Thursday, September 15, 2016

MTT and His "Discovery Concert"

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are hosting  a most innovative event on Sunday, September 18 at 2pmA “Discovery Concert” featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. This is a new concert format with which we are experimenting, and a concept that is very near and dear to MTT’s heart. 

The first half of the event is comprised of a lecture-demonstration led by MTT. His conversation with the audience will incorporate demonstrations at the piano, projections that illustrate other works of music, literature and art that provide context around Beethoven’s Fifth, and orchestral and choral excerpts from related works by Beethoven, Monteverdi, and J.S. Bach (excerpts will be performed by the SF Symphony and members of the SFS Chorus).  The second half of the program will be a full-length performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

 Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have released five separate Beethoven recordings on SFS Media, the Orchestra’s Grammy Award-winning recording label. 

The most recent recording was released in November 2015 and features Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 featuring Emanuel Ax and Mass in C major. This recording joins four previous SFS Media recordings of Beethoven’s music by MTT and the San Francisco Symphony, and a Keeping Score documentary and concert of the composer’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica, available on DVD and Blu-ray. Of their recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in 2011, Donald Rosenberg wrote in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Tilson Thomas leads a forceful, nuanced account of Beethoven's Fifth that shows his San Francisco Symphony to be in prime health.” 

MTT and the SFS also recorded and released Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Leonore Overture No. 3. Beethoven recordings featuring the Grammy Award-winning San Francisco Symphony Chorus include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and his Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II and Symphony No. 2. Of MTT and the SFS’s Beethoven exploration, Blair Sanderson wrote on All, “Michael Tilson Thomas's super audio recordings of Beethoven's symphonies with the San Francisco Symphony deserve attention for their superb musicianship and extraordinary sound quality.”

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Operatic Fights and Sights

When one considers the upcoming season for the San Francisco Opera, even the most devoted fans may fail to notice the fine detail going into armed conflict taking place on stage. That fact speaks volumes about the talented SFO fight director, Dave Maier, who prefers to remain in the shadows of these performances.

Maier made his Company debut choreographing the fight scenes for The Tales of Hoffmann in 2013; he also appeared as a swordsman in the 2010 production of Cyrano de Bergerac. Maier has directed for American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theater, San Jose Repertory, Aurora Theatre, Marin Theatre Company and Magic Theatre, among others. In this exclusive interview with Bay Crossings, he shares a few observations and insights.

Says Maier: Firstly, my job is to work with artists to safely and convincingly create the illusion of violence.  Our task is to tell the story that the opera requires. Our work is influenced by the director's vision and the skills, strengths and limitations of the performers.  Whether it is comedic, tragic, period sword play or contemporary domestic violence; it is all story telling.

Bay Crossings: You are working on fight scenes for Andrea Chénier and Dream of the Red Chamber at present, and will also work on Aida later in October. Can you describe the unique challenges each production presents?

Maier: Every production has unique challenges.  Andrea Chenier is a remount of a previous production.  It has a brief sword fight that is pivotal to the story line. Rather than create an original fight I have been asked to recreate the previous fight with new artists as swordsmen. It is saber verses court sword.  These weapons require very different fighting styles.  The saber is a hacking weapon, requiring broad cutting strokes and the court sword is all about point work and finesse.  Fortunately, one of the singers has prior sword experience and is very comfortable fighting.  The other has less experience and it is my job to help him get as comfortable as possible in the brief rehearsal time we have. 

Dream of the Red Chamber is a world premier so everything is original.  These productions are usually more fun and rewarding for me, as I get to build something from scratch.  A challenge of this particular production is the staging of a large group scene which contains violence.  Simply coordinating the quantity of people on stage has been a challenge.  I am tasked helping to ensure the safety of all the artists (principles, chorus, dancers and supers), while keeping the story as clear as possible.

Bay Crossings: We admired your work on Carmen last summer. Can you tell us how you were able to create such tension in those fight scenes?

Maier: The tension comes from the artists rehearsing the violent movements and being so familiar with them that they can really commit to the acting.  Also, it is in the music.  Everything we do is influenced by the musical score.  When you are working with artists of this caliber, they bring their skill, training and talent to creating the moments of tension and violence.  Both Carmen casts were incredible.

