Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

RED VELVET, by playwright Lolita Chakrabarti and based on a true story, opens at the Colligan in Santa Cruz, with previews tomorrow and Thursday. The play takes audiences to the backstage world of London’s Theatre Royal in the early 1800s when Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his generation, has taken ill and can’t go on as Othello. A young American actor named Ira Aldridge arrives to step into the role, even though no black man has ever played Othello on the English stage. His groundbreaking performance upends stage tradition and changes the lives of everyone involved. GIAN CARLO MENOTTI’s opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, gets two matinee performances at UC Santa Cruz on Saturday. SANTA CRUZ SYMPHONY performs twice. (See pre-concert comment below.) On Thursday at Kuumbwa, award-winning pianist and composer ANDRÉ MEHMARI (pictured above) traces the evolution of Brazilian musical identity through its crucial transformations, beginning with the birth of choro in the 19th century, the flowering of new forms in the 20th century, and today’s stylings. Among the composers celebrated in this journey are Ernesto Nazareth, Pixinguinha, Radamés Gnatalli, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal and Edu Lobo. (See below). For links to these and dozens of other live performance events, click our CALENDAR

 

SANTA CRUZ SHAKESPEARE’S NEW LEASE  
THE GROVE gets a 20-year contract. Click HERE   

IS BONNY DOON FOR THE BIRDS?

SO SUGGESTS composer John Wineglass (pictured) who was commissioned by the Santa Cruz Symphony to compose a six-minute tone poem that sent him to the unincorporated logging hamlet of Bonny Doon, slightly northwest from the UC Santa Cruz campus. I know the Emmy-winning Wineglass to be a sensitive and conscientious musician who is acutely alert to the human condition; his 2012 Cabrillo Festival premiere, Someone Else’s Child, drew on texts from inmates in the Santa Cruz Juvenile Detention Center, as he explains here.

His 2017 Monterey Symphony commission, Big Sur the Night Sun, embraced instruments (native flute and percussion) of the regionally-indigenous Ohlone-Chumash nations. (Recently he has had large-scale premieres, intentionally rooted in local history, in Stockton and San Bernardino.) But in the Bonny Doon piece, to premiere this weekend, the Symphony seems to have blown a big opportunity to acknowledge and cultivate a demographic that perhaps has been taken for granted, or even ignored. According to the 2010 census*, Bonny Doon is 92.4 percent white, while Watsonville, where the Symphony plays the same number of performances as in Santa Cruz, is 81.4 percent Hispanic. In commissioning Wineglass, the Symphony might (for two obvious reasons) have sought a Latino-themed piece; its just-circulated annual report shows scant support from the county’s Hispanic demographic. Bonny Doon is the wrong ‘hood to celebrate. Maybe they thought nobody would notice. SM

*The racial makeup of Bonny Doon was 2,474 (92.4%) White, 9 (0.3%) African American, 15 (0.6%) Native American, 51 (1.9%) Asian, 5 (0.2%) Pacific Islander, 48 (1.8%) from other races, and 76 (2.8%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 168 persons (6.3%). The racial makeup of Watsonville was 22,399 (43.7%) White, 358 (0.7%) African American, 629 (1.2%) Native American, 1,664 (3.3%) Asian, 40 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 23,844 (46.6%) from other races, and 2,265 (4.4%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 41,656 persons (81.4%).

 

RICHARD EGARR NAMED TO SUCCEED McGEGAN

SAN FRANCISCO’S S PHILHARMONIA BAROQUE chooses internationally acclaimed keyboardist/conductor as music director following founding MD McGegan’s retirement after the 2020 season and a 35-year career on the PB podium. Once again, highly qualified Americans passed over. Click HERE    

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

FROM HUNGARY TO TAIWAN?

DESPITE THE PROSAIC TITLE, this is a splendid intro to the whiz-bang Formosa Quartet. Bartók’s Fourth String Quartet of 1928 is the only well-known piece on the program and, despite its age, sounds fresh and timeless; for all of its innovations and originality, it might have been composed last year by…no one I can think of. Bartók used his preferred five-movement layout: an edgy Allegro, a spooky Prestissimo with mutes, a Lento that features a big cello solo, a pizzicato Allegretto and a folkdance animated Allegro. Hungarian Folk Songs of 2008 was commissioned by Formosa from Dana Wilson (born 1946) and captures the high energy of Hungarian dance laced with virtuoso solo flights and flavors of Rom culture; this is 19 minutes of toe-tapping pleasure that magically exploits every possibility of four string instruments. The program ends with Four Taiwanese Folk Songs of 2017 by Wei-Chieh Lin (born 1982), another Formosa commission, and stylistically lingers in a more traditional idiom; its longer outer movements are arranged with Western-style lush string writing. But, for me, the most beguiling of all is Song Recollections of 2016 by Lei Liang (born 1972), a Chinese-American composer who teaches at UC San Diego. A single movement lasting 24 minutes, it falls into three distinct sections, the first using the string quartet to imitate a variety of traditional Chinese instruments, among them the sheng (hand-held mouth-blown reed organ), guzheng (zither) and pipa (lute). Suddenly, the full string quartet sonority erupts, and, like the first section, preserves the highly recognizable Chinese pentatonic scale but with original inflections. The third part begins as the piece opened, but then seems to comingle those imitations with the dancing rhythms and sonorities from the second, and grows more complex as it probes further into its now-even-deeper “recollections.” This was the piece that drew me back over and over. SM

