of the music and the structure Beethoven chose for these moments.

Johannes Brahms, composer (1833-1897)

Brahms’ Six Chorale Preludes was quiet and so beautiful that it nearly ached. These Preludes were part of his final, great work, Eleven Chorale Preludes for organ. These were composed in May and June, 1896. However, they were not performed until 1902. How sad that the great Brahms could not be present for the premiere. In 1902, Busoni selected six for which to create piano transcriptions. The chosen ones are Nos. 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11. While Busoni occasionally complained that Brahms did not progress out of his own style, Busoni respected him and his music. I remembered listening to a recording of the Six Chorale Preludes many years ago and feeling Brahms’ longing, resolution, and an acceptance that was not giving up. After hearing Levit play Busoni a few days before, it was very fine to hear Levit play this quiet, philosophical music in which dissonance entwines and moves the character of the preludes.

Fred Hersch, composer/Jazz pianist

Fred Hersch’s Songs Without Words, Book II, was a delightful addition to the program. Delightful does not mean simple. The music all has a “singing quality,” writes the composer, and it seems to this listener that some of them could be in the Variations folder. They are original and yet have references to sources such as Chopin’s Minute Waltz. In this collection, Hersch wrote The Two Minute Waltz that “is a humorous take,” he wrote, which could be “from a Rodgers and Hammerstein” musical. Among other references are the choro of Brazilian music which Hersch refers to as nearly a Brazilian “version of Ragtime.” Hersch’s Songs Without Words, Book II include Little Nocturne, Canzona, Soliloquy, The Old Country, The Two-Minute Waltz, and Choro de Carnaval. The Soliloquy is one voice which speaks from the left hand playing alone. In 2000, Hersch released the first set of six Songs Without Words, acknowledging and honoring the title given by Felix Mendelssohn for his classical beauties. It all ties together: on the Beethoven program, June 17, Consolation, from Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, Op.30 was the encore Levit performed.  Igor Levit planned a program that demonstrate his involvements to the audience. We noticed. My undergraduate college had a many decades old popular observation: Everything correlates. Levit saw to it that all three programs, despite having totally different music on each one, definitely correlate

.Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Variations or similarities: The second half of the concert presented mysteries, revelations, and thrills with two big pieces by big composers: Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. Having been alerted in the first half that this is not “only” music, one wondered what Igor Levit had up his sleeve. Wagner’s piece came first on the program but historically came second. Take a look at the dates. Liszt, born in 1811, in Raiding, Hungary. Wagner, born 1813, in Leipzig, Germany. The Wagner selection, Prelude from Tristan und Isolde, had its first performance, in Prague,1859. Liszt completed his Piano Sonata in B minor, 1852-53. There is a reason for Levit performing the Prelude from Tristan und isolde and continuing with barely a breath between it and the beginning of Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B Minor. For one thing, the Liszt Sonata begins with music that sounds so much like the end of the Wagner Prelude. Remember: Liszt’s piece was completed six years before Wagner’s. The opera Tristan und Isolde did not appear until six years after Wagner’s Prelude debuted, though the Prelude is named Prelude from Tristan und Isolde, even though there was no opera to be “from.”

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) composer, famous pianist

Tristan and isolde: Listening to the Prelude, one could imagine the tumultuous and sexy relationship of Tristan and Isolde. It is both a long and short story. It is long because it can be traced to origins in the 12thc. CE. Or, if one wants, there are suggestions of a similar story back in the 6thc. CE, and that’s not counting its many variations. Deep into the Romantic movements in the 19thc., the story continues; it is very long. The variations can count, adding alternative motivations and outcomes that have branches of their own. The Tristan/Isolde love situation could merge into the Arthur/Guenevere/Lancelot problem. Let’s not go there now. The short version is universal: Tristan travels to Ireland to bring Isolde (Yseult, Isseult, you choose) to Cornwall to marry King Mark, Tristan’s uncle. On the voyage, T and I take a love potion. Was it intentional or accidental? Did Isolde give the potion to Tristan rather than to the man who was supposed to receive it? The point is: T & I became lovers despite King Mark’s commitment and T’s loyalty. Was it a potion for eternal love or did it have a three year use-by date? Let’s go back: they loved each other but should not. There are, of course, variations across many centuries of how they die.

