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:  livelyfoundation@sbcglobal.net

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 livelyfoundation.org/wordpress/?p=3890

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!


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.



SF Symphony: War Requiem by Benjamin Britten

May 18, 2023, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco – The San Francisco Symphony performed the enormous and heartbreaking War Requiem, Opus 66 (1961) with soloists Jennifer Holloway, soprano; Ian Bostridge, tenor; Brian Mulligan, baritone; the San Francisco Symphony Chorus with Joshua Habermann, guest conductor; and the Ragazzi Boys Chorus with Kent Jue artistic and executive director conducting. The soloists, soprano, bass, and tenor performed with deep understanding of the texts and, in addition to the power of their voices, communicated the painful emotions of this work.

Britten assembled a multitude of artists in groups and individuals, not as one voice and not with one anthem. There were two different and sometimes opposing texts: the Catholic mass for the dead, Missa pro defunctis, and poetry by Wilfred Owen, one of England’s World War I poets. There are nine of Owen’s poems. In case you are not familiar with Wilfred Owen’s work, it is worthwhile to know that he fought in the war but was not enthusiastic for it. Before the war, Owen had considered entering the ministry. Beginning December, 1916, he was on active duty in France, then spent 5 months in a hospital, then was sent back to France. He received the Military Cross award. He fought in the trenches, saw hideous wounds and deaths among his comrades, and, while leading his company across the Sambre Canal, was killed by machine gun fire. His death was on November 4, one week before the Armistice.

Benjamin Britten, composer (1913-1976)

In Britten’s Requiem, the mixed chorus and the full orchestra perform texts from the Missa pro defunctis in Latin. The male soloists with a chamber sized group of the orchestra sing the Owen texts in English. The Ragazzi Chorus is not seen. It sings its parts of the Missa from behind the wall enclosing the chorus loft. Their sound is quiet and sounds as though coming from a great distance.

Britten uses all traditional parts of the Missa: Requiem aeternam, Dies irae, Offertorium, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, then closing with Libera me. In this music, these sections become an opera of belief and also condemnation. The solo soprano is in the chorus loft with the Symphony Chorus, but they are behind her on their higher rows. She sits alone in the front and lowest row. She appears like a figurehead on a ship or the ancient Oracle, even though she declaims Christian faith and imperatives. Her first majestic singing is in the Dies irae. The chorus does not adopt her outlook. Instead, they sound weak and doubtful. Then, in an example of the opposition of the Latin text and Owen’s poems, the tenor and baritone sing from the deeply ironic poem, “The Next War.”

Wilfred Owen, soldier, poet (1893-1918)

If one had merely listened to the unique orchestration and the use of bells and many versions of percussion including tambourine, triangle, castanets, Chinese blocks, snare drums, bass and tenor drum, that listener may have awakened to Owen’s poem, The Parable of the Old Man and the Young. It is sung by the tenor and bass with the chamber orchestra. It is Wilfred Owen’s answer to the story of Abraham taking Isaac to a place of sacrifice. Abraham begins to follow G-d’s request to sacrifice Isaac, but then an angel, sent by G-d, stops him, saving Abraham from the murder of his son and saving Isaac’s life.

In the Owen poem, Abraham kills his son. The music is harsh, discordant, and, despite the horror of the death, it is worse because it is roughly torn from the story most listeners will know. As that breath taking, wrenching event is told, the boys of the Ragazzi can be heard singing softly, far away.

“When lo! An angel called him out of heaven,/Saying, lay not thy hand upon the lad,/Neither do anything to him. Behold,/A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;/Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him./But the old man would not so, but slew his son, -And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”

Rather than the war to end all wars, this was a war that killed a generation of men.

The Sanctus opens with the soprano magnificently singing while the chorus chants. It has become a song of praise. The last movement, Libera me (Deliver me) the Baritone sings“I am the enemy you killed, my friend/I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned/Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed./ I parried, but my hands were loath and cold.”

 Together the tenor and baritone sing: “Let us sleep now…” as though they have learned from engaging in the battle with each other, as though they could go forward peacefully. They cannot do it; they are dead.

