Weekly Magazine

AFTER A FULL YEAR, a live concert with a live and long-starved audience as cellist Michelle Djokic joined violinist Cindy Wu at her home in Corral de Tierra on Sunday afternoon.


NEW RADIO PLAY from Jewel Theatre Company: The Whistler-Stranger in the House. APRIL IN SANTA CRUZ the annual series of new music at UCSC goes online Friday and Saturday. CABRILLO MUSIC FESTIVAL presents Vol 2 of its new series, Composers in Conversation, with Clarice Assad, Anna Clyne and Kevin Puts this Saturday morning at 11. MANHATTAN CHAMBER PLAYERS perform online Saturday through the Chamber Music Monterey Bay website, including Chris Rogerson’s Clarinet Quintet, Gideon Klein’s String Trio and Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet. FOR DETAILS AND LINKS, CLICK HERE


THE UCSC Music Department presents its annual April in Santa Cruz Music Festival, a month-long series of free concerts featuring works by UC Santa Cruz faculty and graduate students, April 2 through May 1. All concerts stream at 7:30 p.m. on the April in Santa Cruz Facebook Page  Click HERE  


A TECHNICAL GLITCH denied access to the harp recital by Jieyin Wu. To hear it on YouTube, click HERE  


AN EXCELLENT PODCAST SERIES honoring the dominant Polish composer of the second half of the 20th century and first two decades of 2021 who died one year ago. Produced and hosted by Max Horowitz (pictured) of Crossover Media—one of our most valued suppliers of musical content and information. The series was created by Anna Perzanowska and presented by the Polish Cultural Institute New York. The approximately 30-minute podcasts began a month ago with a bevy of major classical artists interviewed on their involvement with Penderecki’s music. Click HERE   




IN THE UK at least. Click HERE  


THE COMPLETE Violin Concerto No 1 in D with the New Japan Philharmonic.


WHEREVER HK GRUBER GOES mischief is sure to follow. This clever Austrian has made a career of playful, even naughty, tricks and games rarely found in classical music. (When he appeared with his toy instruments in the Santa Cruz Symphony’s production of his hellzapoppin’ Frankenstein!! in 2016, he actually got away with giving the audience the finger.) Percussion monster Colin Currie, well-known as a solo virtuoso—if a one-man orchestra of sticks, mallets, drums, metal, marimbas and bells can be deemed a soloist—has held star position in new 21st century music as percussion itself has risen in prominence. His dizzying displays of virtuosity have beguiled Cabrillo Music Festival audiences with his every appearance, infrequent as they have been. The first of the two works on Colin Currie’s own label is titled Rough Music (1982-83), its three movements respectively called Toberac, Shivaree and Charivari, the latter in homage to the French composer Henri Sauguet. Fortunately you can take in the fun and games without getting tangled up in that arcana. The BBC Philharmonic is conducted by Juanjo Mena, though the strings stay in the background in the first movement. This is charming, witty stuff with solo flights on the brass and woodwinds. The second movement gets aggressive (rough, I suppose) with piano, strings, motoric high winds and thudding then explosive percussion. Toward the end all goes quiet with gentle bell tones and marimba. The final movement is almost a lullaby with violent eruptions and ends with circus music. What’s not to like? (If you do want to get down in the weeds, you’ll find pinches of Charles Ives, Alban Berg and Erik Satie.) The second piece, of about the same duration, is the single-movement into the open…, “more of a symphony with solo obbligato percussion leading the drama.” It is also a tribute to David Drew, the composer’s alter-ego, and close associate of Currie, who died in 2009. The piece opens with mysterious gongs and goes on to a purposeful adventure of discovery. On the one hand, you will hear Gruber’s ever-active eclecticism, from Romantic to Avant-garde, from deeply felt expression to parody. (In this case Kurt Weill’s Alabama Song appears in fragments.) Yet there is a coherency that manages to remain, well, coherent, even relevant. This performance, with John Storgårds conducting, was of the work’s world-premiere at the Albert Hall in July 2015. The album is a keeper. SM    