A SPIDER BITE IGNITES A DANCE CRAZE

ORIGIN of the tarantella. Click HERE  

9 MUSICIANS KEEP CREATIVE WITHOUT BOOZE OR DRUGS

CHRIS HEATH reports on how they got and stayed sober in his interviews for GQ. Click HERE  

HELLO DOLLY

WALT DeFARIA tells us that he will direct a new production of the Jerry Herman musical at Carmel’s outdoor Forest Theater this coming summer.

HELLO DOLLY 2

HERE YOU COME AGAIN from 1977

 

FRESH REVIEW

BORROMEO QUARTET and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

CHAMPIONS OF THE ARTS GALA, the Arts Council for Monterey County’s annual celebration, at the Hyatt Regency in Monterey. SMUIN BALLET returns to Carmel with two performances of its Dance Series 01. IN C composer Terry Riley, the ‘father’ of minimalism, to appear at Peace United in Santa Cruz. GUITARIST BENJAMIN VERDERY comes to UC Santa Cruz. HOT CLUB OF SAN FRANCISCO at Kuumbwa.  

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

Borromeo Quartet & Richard Stoltzman

By Scott MacClelland

CLARINETIST RICHARD STOLTZMAN is no stranger to Carmel. Now 76, he returned to perform for Chamber Music Monterey Bay with the Borromeo String Quartet, together attracting a large audience at Sunset Center on Saturday. Borromeo and Stoltzman last appeared here in January, 2010. He read his part from traditional score; they read theirs on iPads and turned pages with a foot pedal. (Borromeo, named after the wealthy Italian family whose son Carlo, a 16th century counter-reformation cardinal and inquisitor of the Roman Catholic Church, is well known locally for the Carmel mission that bears his name.)

At 100 minutes total performing time, this was an unusually generous program. (These days, classical concerts typically offer 60 to 70 minutes total.) Two works for string quartet alone included the well-known Quartet in G Minor by Debussy—a knockout reading indeed!—and two movements from Etudes and Lullabies by American composer Sebastian Currier. With Stoltzman on board, they performed the quintet by Jean Françaix (a local premiere I believe) and the famous and well-loved quintet by Mozart.

With the Mozart and Brahms clarinet quintets as looming masterpieces, Françaix knew he had to go for gold. As a Frenchman, however, he was not about to be intimidated; he composed his in 1977 as a boldly ambitious work in four movements lasting nearly half an hour. Moreover, he applied his French sensibilité that maximizes clarity laced with Gallic musical wit. That wit usually shows up in the quicker bits and movements as it did when the languid opening adagio gave way to a snarky clarinet solo that led to the cheeky allegro, à la Erik Satie and his disciples, Poulenc, Milhaud et al. The second movement, scherzando, was playful, syncopated and with much string pizzicato. The brief third movement, grave, is nothing more or less than a tender lullaby, while the rondo finale gives expanded phrasing to the clarinet against quicker chatter on the strings. It also gave the clarinet generous opportunities to go its own way, right up to and including a solo cadenza and a ripe red raspberry—that you won’t hear from other players—just before the end.

The Debussy quartet was played with such single-minded brilliance and élan that one might have thought the iPad technology was a contributing factor. Beforehand, violinist Nicholas Kitchen explained that Debussy had in mind the great Belgian violinist/composer Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe (1858-1931), the “tsar” of the violin as Nathan Milstein described him. Ysaÿe indeed inspired virtuoso works by others of his contemporary composers.

Kitchen also told an amusing story about working with Currier, specifically as it applied to the Etude No. 6 “Velocities,” an eerie high-speed scurry composed (along with its other movements) in 2017 for Borromeo. Let’s just say that if the iPad made the quartet’s work easier, it wasn’t by much. The slow, tremulous, brittle Lullaby No. 2 “Dreaming” made you realize how hyperventilated “Velocities” was.

At last came the Mozart. Like the Françaix, the texture makes clear how different the personality of the clarinet is to the string quartet. Even with fine ensemble playing, Stoltzman asserted himself at every opportunity right from the start. The heart and soul of the piece is the melting second movement Larghetto, a tender seduction that, along with several other late Mozart masterpieces proves that that great classicist was at heart a romantic. For another thing, he shows himself to be no slave to convention; in the first of the two trios (in the minuet) he gives the clarinet nothing to do, but then chooses to remember it in the second trio. For the jovial finale, the expected rondo was in this case replaced by a theme and five variations, plus a coda which itself sounds largely like another variation.

Chamber music you say? It doesn’t get better than this.