(L to R) Jennifer Holloway, soprano; Ian Bostridge, tenor; Brian Mulligan, baritone

The War Requiem ends with the boys’ chorus, mixed chorus, and soprano singing “May angels lead you into Paradise,/may the martyrs receive you” and “Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,/and let everlasting light shine upon them./May they rest in peace. Amen.”

The prayer sounds peaceful. Their rest could be tranquil. I do not think we have traveled through the War Requiem in order to believe the dead, piled up like giant haystacks, are all better now.

Benjamin Britten was a pacifist. Wilfred Owen, after having considered a life devoted to a church, found that he could not trust the institution of churches. He could find no Christ in the churches because killing was not only allowed, but supported. The Agnus Dei/Lamb of G-d section of the Missa, repeats “Lamb of G-d, who takes away the sins of the world,/grant us peace. “ But they sing “Grant us peace.” only once.

A portrait of the composer Benjamin Britten from 1948.
































































































































































































































HERBERT BLOMSTEDT with the San Francisco Symphony

There is no point to searching for the best adjective. “Herbert Blomstedt” says it all. The extraordinary conductor brought us a program of two Czech composers. One is well known and loved, Antonin Dvorak, the other,  Jan Vaclav Vorisek, barely known but deserving love. The matinee performance, February 12, 2023, indeed was a love fest. The audience felt profound admiration and affection for Maestro Blomstedt, but that was not all. The SFS matched their Conductor Laureate’s direction as though they were made of one essence. Herbert Blomstedt conducted what must be the internal truth of the music. The music was played perfectly, according to the brilliant conductor’s insights and precise, forceful leadership. This was perfection in sound so it was never rigid. Every moment was full of life.

Herbert Blomstedt conducting at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, 2015

Maestro Blomstedt selected Jan Vaclav Vorisek’s Symphony in D major, Opus 23 (1823). This year is that symphony’s 200th birthday. While the fine program comments noted the influence of Mozart in the Andante which could be a funeral march, and Beethoven and Schubert’s influence in the Finale, for this listener, it was all new. Vorisek’s opening is an Allegro con Brio, delightfully brisk. The Andante features graceful, tranquil woodwind performances, and the Scherzo offers the unusual 9/8 rhythm. The Finale energetically returns to Allegro con Brio with one brief salute to Beethoven’s 5th symphony. It was a wonderful introduction to an individualistic creation of fine and truly original music. Sadly, Jan Vaclav Vorisek, born in Bohemia, 1791, died in Vienna, 1825, age 34. This symphony was  not published in his life; it did not appear until 1957. We are fortunate that Herbert Blomstedt’s vast musical knowledge has led him to champion this mostly unknown treasure.

Herbert Blomstedt, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, 1985-1995, now Conductor Laureate of SFS and other world leading orchestras – see below for details

Although a Dvorak devotee, I think I somehow missed hearing his Symphony No.8 in G Major, Opus 88 in person. Lucky me to hear it first as conducted by Herbert Blomstedt. He will perform it with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, March 9, 11, 12. If you missed it in San Francisco. There really is not anything better for you to do than hear it live with Blomstedt conducting.

Antonin Dvorak (born in Bohemia, 1841; died in Prague, 1904)

Descriptions of this Symphony often mention the mood changes. It is beautifully sunny and feeling optimistic and then a minor key gradually takes the happiness down a peg or two. A bird like flute passage appears and dismisses any sad notes or memories. Dvorak loved nature and loved life. One cannot get away from that. Loving life means one has met the dark shadows of illness, betrayal, and death, yet one still goes on for the next bird song, the next absolute beauty. Dvorak would not compose a symphony so limited that the cruel truth is totally eliminated. Our life is  more than one aspect. This shining Symphony No. 8 encompasses our life in the round. His Adagio, the second movement, includes the ambivalent moods: will I be sad or happy about this world? It is strange and unfair, but it is my world. The movement finds its equilibrium; we balance. Balance can be peaceful and peace need not be boring. The third movement, Scherzo, combines the elegance of a waltz with the sense of the country which is lovely but sometimes raw. And then, we are rewarded. Dvorak plays for us and dances with us. It is something completely different which also, as we dance with him, seems to have been written specifically for me and you may think specifically for you and every individual in Davies Symphony Hall will know it is specifically for Antonin to be able to dance with us in person, in his country town. Dvorak gives us Nature’s own music as surrounding us, racing through us, as presented to us by the Conductor for all time signatures, Herbert Blomstedt.

