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Two Great Festivals in Berkeley

The tradition of the music festival emerged from the great choral festivals of the 19th century, and although the most prominent festivals nowadays do not involve choral music, the best festivals are not just an excuse to perform outdoors, program lighter repertoire, or don white tuxedos. Festivals serve as a medium to do out of the ordinary work and to bring together artists usually unavailable to collaborate.

Two great festivals occur in Berkeley …more…

Lou Harrison and Morton Lauridsen on Display

Bay Area Composer Lou Harrison, who passed away in 2003, wrote several works for instruments he built and designed himself, known as an American Gamelan, modeled on the Balinese gamelan ensemble. These instruments, ranging from highly complex chimes to very simplistic hanging garbage cans, have a unique sound unattainable by standard percussion ensembles.

From May 23 and 25th, Harrison’s original instruments will be on display at the UC Berkeley Art Museum, …more…

Taking Odds and Payoffs on Moby Dick

I would place my bet that Canadian tenor Ben Heppner will withdraw from October’s scheduled performances of Jake Heggie’s opera “Moby Dick” handing the role of Captain Ahab over to his comrade Jay Hunter Morris. In February, Heppner withdrew from  the San Diego Opera’s performances of the same work, citing illness. This comes upon a string of recent cancellations, quite often replaced by Morris, including withdrawing from the Metropolitan Opera’s Ring Cycle …more…

A Slate of Premieres and a Glut of Beethoven.

May is promising to be a strong month for new music fans, led by the Bay Area’s regional orchestras.

Last Thursday, the Berkeley Symphony premiered Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Holy Sisters” with the San Francisco Girl’s Chorus and soprano Jessica Rivera.

On May 5 and 6th, the Walnut Creek’s California Symphony will premiere “Optima Vota” by it’s composer in residence, D.J. Sparr, who is completing his residency. Sharing the program is Beethoven’s 9th …more…

Qualified Performing Artists: Tax Day Edition

One of the cruel realities of performing artists is while they often do not earn much, they have extremely complicated tax returns. This can involve a stack of 1099s, W2s, and filing in multiple states, royalties statements, and even international returns. Performing artists also have greater out-of-pocket expenses than the average worker, and one of the complicating factors in their tax return is how to divide deductions between schedule C …more…

Haydn’s Unlikely Creation

There have been so many excellent and exciting Bay Area concerts of late (the SF Symphony’s American Mavericks mini-festival, and a spectacular St. Matthew Passion from the American Bach Soloists come to mind as well as numerous touring groups), I would need a staff of twenty to sort through the listings. One particular concert, however, stood out from the rest.

On Monday, April 30th, the period instrument New Esterházy String Quartet …more…

Decriminalizing Intermission

Unlike 31 other states states, California lacks a “cottage food” law, meaning it is illegal to sell or even give away homemade food at events open to the public. This obviously means concerts, but it extends to events like PTA meetings. In 2011, a Los Angeles Synagogue was fined by the Los Angeles department of Environmental health and threatened with closure for holding a bake sale. ...more...

SF Grants for the Arts

If you attend a San Francisco concert this month and the administration staff seems frazzled, it it most likely because they are recovering from preparing their annual San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund/Grants for the Arts application, due on February 10th.

The program, which has been around since 1961, was a pioneering model of government funding for the arts, and it remains a reason why San Francisco has a disproportionately high level of arts …more…

San Francisco Opera Announces New Season (yawn).

With opera companies booking singers and productions four to five years in advance, season announcements come as something of a pro-forma ritual with little actual news. The SF Opera season announcement came this week with no surprises, so, here it is:

Rigoletto – 12 performances 9/7 – 9/30
I Capuletti e i Montecchi – 6 performances 9/29-10/19
Moby Dick (Heggie) – 8 Performances 10/10 – 11/2
Lohengrin – 7 Performances 10/20 – 11/9
Tosca – …more…

Feeding the Trolls: Copyright just got longer (again)

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an incredibly ill-considered and poorly-reasoned decision last week in Golan v. Holder – one that will cost American orchestras and opera companies millions of dollars and one that does nothing to promote artistic development. The court ruled Congress could retroactively apply copyright protection to works in the public domain. At issue were Iron-curtain works, such as the symphonies of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, not subject to …more…

Replacing choral folders with iPads

The excellent 9-voice male vocal Ensemble Clerestory  is performing a series of concerts in the next two weeks in Oakland (1/21), Palo Alto (1/22), Belvedere-Tiburon (1/27) and San Francisco (1/29). The concerts feature the typical fare of a wide range of choral music from many periods.

Perhaps less typical is the replacement of traditional choral folders with iPads. Although this should appeal to the green leanings of Bay Area audiences, it begs the question …more…

SF Symphony programs Debussy rarity

The San Francisco Symphony is pulling out all the stops in this week’s program of difficult to sell repertory. The Symphony is to be commended for making an effort to put this excellent music before an unsuspecting public.

The culprit is Debussy’s mammoth choral work, Le Martyrdom de Saint Sebastian. For those ready to reprimand me it is not a choral work, that’s because it is rarely performed in its entirety. The work …more…

Merry Unemployment

As the San Francisco Opera goes dark at the end of the year, many tenured members of the orchestra, chorus, and ballet are technically laid off. A loophole in California law allows these artists to claim unemployment insurance payments. Labor law and benefits, created for office and factory workers, poorly fit performing arts; some of the greatest abuses and shortfalls occur in the area of unemployment benefits.

Like teachers who have …more…

SF Symphony Centennial Documentary

The documentary film, “San Francisco Symphony at 100,” which premiered in September, will be rebroadcast this weekend.

Sunday, December 18 at 9:00 PM and 1 AM on Bay Area’s NBC KNTV, channel 11.1.
Watch a preview.

Narrated by famed Bay Area native Amy Tan, the documentary features interviews with current symphony members and archival footage. It will not be released on DVD until spring 2012.

For years, the symphony’s season was limited because it …more…

Bay Area Arts Mailing List Exchanges Go Big

Are you a Domestic Duo, a Fast Track Family, Country Casual, or New Homesteader? Do you have “Gray Power” or belong to the “Second City Elite?”

These are just a few of the monikers used to label audience members in “The Big List,” a mailing list pool maintained by Theater Bay Area. Because 200 organizations (not all in the Bay Area) have participated in the list since 2008, if you have …more…

Bay Area Holiday Music, Part I

With retailers putting up ornaments, it is already time to think about the holidays. The best Christmas concerts sell out, so avoiding the rush involves planning ahead and buying tickets early. Most ensembles present lighter fare around the holidays, yet there there are still many offering inventive yet festive programming without relaxing standards. Here is my selection of the Bay Area’s most promising holiday concerts:

Magnificat Baroque: Schütz’s Christmas Story
December 16-18 …more…