Weekly Magazine

Ladysmith

THIS WEEK

LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO (above) returns to Santa Cruz’ Rio Theatre. TWO ONE NIGHT STANDS in Santa Cruz: Ostinato for Elly, an octet by BARRY PHILLIPS will open Night of Living Composers at Cabrillo College, and “ONE NIGHT ONLY” is the title of a UC Santa Cruz faculty recital by six performers. Eric Johnson’s signal album “AH VIA MUSICOM” is celebrated afresh by the band, and guitarist LEO KOTTKE returns, both at Rio Theatre. For more info and links, click our CALENDAR and/or the ads, left.

CHAMPIONS OF THE ARTS

Arts CouncilANNUAL MONTEREY COUNTY ARTS COUNCIL GALA celebrates seven worthy and deserving honorees at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 1 Old Golf Course Road, Monterey, this Saturday starting at 5pm. They are individually categorized: WALT deFARIA (Lifetime Achievement), ELLEN MARTIN (Luminary), RAMÓN SILVA RUELAS (Volunteer Leader), ANDREW JACKSON (Professional), SOL TREASURES (Nonprofit), ANGELICA MURO (Educator) and REG HUSTON (Philanthropist). Each of them explains their own point of view in videos accessible on the Arts Council’s website. Click HERE

AMONG THEM, Huston’s S.T.A.R. Foundation is unique in several ways. S.T.A.R.’s principal funding source for the last 25 years has been a bingo game in Salinas that operates under strict legal statutes and guidelines. S.T.A.R.’s beneficiaries are non-profits that collectively have received grants over the years that exceed $1million given to benefit youth and educational arts program throughout Monterey County. Most recently, some $46K in grants to 13 beneficiaries were announced this month. (The acronym stands for Support The Arts Regionally.) Two years ago, S.T.A.R. lost its bingo source funding and has had to develop replacement strategies since.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEANWHILE, one of S.T.A.R.’s most urgent projects, in collaboration with area theater companies and other funders, is to find a space in Monterey County where the crucial inventory of theatrical costumes can be stored and inventoried that is safe from the elements, secure and climate controlled. S.T.A.R.’s next grant application deadline is April 30, 2018. Click HERE 

HIDDEN VALLEY DEDICATES JOHN WADDELL CENTER

YramateguiHOSTED BY PETER MECKEL, Saturday’s event on the Hidden Valley campus feted the HV “family,” numbering here a little over 100, with dinner in the new dining hall, named in honor of HV’s late founding choral conductor. The Friction Quartet and mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer performed the world premiere of Rick Yramategui’s new You too will find your strength, set to a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. (Yramategui’s writing for string quartet dazzled me more than how it fit with the vocal line.) As a benediction, Laura Anderson sang Agee/Barber’s Sure on this shining night with Yramategui at the piano. Photo: composer Yramategui, vocalist Mentzer and the Friction Quartet (violist Taija Warbelow is obscured.)

Here: the Friction Quartet plays Yramategui’s Cutting Quartals, at Hidden Valley in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FARKHAD KHUDYEV TO CONDUCT IN COPENHAGEN

FarKHUDYEV, music director of Youth Music Monterey’s orchestras and a guest conductor of the Monterey Symphony, is one of only 24 conductors selected from more than 500 applicants worldwide to participate in the 2018 Nikolai Malko International Conducting Competition, in April. The Malko is considered among the most prestigious of conducting competitions. Eleven months ago Khudyev took third prize at the Georg Solti International Conductors’ Competition in Frankfurt. “The competition will be live-streamed from Copenhagen,” says Khudyev. “It will be a great honor to represent our wonderful Monterey Peninsula on the world stage again.”