ABOUT HERBERT BLOMSTEDT: He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, July 11, 1927. He is now 95 years old. His parents, originally from Sweden, moved back there when Herbert was 2 years old. He began to study music in Sweden and later at the Juiliard School, New York. He led important orchestras from a young age. Music Director/or Principal Conductor of the Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra, 1954-1962; Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, 1962-1977; Swedish Radio Symphony, 1977-1982; Chief Conductor of the Dresdner Staatskapelle, 1975-1985. Throughout these years he made many recordings including the works of Richard Strauss, and the complete Symphonies of Beethoven and Schubert. In addition, he led his orchestras on international tours. He does not waste time in histrionic gestures. His conducting is an example of “anything more than the truth would be too much,” as stated by Robert Frost.

He became Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, 1985-1995. He led the SFS on regular tours of Europe and Asia and won numerous award winning recordings for London/Decca. These included 2 Grammy awards, a Gramaphon award, and the Grand Prix du Disque plus awards from Belgium, Germany, and Japan.  When he ceased being the San Francisco Symphony’s full time leader, he became Principal Conductor with North German Radio Symphony, 1996-1998, and Principal Conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, 1996-2005. He is currently conductor Laureate of SFS, Honorary Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, NHK Symphony, Swedish Radio Symphony, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden.  HERBERT BLOMSTEDT will perform a program of Mozart with Emanuel Ax, in Philadelphia, PA, March 3-5. There are limited tickets for each concert. The availability ranges fro 26-30 tickets. Hop on a plane. You will be so happy to be there.

Making History: Leslie’s Dances in Russia, 1985


The phone rang at 5 a.m. It was 1985; spam calls had not been invented. I picked up the receiver. The caller said he was at the American Embassy in London, is this Leslie Friedman? Yes. He called to find out if I would be willing to travel to Russia to perform. I sat up. Yes. Are you sure you could do this? YES. He asked a few more questions which I do not remember. I interrupted him and said, “Russia is the Mecca of ballet. Of course I want to do it. When do I go?” The caller told me there were other posts that would like to have me come to perform and perhaps to teach. The caller was in charge of planning the presentation of American specialists like engineers and artists. He knew about my 1983-1984 work in India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, and Tunisia from reports sent to him by US diplomats in those places. The caller, Cal,* said that he would get back to me with the details of other posts and travel dates.

Cal called again. Hungary, Romania, and Spain invited me. None” of them had co-sponsored an American artist before this. There had been no cultural exchange with the USSR for 14 years. I would perform for an all-Russian audience of officials and artists. This was completely new. He did not have to tell me, but he did, that Russia, with its great ballet tradition might not know what to make of me, if they came at all.

Long lines of travelers were waiting to show their passports at the Moscow airport when I arrived, March 13. My papers accepted, I heard someone nearby ask if I were Leslie. It was the Cultural Attaché from the Embassy. I was ready to leave the airport, but first my suitcases needed to be searched and then kept for further inspection. My companion asked if I needed anything in the suitcases. Definitely: fluids and a case for contact lenses. Ted* said the Embassy kept supplies on hand; we could go there.

We got the needed items and looked into a ballroom. It was full of people sitting on folding chairs. I remember only men sitting there, looking half or entirely asleep. Their jackets hung over the backs of chairs; their heads rested on their hands draped over the chair in front of them. I asked Ted who they were. He said they were journalists awaiting news of who would be the new leader of the USSR. Chernenko had died a day and a half before. His death and funeral could have called off my program.

Ted said the sleepy writers knew that eventually Secretary of State George Schultz would appear and make the announcement. He asked me if I was ready to go. I asked him if we could stay. “How long do you want to wait?” he asked. “I would like to hear the announcement.” “You mean you’re interested?” “Yes, this is history, and I am here. If we can stay, let’s stay.” We waited. Nothing happened. Then, George Schultz appeared. The room was suddenly alert, chairs filled, jackets back on, all eyes turned toward Secretary Schultz. He said that he had “had a good meeting with Russian leaders. The new person heading their government will be Mikhail Gorbachev. I have met him. He is someone we can work with.” Secretary Schultz smiled. He beamed positive vibes.

Ted said, “Now I can take you to your hotel.” It was very cold outside. Ice and snow were on the sidewalks. Ted escorted me to my room. It was very small. Bunk beds. The window would not close. The shower had only cold water. Ted had said that Paul Newman had stayed in this hotel. I thought, definitely not in this room. I worried about icy muscles before dancing. The next morning, Ted arrived to drive me to the ambassador’s residence, Spaso House. He told me that visiting artists would normally perform at the residence for an American audience. I met the ambassador’s wife. Donna Hartman, a tall, beautiful, blonde lady, told me that I could do my stretches on the floor of their dining room. Mostly, I remember how good the carpet felt. She got down on the floor and did stretches with me. She asked about my hotel room. I told the truth. I said maybe I could move to another room. She invited me to stay there in their home with Ambassador Hartman and herself. I feel my eyes pop as I remember that moment. I slept in the Vice-President’s room in a wonderful, warm bed.

Before the program, I was introduced to Valukin, the artistic director of GITIS. I was scheduled to do a performance and lecture there the next day. GITIS is Russia’s crown jewel of the theater arts, revered for training choreographers, ballet dancers and folk ensembles. Valukin himself had trained there and became a star of the Bolshoi. After my presentation at GITIS, Valukin asked me to return to teach. A First for an American dancer.

Friendship House, a grand, pre-1917 relic, was to be my performance venue. It is the stage for foreign artists. I changed in a small room with a drapery for a door. Ted surprised me by walking in. There was barely room for one person, me, and one person’s stuff, my costumes and notes. Ted had decided there were things I needed to know and a few minutes before my performance was the best time to inform me. He said that one of their great ballerinas, Olga Lepeshinskaya, a Bolshoi star in the 1930s and ’40s, would introduce me, but there was no guarantee that she would show up. The invitees included artists, art administrators, the symphony orchestra, dancers from the Ballet, ballet students, Russian officials. He added that it would be an all-Russian audience; no Americans except the ambassador and Mrs. Hartman. The Russians might not want to come, and they might be told not to come. I told him that this is not what I need to hear at this time. He emphasized that it was important. I told him, “Please leave. Get out of my dressing room.” As I remember this, I feel nervous; his messages were so distracting. At the time, however, I was calm. Especially once he left.

Mme. Lepeshinskaya was onstage introducing me in Russian. It was a moment when everything was in harmony. The dancing went well. When I ended, the audience stood, applauded, even cheered. Mme. Lepeshinskaya praised me in loving comments. She looked into my eyes, held my hand, and told the audience they should follow my example, expanding ballet and expression to bring Russian Ballet into the present. That’s what the translator told me. Praise from a Prima; what a gift.

When I went backstage to the reception room, Valukin picked me up and swirled me around in the air. He was elated. He said I had “done what he had hoped for: showing that a dancer–an American!–could dance beautifully in this new dance.”

Ted accompanied me that night to the Embassy doctor. The unfinished wood floor had left an impression on me. I had many splinters in legs, feet, body. They hurt, but I was too happy to notice the doctor’s needles.

Then, I took the train to Leningrad for performances and meetings with Kirov ballerinas. I stayed in Consul General Charles Magee’s residence. After my Russian program was over, the Consul General told me that my program was so successful it was a significant element in getting a new cultural exchange agreement.

–Leslie Friedman

This article appeared in the Institute for Historical Studies publication, Vol.42, No. 3, Winter 2023. It appears here with permission of the Editor, Maria Sakovich.

*Name changed for publication. ^As Leslie has noted, GITIS, State Institute for Theatre Arts, is Russia’s preeminent training for theatrical arts. Since its founding in 1878 the school has expanded greatly and lived through various changes in name. GITIS is the longest-lived appellation and was incorporated into the 1991 change in status: “Russian Academy of Theater Arts-GITIS.”