IF YOU’RE A CLASSICAL MUSIC FAN chances are you have heard Orion Weiss in person. He performed in Santa Cruz as part of John Orlando’s Distinguished Artists Series, for the Carmel Music Society and with the Monterey Symphony. Now he partners with the conductor Leon Botstein, a man well-known for trodding the path rarely taken. The Orchestra Now joins the adventure with Korngold’s Concerto in C-sharp (for one hand), Chopin’s brilliant but fairly silly variations on “Là ci darem la mano, the duet” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Concerto in C-sharp Minor. You could safely add this CD to your collection without worrying about duplicating any of these pieces. The Korngold was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, of that well-known and fairly dysfunctional family, after having lost his right arm in World War I. (Wittgenstein notoriously made changes to the many concertos he commissioned from the leading composers of his time—Richard Strauss, Sergei Prokofiev, Paul Hindemith, Maurice Ravel—but not this one.) For all the grand sweep of Rimsky’s orchestral and operatic scores, his piano concerto is remarkably compact, its three movements played straight through in under 14 minutes. Meanwhile, Weiss’s reputation continues to flower, meaning his fees keep rising. Can our local presenters keep up? Hopefully. SM 


MONTEREY SYMPHONY musicians Dawn and Mark Walker, with Symphony ED Nicola Reilly, performed live online on Saturday from the renovated Pacific Grove Library. The next Balcony Sessions live concert will spotlight clarinetist Sarah Bonomo in late May. 



Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor




Weekly Magazine



BOB DANZIGER’S Brandenburg 300 Project goes Zoom on Wednesday. *See below. MEDITATIONS ON THE HARP by Jieyin Wu, from St Ignatius Parish on Thursday. STEINWAY SOCIETY HOME CONCERT HALL hosts pianist Alexander Sinchuk playing Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Božić’s Sacred Music for Piano, Friday through Monday. BALCONY SESSIONS presents Monterey Symphony principal flute Dawn Walker and cellist Mark Walker live from Pacific Grove Library, Saturday afternoon. VIRTUAL CHOREOGRAPHERS SHOWCASE from SpectorDance (above image) with new works by eight choreographers from four states, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. YOUTH MUSIC MONTEREY Junior Youth & Honors Orchestras perform online Sunday afternoon. On the program are works by Tchaikovsky, Themes from Capriccio Italienne with the Junior Youth Orchestra and Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio with the Honors Orchestra. The two orchestras present a joint performance of the final work, Advent Rising: The Bounty Hunter. FOR DETAILS AND LINKS, CLICK HERE


CSUMB HONORARY LAUREATE BOB DANZIGER has drawn in music department chair Jeff Jones and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) to celebrate the 300th anniversary of JS Bach’s famous Brandenburg Concertos. While the actual date of those compositions is not reliably known, and includes material from instrumental works composed earlier, the collection, in Bach’s own hand, was given to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721. Danziger, who plays jazz and pop music, has subjected the six Brandenburg concertos to all manner of revisions, add-ons and personal liberties which, at the end of the day, have not really improved on the originals. To join the party, Wednesday, 2 & 7pm, click HERE     


WHEN THE PANDEMIC forced Hartnell College to close down its campus, The Western Stage had to go dark, along with a season of plays already in the works for 2020/2021. An email just in from Melissa Chin Parker brings the encouraging news that her appointment as TWS Artistic Director has been renewed for the year. It makes it clear that the stage, work spaces and dressing rooms may have been closed down to the public, but theater staff haven’t been idle. The season announced in the last quarter of 2020 is programmed to open with A Doll’s House Part 2 eight weeks after the college reopens. But while you wait and wonder when that will be, Western Stage is about to launch an online event they’re calling “In the Meantime in Between Time” designed, according to the season teaser, to “take you behind the scenes for a peek at the inner workings at TWS.” Those workings will be served up in four digital units – A View from the Casting Table, Alumni Symposium Series, Bite-sized Theatre and, for Hartnell students and TWS subscribers only, Works In Progress, an invitation to one of the theater’s digital rehearsals. Dates and times to be announced.  


STARTING MARCH 27 and running through May 2, a series of seven online sessions, including Q&A featuring professionals in stage management, properties, design engineering, film acting and screenwriting, filmmaking and editing, theater management and international/Latinx theater. All seven alums will share their stories of how they went from TWS to industry employment and will share tips and tricks of their trade, including how to keep working as an artist during the pandemic. Sessions are free for Hartnell students and TWS subscribers. General tickets are $5 per session or $25 for the entire series. Click HERE

JAMES LEVINE, 1943-2021

JOHN ROCKWELL, the long-serving New York Times cultural critic, observed James Levine at close quarters for most of his life.