BACH TAKES MORE LUMPS

CLASSICAL GADFLY Norman Lebrecht can’t quite get his head around it. “Once upon a time, there was a Bach Festival of international renown at the University of Oregon, in Eugene. Its founder Helmut Rilling retired in 2011. His successor, the British conductor Matthew Halls, was fired last year after allegedly making a racial joke to his good friend Reggie Mobley, who said he took no offence. Since then, the university has behaved like a bunch of clowns. The latest mishap was to announce the engagement as a guest conductor of Jaap ter Linden, ‘a pioneer in the emergence of the historical performance movement,’ according to the website. Then someone realized that Jaap ter Linden was fired three years ago by the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio after three students complained of a racial slur they said he used in rehearsal. So Jaap ter Linden’s concert has now been dropped from the Bach Festival website.” Full story HERE

HEARING PLANTS PLAY MUSIC

WHAT WE CAN LEARN from them about consciousness, apparently sorely needed. Click HERE

LEONARD BERNSTEIN CENTENNIAL

leonard-bernstein-9210269-1-402HIS BIRTHDAY isn’t until August, but the Lenny bandwagon is already rolling. Two full concert seasons will claim him: 2017-18 and 2018-19. So far, the Santa Cruz Symphony signed on in November with his Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and the Carmel Bach Festival has announced his On the Town for its Friday ‘Main’ program in July. For a global view, click HERE

HOUSTON GRAND OPERA WINS ITS FIRST GRAMMY  

CANADIAN SOPRANO Barbara Hannigan won classical vocal album Sunday night at the Grammys, for “Crazy Girl Crazy.” Other winners include pianist Daniil Trifonov, violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, and composers Jennifer Higdon (twice) and Gavin Bryars. There’s a first-ever Grammy for the Houston Symphony. And a posthumous Grammy for Leonard Cohen for his last album, which employs a Montreal synagogue choir.

Producer of the year: David Frost. Orchestral performance: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio, Manfred Honeck, conductor, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Opera recording: Berg: Wozzeck, Hans Graf, conductor; Anne Schwanewilms, Roman Trekel, soloists; Houston Grand Opera, Houston Symphony. Choral performance: Bryars: The Fifth Century, Donald Nally, conductor. Chamber music/small ensemble performance: Death & The Maiden, Patricia Kopatchinskaja & Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Instrumental solo: Transcendental, Daniil Trifonov. Compendium: Higdon: All Things Majestic, Viola Concerto & Oboe Concerto, Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Nashville Symphony. Contemporary composition: Viola Concerto, Jennifer Higdon, composer. Engineered album: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio, Mark Donahue, engineer (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra).

DANCING WITHOUT SOUND; PLAYING WITHOUT SIGHT

NO PROBLEM for these Chinese dancers and musicians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRESH REVIEWS

SILENT SKY in new Jewel Theatre production at the Colligan. Click HERE 

MICHELLE BRADLEY and the SANTA CRUZ SYMPHONY at the Mello. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

AMERICAN STRING QUARTET plays the “Three B’s” for Carmel Music. VIOLINIST ELDAR HUDIYEV and pianist James Neiman perform a YMM benefit recital. EVENING OF WORLD THEATER at Cabrillo College. LYLE LOVETT & ROBERT EARL KEEN at SC Civic. A celebration of unemployed journalist WALLACE BAINE at the Rio.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

Santa Cruz Symphony

Danny and Michelle

By Scott MacClelland

PEOPLE ASK ME if an orchestra really needs a conductor. My short answer is no. Before some guy stood up to wave a stick, orchestras were led by a musician playing a keyboard or a violin. Today, the concertmaster of an orchestra is still the nominal “leader,” whose second job is to take over if the conductor becomes incapacitated or—more likely—momentarily confused. (It happens more often than you might think.) The award-winning Orpheus, a leader among American chamber orchestras, has always performed without a conductor. I heard them in Monterey in the 1970s. Then, last Sunday in Watsonville, I heard the Santa Cruz Symphony with its conductor, Daniel Stewart, in charge.

In both cases, orchestra members played polished cameo solos that stood out. The difference came down to whether or not the big picture was projected through a single lens. For Orpheus, despite all the beautiful playing, the answer was no. With the Symphony, Danny Stewart was that lens. For me that makes the difference.