Both of these pieces have great drama. Liszt’s Sonata is noted among his repertory as one of the most unusual, maybe one of the most outstanding of his works. It is specifically a piece for the piano, composed and performed by Franz Liszt, recognized as the most famous pianist of the era and perhaps beyond. How do these two pieces end and begin? Very low chords with silence between. The listener anticipates but must wait before another low chord sounds. And the end – beginning is a quiet sound like “bump.”

In 1867, only two years after the premiere of the opera, Tristan und Isolde, Lizst transcribed for piano Islode’s final aria. The transcription became famous across Europe before the opera had been heard in most places. Putting forward another variation, Liszt, only two years older than Wagner, was Wagner’s father-in-law.

The Sonata in B minor could have four movements.  For the performance by Igor Levit, this program shows six: Lento assai- Allegro energico -Andante sostenuto -Allegro energico -Stretta quasi presto -Allegro moderato. It propels itself as one breath, thought, and energy. There were listeners who did not realize the Prelude and Sonata had been played together without a recognizable break for applause. The playing throughout was magnificent and revealing of what might be behind the powerful sounds. Mr. Levit Schubert’s Six Moments Musicaux, No. 3 in F minor (ending in F major), arranged by Leopold Godowsky as his encore. Franz Schubert belongs in this company of great composers who were also very great pianists. No one in the cheering, roaring audience wanted to leave.

*quotations from igor Levit from Corinna da Fornseca-Wolheim interview in SF Symphony program book, June, 2023. Quote from Fred Hersch provided by Mr Hersch in SF Symphony program book, June, 2023.




The virtuoso pianist and composer, Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), created the mysterious Piano Concerto in C major, Opus 39 (1904). It is an enormous work. It runs for 75 minutes. It is fabulously difficult for the piano soloist, but it is right up Igor Levit’s alley. Levit expressed his affinity for Busoni, pianist, composer, editor, writer, philosopher, analyst, transcriber of music: Busoni’s “idea of empowering individuality is something that strongly resonates with me.”*  The musician-composer was more than a performer. He was recognized in his lifetime as more than a virtuoso who toured Europe and the US. He was looking into music through the eyes of a free thinker approaching atonal, microtonal and the future of electronic music.

Ferruccio Busoni, composer, pianist, transcriber, theorist (1866-1924). This picture is from 1913.

There is no argument about the difficulty of this concerto. In a string of comments I found online I read this: “it is difficult even to play badly.” And this: Only a master pianist can handle it “in a convincing way.” Igor Levit was certainly convincing. He performed it as though he not only knew the Concerto in C major, but had listened to Busoni’s thoughts while the Concerto in C major was being discovered by its composer. Levit, however, does not try to imitate any composer. He knows that he is the one playing it which means, in the moment, he is recreating it.

The SFS was totally up to this challenge. Esa-Pekka Salonen showed no shyness in approaching the grand and strange music. He was at ease, in control, and the orchestra played as though empowered and revved up for the experience. The musicians were totally in place and correct while sky diving into the music.

There is no program, narrative, or message. It is difficult to describe what happens. I have now read a lot of writing about it, but no one has given me a statement of what this concerto does.

it is written in five movements. So much music happens in each one; the third movement alone has four movements. The sound is huge, the design is gigantic, and yet Busoni demonstrates his respect for traditions on which the world of music plays. The movements are:

Prologo e Introito, Allegro, dolce e solenne- / Pezzo giocoso. Vivacemente, ma senza fretta-/ Pezzo serioso- Introductio. Andante sostenuto/Prima pars. Andante, quasi dadagio/Altera pars. sommesamente/Ultima pars. a tempo/ All’Italiana,. Tarantella. Vivace, in un tempo-/ Cantico: Largamente

The fifth movement, Cantico: Largamente, is written for a male chorus, a “choir invisible.” The SFS Chorus members were in the loft but hidden by a curtain that looked like an off-white muslin drape hanging from the ceiling and reaching out like a concave sail. Their song comes from Adam Oehlenschlager (1779-1850), a Danish poet and playwright.  He wrote his “dramatic fairy tale,” Aladdin, in 1805 and translated it into German, in 1808. Busoni knew this work and for a while considered making it into an opera. In the end, he kept this song, although he also prepared a version of the Concerto in C major without it.  The concerto is seldom performed, but new productions keep the choir. It begins: “Raise up your hearts to the eternal force;/sense the closeness of Allah, behold his deeds!” The male chorus, directed by Guest Director, Jenny Wong,  performed beautifully. It was a great achievement.

Igor Levit, pianist

What was it like to hear the Concerto in C major? It was the musical equivalent of the Yosemite Falls at the height of the water’s power. It was strange, inclusive of many different styles and techniques of playing the piano as well as the other instruments. The concerto quotes or alludes to the styles of other classical composers: Brahms, Wagner, Berlioz, Liszt. In the third movement, Busoni offers an homage to Chopin, also a famed pianist who composed his jewels for the piano. The Concerto in C major was wacko and a Wonder. There was a moment when I saw Levit playing so fast that both hands playing at the same time created a blur. His technical prowess allowed him to create and communicate what was going on in this uplifting, crushing, celebratory dynamo of a concerto. When can I see and hear it again?

*Levit quotes appear in “Limitless Perspectives: Pianist Igor Levit,” by Corinna Da Fonseca-Wollheim, in the SF Symphony program book.



The Lively Reading: A HUGE Success

Sunday afternoon, June 25, 68 people gathered over Zoom to hear five writers read from their works. The audience represented every US time zone and many different states. The event also attracted one friend vacationing on an island in the Baltic Sea. Jimmy Kolker, a distinguished US foreign service office called in over Zoom to let everyone know that he was watching, too. This writer will not take a bet on what time zone that was.

The authors were Randall Nicholas, poet, Ogden Dunes, Indiana; Judith Offer, playwright and poet, Oakland, California; Joy Passanante, Univ. of Idaho professor emerita, Creative Writing, author of creative non-fiction, poetry, fiction, Moscow, Idaho; David Shepard, poet, musician, and psychiatrist, Denver, Colorado; Leslie Friedman, dancer-choreographer, historian, author, Mountain View, California.

Dr. Leslie Friedman, Artistic Director of The Lively Foundation, observed that bookstores and venues that supported live readings had gone out of business during the height of the pandemic. “I realized that there could be a reading over Zoom which would reach those interested in poetry and literature in many areas. It took a little while to line up the writers and get a date set. Then, we were ready to take off. I knew the writers were terrific. Turns out they were TERRIFIC.”

The program offered a wide variety of styles and subjects. The audience was truly appreciative. Emails with words like “stunning,” “brilliant,” “gorgeous,” “touching,” came from everywhere.

Lively has sent a recording of the readings to 17 more individuals who were not able to attend due to prior commitments. The recording will remain available to those who did not know about the event or who attended and want to hear it again. Interested in the recording? Email   and let us know you would like to receive it.

“As The Lively Foundation’s activities had to be slowed or disappeared in the past 3 years, we are delighted by the great response to the Lively Reading,” says Dr. Friedman, “There have been requests for more such programs. ‘Watch this space’ to find out about exciting new events.”



Igor Levit, the astonishing, internationally celebrated pianist, came to San Francisco for a two week residency with the San Francisco Symphony. He performed four different programs plus an open rehearsal. The last of the four was a recital with surprises throughout. It added up to eight performances. Each one was remarkable for Levit’s brilliance as a pianist, his deep knowledge of the repertoire, and his musical choices. The Hedgehogs attended three of the four: all Beethoven, June 17; Busoni’s immense piano concerto, June 22; a recital with works by Brahms, Fred Hersch, Wagner, and Liszt, June 27. We were unable to hear the chamber music concert with members of the SFS. It must have been very fine, but our three musical banquets were quite filling for hearing, seeing, and thinking. In fact, they were also entertaining. This is the first of three articles about Igor Levit’s performances.

Igor Levit describes himself as “Citizen. European. Pianist.”

The first concert series offered two of the most well known Beethoven masterpieces: the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Opus 73, called Emperor (1809), and the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 55, Eroica (1803). It was good to start our experience with Levit with music that is grand, complex, inventive and which we have heard before. I am not suggesting one could hum along, only that a listener’s memory might be able to imagine what Levit was doing with these landmarks of Western civilization.