Bay Crossings: What are your greatest concerns when coaching players through a fight? Any specific dangers or threats?

Maier:  My primary concern is safety.  Making sure that the artists are performing within in the parameters of their skill level and comfort level.  There are always caring degrees of physicality and intensity that we can bring to a fight.  Sometimes we simplify the choreography to ensure safety.  Every fight has the potential for danger.  I think the biggest threat is not being aware of an artist's limitations or a problem with a costume or prop.  If I know about a problem, I can work with others to solve it.  It's the problems that we are not aware of that are the biggest concern.

Bay Crossings: Finally, which opera stars have shown the greatest talent for staged combat? Are they always the best athletes?

Maier: The artists that have prior stage combat training are the most fun to work with simply because we have more options and I don't have to spend the precious rehearsal time teaching them to fight.  We can spend our time creating the most interesting fight possible.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

City College of San Francisco's Jazz Studies Program Needs More Students

Last May Bay Crossings profiled David Hardiman Sr. – the legendary thoroughbred race track Golden Gate Fields, where he presides as the bugler. He also happens to be Prof. Emeritus of Jazz Studies at City College of San Francisco.

We recently learned that his son, David Anthony Hardiman Jr., is sending out an urgent appeal for students to register for courses he teaches at CCSF before August 16:

Jazz Band/Stage Band and Jazz/Rock Improvisation.

Both classes have produced stellar players in the past, but the program is not getting the support it needs to continue this fall. All promising young musicians are encouraged to sign up.

Details can be fournd here:  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

VENDETTA: Casual Elegance

VendettaMen’s Apparelwhere living well is the best revenge – is a handsome well-appointed men’s fashion boutique located at the lobby level of San Francisco’s legendary Fairmont.

Bespoke service is key here, making this destination a far cry from the usual hotel retailer.

While of modest size, Vendetta’s range of fashion offerings is impressive – everything a man could want from Italian clothing and accessories to pre-embargo Cuban cigars from the 1950’s.

An added delight here is the store’s cigar smoking room, providing a stunning view of Nob Hill and the California Street cable car line. Besides featuring rare vintage cigars, Vendetta also has a broad selection of today’s most popular brands. Competitively priced cigar cases and related items are a staple of the inventory at Vendetta. 

Men – and/or those who love them – can find leather goods from Moore and Giles; Persol sunglasses;  S.T. Dupont lighters and accessories;  pima cotton knitwear from Left Coast Tee; neckwear from Massimo Bizzocchi and Dolcepunta of Italy; outerwear from Beretta of Italy and caps and hats from Borsalino. A variety of Jack Victor sports coats are also on hand.

The Vendetta experience is curated by its founding owner -  Bruce Rothenberg – who is always on hand to attend to the customer’s personal needs.

Open Tues.-Sat.12:30-7:00 pm or by personal appointment. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

More on Legendary Trumpet Players: SF Writer Profiles Lee Morgan

As we noted earlier, Pink Martini's Gavin Bondy has great chops and may well be on his way to a legendary career. The San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Opera both have outstanding trumpet players in their own right, and even some former players have found a way to stay engaged with this exotic instrument. 

Jeffery S. McMillan, for example, played the horn before going to work for the as an archivist for the New York's Metropolitan Opera. He's now working with SFO's media relations department, and that's how we became acquainted with his engaging biography of Jazz great, Lee Morgan. 

His book, Delightfulee, has won praise and awards from leading jazz experts and we found it to be a very entertaining read. this is the first biography to seriously examine Morgan's vast contributions to jazz, both as a performer and as a composer. Thanks to exclusive access to Lee Morgan's now-deceased brother, McMillan is also able to provide unparalleled insight into Morgan's personal and family life.

Cover photo by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images

"By the time of his death, at thirty-three—murdered in a New York City club by his girlfriend during a gig—Morgan had begun a new phase of his career, experimenting with freer-forms of musical expression," says McMillan. "It is my hope that this work will address the need for greater attention in the literature to this magnicent and inuential artist. If it can stimulate interest in Morgan’s legacy and attract newcomers to his music, all of the effort will have been worth it."