Leslie is a modern dancer. “My early training was ballet with Mme. Victoria Cassan, an Englishwoman who was a soloist in Anna Pavlova’s company. Much later, I was offered a scholarship at the Alvin Ailey school and a place in the Martha Graham school’s professional training program. My choreography is musical and expressive. That means that some ballet people think it is modern dance and modern/ contemporary people think it is too balletic.” Editor’s Notes



Leif Ove Andsnes: Astonishing Piano Recital

The program for this recital on Sunday evening, January 22, began with unfamiliar works by Alexander Vustin, Lamento (1974); Leos janacek, Piano Sonata, 1.X.1905 (1905); Valentyn Silvestrov, Bagatelle, Opus 1, no.3 (2005).  After the first three came Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major, Opus 110 (1821). Was this a reward for the audience which had to pay attention to three new-to-most solo piano works? Not exactly, though one could tell it was Beethoven coming into Davies Symphony Hall as soon as this extraordinary, great artist touched the first keys. Andsnes had looked deeply into Beethoven’s dual vision of happy and something different than happy that propels our lives.

Leif Ove Andsnes

While the first pieces were completely different musically, they shared a background and emotion: each one had been inspired by an act of resistance to a realm of political oppression. Andsnes quotes Vustin writing “aspects, such as style, material, dynamics, tone color and “emotional” character, are of secondary importance. The law which governs musical time may be expressed in numerical terms.” And, yet Lamento is a delicate, deeply felt and purely heard emotion in music. The composer attended a friend’s funeral; a bird sang throughout the event. The bird song plays simultaneously in opposition to the sadness. Though very brief, this music is a heart’s response to the tyranny of death and the tyranny of the Russian control of life. Andsnes comments in his program notes that seeing Vustin at the Rosendal Chamber Music Festival, founded by Andsnes, was a moving experience. He could see Vustin’s reactions to freedom of art in Norway, especially when listening to the music of Shostakovich.

Alexander Vustin, Composer (1943-2020)

Leos Janacek created his Piano Sonata, 1.X.1905 in reaction to the death of 20 year old Frantisek Pavlik, a Moravian who was participating in a protest. He was stabbed by a bayonet. Janacek was a Moravian. Where is or was Moravia? It has an ancient history as a major, medieval kingdom, Great Moravia. Going back into the 4th century, it was populated by Celtic and Germanic tribes. Poland, Hungary, and Bohemia all wanted its land; it was independent until became incorporated into the Kingdom of Bohemia. In 1526, the Austrian King, Ferdinand–he became Ferdinand I of the Holy Roman Empire–claimed it. Moravia became part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. After World War I, the map changed. Moravia and Bohemia became parts of Czechoslovakia. The region’s communities included Czechs speaking Czech language and Germans speaking German. Moravians within the Czech community were a minority. The troubles that led to Frantisek Pavlik’s death were over the Czech speaking population’s desire to have a university using their language. German speaking Moravians opposed it. Differences were settled, but not before Pavlik’s death.

Leos Janacek (1854-1928) with his wife, Zdenka, 1881.
Janacek had many career pursuits. One was collecting and publishing Moravian folk music. His first big success as a composer was the premiere of his opera, Jenufa, in Brno. The opera was set in Moravia, and the home town music lovers gave it great support. This Sonata brought attention to Pavlik, a carpenter’s apprentice. By writing music in his memory, Janacek embraced him as a folk hero to be added to the Moravian consciousness of their identity and long history. Leif Ove Andsnes did not stand up between the first pieces on his concert. Instead, he waited in silence before beginning the next music. One could sense the intensity of Andsnes’ feeling for the oppressed and those who resist.

Valentyn Silvestrov, born 1937, Kyiv, Ukraine,

Before 2022, many Americans may have known as little about Ukraine as they might have known about Moravia. Russia’s invasion in February, 2022, changed that. The war is in headlines daily; many, many thousands have died; millions have become refugees. Valentyn Silvestrov, born 1937, in Kyiv (previously known as Kiev) escaped the war at age 85. He now lives in Berlin. Andsnes gave Silvestrov’s Bagatelle, Opus 1, no. 3 the expert treatment it deserves. The Russian establishment did not approve of Silvestrov’s style when he was a conservatory student. Instead of capitulating to fit in, he retreated into his private life and began writing music that pleased him. It was a nearly Romantic style. Judging from this composition, his music is sensitive and expressive. He wrote, “I do not write new music. My music is a response to send an echo of what already exists.” This does not mean it is not original. It means he writes music. It has been called post-modern and neo-classical. It is music and really does not need a pigeon hole. Silvestrov’s music has emotion, drama, and delicacy. I was surprised and delighted to hear the Bagatelle take us to a brief moment of the blues. The melody picked up the audience like the breeze lifts a boat gliding along a lake. Silvestrov stated that his music is “Not a philosophy, not a system of beliefs, but the song of the world about itself, and at the same time a musical testament to existence.” Silvestrov’s opposition to the invaders of his country can be found in his music. His choral work, Diptych, 2014, expresses patriotism and is dedicated to Serhly Nigoyan, an Armenian-Ukrainian killed in 2014, the beginning of the current catastrophe. The music is for the 1845 poem, Testament, written by Taras Shevchenko.

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Leif Ove Andsnes paused after playing Silvestrov’s Bagatelle and then changed the world of sound with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major, Opus 110. It is shorter than other sonatas and on first impression, it seems to be so pleasant. It is pleasant, but there is more. The first movement is Moderato cantabile molto expressivo; it sings. We have lyrical charm. Beethoven was a nature lover; in this movement one might almost see a green hillside and daffodils. I wanted to write we might see him skipping in the park, but that is not moderato. It is a delight. Where is it going? The second movement is a scherzo Allegro molto. Now we have still more movement and more bright, happy harmonies. There are playful folk songs. This music takes us away from Beethoven’s real world: Napoleonic Wars, blindness, chronic illness. He and we are taking time to breathe, to relish being alive. The last two movements are played without a break. Now Beethoven gives us life in the round. Sadness flows over us. Our thoughts are serious but cannot find the remedy for sorrows. The third movement is Adagio ma non troppo; we go slowly into the experiences and feelings which stretch us and can dominate us with regret and even pain. The last movement, Fuga: Allegro ma non troppo, lets us rise up but not too much. We will see beyond today’s pain. The music, so beautiful, ascends gently. Somehow, we are alive and grateful to be so.

Antonin Dvorak (18411904)

Poetic Tone Pictures, Opus 85, by Dvorak, is a surprise. It is Dvorak music for solo piano, a rare phenomenon. Leif Ove Andsnes has made it a mission to perform this wonderful series of brief, expressive pieces. Andsnes says it is “the great forgotten cycle of 19th century piano music.” It is definitely a great experience to be able to hear 13 Dvorak pieces. Each one is about 5 minutes, has a title, as Dvorak described them in a letter, and each one is a Tone Picture of places, seasons, emotions. There is Twilight Way, In the Old Castle, Reverie, Goblins’ Dance, Bacchanalia, On the Holy Mountain. And, that’s only six. It was fascinating, touching, and even entertaining. The variety of musical structures combined with expressive emotion and evocative style was a rich musical experience. The audience fully appreciated the Poetic Tone Pictures; they jumped from their seats and gave Leif Ove Andsnes at least 5 curtain calls.

Andsnes acknowledged the thrilling response from the audience with two encores. The second one happened because after the first the non-stop applause continued without a pause. His first selection was Ballade of Revolt, by Norwegian composer Harald Saeverud. This music of struggle begins quietly and ends in an avalanche of refusal to bend to oppression. It had an enormous impact. Andsnes closed with Chopin’s Mazurka, Opus 30, No. 4. Chopin’s mazurkas are at the heart of Polish culture. The Poles, dominated by Nazi Germany and then by Soviet Russia, struggled to stay anchored in their culture. Leif Ove Andsnes kept true to the theme he projected through the first pieces on his program. He is a brilliant, extraordinary artist.





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

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

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.

Ying Fang, Soprano

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.





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 %25 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


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 $26


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

TO USE A CREDIT CARD: Go to the landing page of the livelyblog   http://www.livelyfoundation.org/wordpress

Scroll down the page to see the PayPal logo; click on it and follow their directions

IF YOU USE PAYPAL:  Please include $1.50 to cover the PayPal fees. Yes, they do charge non-profits!



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



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.




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.