He climbed inside the music. His partnership with the SF Symphony was a great match. The SFS, conducted by Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, played with strength and truth. It was not backing up the Visiting Artist; they were partners in creating their understanding of Beethoven’s music. As Levit stated in an interview with Corinna da Fonseca-Wolfheim in the SFS program book, “my goal is not to sound like Beethoven. What I do all day long is try to understand, why did Beethoven decide to write a piece this way and not the other way? But at the end of the day, I’m the one who plays it, not him. So, the goal is kind of to have it both ways.”

The “Emperor” concerto premiered, in 1809. Musicologists have considered it the apex or fulfillment of Beethoven’s “heroic era,” though this concerto came a year after the 1802-1808 noted as an era of prodigious creativity. Beethoven found a totally original way to open the concerto. The stunning beginning would awaken the audience to the realization that they were experiencing music presented in a new way, and they would need to listen in a new way, too.

Ludwig Van Beethoven, Composer (1770-1827)

The first movement is the longest Beethoven wrote. It is inventive in every facet. Curiously, it is the increasing presence of dissonance that serves as an audio seasoning and builds excitement. Beethoven then brings in quiet moments which stand out even more in contrast with the vigorous new movement. Levit let the Adagio un poco mosso run right into the final movement, Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo which became a frequent way to perform this concerto. The first movement is very long; this combination balances the music in real time. It spurs the music audibly onward and upward. The slower movement presents two chorales; first one for the piano, and then one in the orchestra. There is just a slight change of rhythm in the piano’s accompaniment. Being slightly off of the orchestra’s rhythm focuses the piano carrying the melody.

As Beethoven rounds the course he created for himself and the “Emperor,” he allows a breath of silence and lowers the pitch of the music. The finale allows a new theme to take a powerful bow in the appropriate tempo. Now, a Beethoven special: a romping German folk dance. The timpani takes over in another quiet moment, and there is an enormous burst of bright stars at the end.

Watching Levit perform is nearly so interesting as hearing him play. Fortunately, his quirks do not go on long enough to take attention away from the glorious music he makes. His first gesture was to hold up his left arm high and a little to the left with palm up but not flatly up. It seemed to express “there we are,” or maybe “this is the music right here.” His gestures and looks were often related to the music and his partners, Conductor Salonen and the SFS. He looked at the orchestra players either to acknowledge their playing or perhaps to send a mental message. He turned his head to see Salonen. Occasionally, he looked out to the audience and up to the audience in the choir loft as well. He leaned back to stretch his legs under the piano. Although one Bay Area writer observed that Levit was doing these motions because he felt so good about being in San Francisco, I saw him do the same exercises/expressions/quirks in a video of him performing the “Emperor” at the 2020 Nobel prize concert. It is him. Why would he pretend?

After many, many curtain calls, Igor Levit played one of Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, Opus 30, “Consolation.” It was calming, quiet, heartfelt, beautiful. The audience, gasping, cheering, and applauding kept clapping, but he was gone for now. Mr. Levit’s residency was off to a tremendous start

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Music Director, San Francisco Symphony.

The San Francisco Symphony was stellar and brilliant performing the “Eroica.” Music Director/Conductor Salonen kept the orchestra in carefully ordered form. This symphony is written so that the audience cannot anticipate what will happen next in the music. Even though the “Eroica” keeps the classical form of four movements, what Beethoven does within the form is new. The second movement, “Marcia funebre: Adagio assai,” has the funereal feeling and pace. While this Symphony No. 3 was composed, Europe was on fire with revolutions and imperial wars. There would be many military burials and also soldiers with dire injuries visible in all towns. Conductor Salonen did not let the music sit in sadness. He kept it active and alive, as much the march, not only  a funeral. That approach meant that it was not a huge departure when the third movement, Scherzo: Allegro vivace, rushes on the scene. The music propels itself as though on quickly moving feet. At the final movement, the theme splits itself in two directions which grow into twelve variations. Multiple layers of music and multiple actions make an amazingly full, lively world. This is where Beethoven meant to go. The audience was treated to a fresh, exciting, Symphony No. 3. Salonen and the SFS made it new.