However, it is no guarantee of realizing the best an orchestra can do. Stewart happens to be uncommonly successful at getting the best from his musicians. As a result the Santa Cruz Symphony has become one of the premiere orchestras of the greater Central California region. That it operates with a $1 million budget, far smaller than other orchestras in the greater SF Bay Area, seems only to underscore Stewart’s impact.

On Sunday, Stewart conducted the entire program from memory. For some conductors, that amounts to little more than showing off. (Why memorize an obscure symphony by, say, Amy Beach, that you will never have another chance to perform?) But not here. Wagner’s Meistersinger Prelude, a tapestry of themes from that opera—“music drama” the composer insisted on calling it—is woven into often dense textures of counterpoint that demand clarity at all times. In this case, the challenge falls equally to the conductor and the musicians, and, frankly, not every lick came through with crystalline transparency in the Mello Center’s acoustically friendly environment.

Still, the pageantry of that ten-minute introduction was well-conveyed and, for anyone familiar with the four-hour-plus drama to follow, laid out a great temptation for more.

In kind, the Four Last Songs for soprano and orchestra by Richard Strauss—arguably a summa to the Wagner—made no less demands of the conductor and nearly as much of the orchestra, to say nothing of Michelle Bradley, a rising star of the Metropolitan Opera who was making good her third appearance here.

‘Good’ is an understatement. Bradley filled the Mello with her radiant golden sound. Her phrasing and breath control were, well, breathtaking. And this too is almost an understatement since Strauss, as my companion, also a professional opera soprano, remarked, “gives you no place to breathe.” These four songs, to highly personal verses—the first three by Hermann Hesse, the last by Joseph von Eichendorff—are about old age and impending death, as indeed the 84-year-old Strauss was inevitably contemplating. And what a death! This music soars with a beatific vision of eternity. It makes you forget about the lifetime of creative craft that lies beneath its composer’s art, while simultaneously reminding you of those fabulous arching scenes and ensembles from Der Rosenkavalier, composed nearly 40 years earlier.

Stewart must have studied performances and recordings by other conductors, but with this orchestra, and its fine concertmaster Nigel Armstrong, he made it his own. Just as the soloist must immerse herself in long, seamless phrases, so must the orchestra, which responded with restrained grandeur and ascendant dignity.

A special kudo to program annotator Don Adkins for his in-depth study of Strauss, his relationship with the Nazis, and the loss of 32 of his Jewish daughter-in-law’s family at the Terezin concentration camp during the holocaust.

Then came the movie: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Technicolor masterpiece, Scheherazade. In true story-telling mode, this narrative without words, ends the same way it begins, with a stentorian call to attention. That proves hardly necessary given the inspired themes and melodies, sweeping vistas, abrupt changes of mood and direction, the tense cinematic build-ups and the irresistible symphonic sonorities that pour from all sections of the orchestra. Yet even among Rimsky’s many vivacious operas and orchestral works this one belongs in a class by itself, thanks to the almost endless parade of solo cameos that engage all the first-desk players and many others. Chief among them is the solo violin, which narrates the procession of tales told by the heroine to enthrall her murderous bridegroom and, thereby, save her life. When Armstrong took his many turns in that solo role he did so on his own terms. Stewart simply stood back and savored those moments, often with a broad smile on his face. In fact, he gave those solos throughout the orchestra plenty of individual latitude, a rarity among less-confident orchestra conductors.

But Stewart, whose podium choreographer is filled with unguarded joy, keeps a firm hand on balances, dynamics, phrasing, entries and cut-offs, and the big picture, that essential image that can come only from a singular vision.

Happily, this piece has since inspired, and continues to inspire, other orchestral works that flatter orchestras, their different sections and their individual musicians. Rimsky composed Scheherazade exactly 130 years ago, yet on Sunday in Watsonville it was as fresh and invigorated as when its executants got up that morning and prepared to go to work.