“JAMES LEVINE was a great opera conductor, until he wasn’t. I don’t want to dwell here on his failings, or his personal peculiarities, his illnesses and his sad last years. I appreciated him as a member of the audience and as a critic and reporter, mostly at the Met but also elsewhere, especially Salzburg, and on his innumerable CD’s and DVD’s. I first heard him – probably heard of him, really—conducting Tosca at the San Francisco Opera in the spring of 1971, shortly before his Met debut with the same opera in June. It was a true announcement of a talent who was George Szell’s assistant for six years in Cleveland. But in 1971 he was still only 28, and everyone who heard those Toscas knew immediately that he was on his way.” To read Rockwell’s complete Levine memoir, click HERE 


TRIBALISM that hates culture and its practitioners still holds sway in Afghanistan. Click HERE  


COMPOSER KRIS BOWERS celebrates his grandfather. Click HERE


LARA SOLNICKI’S The One and the Other, on the Canadian Outside In Music label, comes as close to sui generis as one (or the other) is likely to get. A vocalist with a fine, clear mezzo, she claims “music, poetry and texts” as her own. Yet her backup band musicians seem to have free reign. She and they announce themselves with “Bit Her Sweet Christopher Street,” a sprawling poem of indeterminate urban images and impressions that also lays out the musical elements that will reappear later, in or out of focus, foreground or background. After a pedal point is laid down, a cocktail lounge piano, squealing alto sax and thumping drums circle in. The mood remains lounge as Solnicki’s recitation is gently embraced by the rhythm section in an affectionate meander until suddenly a rock guitar bursts onto the scene briefly, portending clashing styles that will punctuate the other seven tracks, more or less. The relaxed second track, “Idée fixe,” adding reeds, gives the singer a wordless vocalise while liberating the musicians to pure sweet jazz. “The Embrace” continues Solnicki’s poetic self-indulgence, as does “Furling Leaf, Retrocede” with spoken words and more moody lounge jazz and another eruption of rock guitar in a now familiar juxtaposition; hard to understand but for the wash of sonorities and implicit visuals of the words. The title piece consists of three sections, “Pass a Glass,” “Awe of the Sea” and “Hollow the Need” in which Solnicki’s singing voice returns, alternating with the spoken word. As listenable as her poetry is about words—the essence of poetry—and her music tantalizing, Solnicki takes you to her own avant-garde, a unique adventure of the senses and thoughtful surprises. It’s an acquired taste that acquired me. SM   

MORE GOOD NEWS from our friends at Classical Music Communications: Zixiang Wang’s debut solo album, on Blue Griffin label, of the first piano sonatas by Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Wang, trained at Shanghai Conservatory, Juilliard and University of Michigan has already won numerous awards and his affinity for Romantic and Post-Romantic music of the late 19th and early 20th century is obvious in these two works from the Russian school. As this new CD also reveals, Wang has an appetite for some of the more underperformed repertoire by otherwise familiar composers. “Scriabin’s keyboard writing style evolved notably from late Romanticism to mysticism,” he writes. “However, in this early work we can hear some musical qualities that never left Scriabin—sensibility, colorfulness and philosophical musings.” This spirit infuses Wang’s playing with a sense of urgency, freshness and, especially in the Rachmaninoff, sweeping grandeur. The Scriabin (completed 1892) was written after the composer had injured his hand playing Balakirev’s technically fiendish Islamey. Its four short movements end with a funeral march, though in the major key. Rachmaninoff’s sprawling first sonata (1908) was composed at Dresden alongside the overinflated Symphony No 2. Its three movements introduce memorable themes spun into long-limbed melodies that the composer almost buries under washes of decorative fingerwork, among his most recognizable indulgences. Following an example by Liszt, the three movements take their cues from the programmatic trilogy of Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles (with a diabolical fugue in the latter, of course), and though that was probably more useful to the composer than the listener it did not go unnoticed by Wang. The pianist added Rachmaninoff’s rarely-excerpted Prelude in F from Op 2 (1891) to fill out the program. If these works are not in your library, here is a fine place to start. SM 


FINLAND’S TAPIOLA CHOIR sings out her UN speech with music by UK composer Tim Cain.


PHILIP PEARCE attended Howard Burnham’s First Knight, profiling Sir Henry Irving. Click HERE  


Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor