Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Van Ness Goes Orange for World Series Game 1

Van Ness Avenue between McAllister and Hayes has gone orange for the World Series...

...including the San Francisco Opera House...

...and Davies Symphony Hall...

The first game tonight featured a slaughter of the Kansas City Royals by the Giants orange and black, which means nothing other than San Franciscans had a happy Tuesday evening.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sarah Cahill and Stuart Canin Make Music Together

The Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill specializes in contemporary music, but local groups such as San Francisco Performances and the Berkeley Symphony have started asking her to play classical chamber music, from Mozart to Schubert. The Berkeley Symphony started a chamber music series last year and asked Cahill to play piano with the legendary local violinist Stuart Canin, a first for both of them. She confessed to being nervous at first, but the two musicians got along splendidly, and it resulted in one of the best chamber music concerts I have heard in my life.

The 88-year-old Stuart Canin has had one of the most interesting careers as a violinist in history. (For a great online bio, click here for the American Federation of Musicians union website.) A New York City native, he studied at Juilliard with an interruption for World War Two as a violin playing soldier, followed by jobs with radio orchestras, as an orchestral soloist, stints in academia at the University of Iowa and Oberlin, and finally back to performing with the Chamber Symphony of Philadelphia.

The word got back to Seiji Ozawa at the San Francisco Symphony in 1970 that he needed to hear this amazing violinist, and Ozawa hired Canin as concertmaster on the spot after an audition in a hotel. In the 1980s Canin went Hollywood, becoming the go-to concertmaster for movie studio orchestras in over 650 films, then he yo-yo'd back to San Francisco and founded the New Century Chamber Orchestra. He semi-retired in 1996 and then was lured down to LA again to be the concertmaster of the LA Opera Orchestra for the next decade. In 2010 he finally retired and moved back to Berkeley to be close to children and grandchildren.

Last Wednesday at the San Francisco Conservatory as part of a free Faculty Artist Series, Sarah Cahill was to give a solo recital of contemporary music, but she decided to reprise the program she had been playing with Canin over the last month in Berkeley and Point Reyes. She started with a pair of Couperin keyboard pieces, followed by the sad, moody Violin Sonata No. 21 in E Minor by Mozart, and the uncharacteristically cheerful Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Minor by Beethoven. This is music that can be deadly dull when played with mechanistic precision, but startlingly moving and poetic when played as it was here by Canin and Cahill as if they were having a fascinating, passionate conversation which the audience was allowed to overhear.

After intermission, they were joined by the cellist Gianna Abondolo, a former colleague of Canin's at the New Century Chamber Orchestra, and they played the monumental, 40-minute Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major by Schubert that was surpassingly beautiful. It was obvious they and the audience were completely invigorated by the performance in the tiny Sol Joseph Recital Hall, a perfect space for this music. Cahill told me later, "It's really long, but by the time the piece is over, I felt ready to play it all over again."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dreamforce Party Setup

Salesforce, the cloud computing behemoth, puts on a huge convention at Moscone Center every year that sprawls over Howard Street for a couple of weeks, and then caps the event with an outdoor party and rock concert in Civic Center Plaza for conventioneers.

They started setting up for the Tuesday evening event last weekend...

...and it was fun watching stages being erected and surreally large color bars being projected...

...while an army of roadies assembled light towers.

In terms of neighborhood intrusiveness, it's not as bad as Gay Pride Weekend, and we also get to hear the "mystery headliners."

This year it was the bands Cake and Bruno Mars, which certainly fit in with the extravagance of the affair.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

London Musical Gods Descend on San Francisco

The London cellist Steven Isserlis played two concertos with the local, original-instrument Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra last week at the SFJAZZ Center, and his performance was soulful and enchanting. The program had the order switched for the two 18th century cello concertos by CPE Bach and Boccherini, which Isserlis announced to the audience after intermission, explaining in a deadpan voice that we were the victims of a "ghastly hoax." He then explained how the Bach was forward-looking music for its time, "modern music," while the Boccherini was old-fashioned in its use of traditional forms but nonetheless "perfect and heavenly."

Sandwiching his performances were two middle-period Haydn symphonies, #52 and #67. Haydn wrote close to 110 of them, mostly for his live-in job at the Esterhazy estate in Hungary, and they are witty, sane and charming pieces but sometimes hard to bring off in modern concerts where they can easily become dull. The first movement of #57 was conducted by Music Director Nicholas McGegan with verve and a perfect touch, but in the slow second movement he decided to seriously stretch out the tempos, and the piece simply expired and never recovered, not even in the sprightly final movement.

The orchestra was excellent accompanying Isserlis in the Bach and Boccherini, and there was even a hint of jazziness in some of the offbeat rhythms the cellist adopted which fit the music and the location. Isserlis performs as a soloist, in chamber music, with original instrument ensembles and full, modern orchestras in everything from Baroque music to contemporary pieces. This is the second time I have seen him perform and would gladly attend anything in which he's involved. He's a great musician.

Also a supremely great musician is the conductor Vladimir Jurowski, who is touring with the London Philharmonic Orchestra where he has been principal conductor for the last seven years. This year is the last in that particular relationship which is too bad because they are sensational together. The strings, in particular, were so full and rich that they sounded as if we were in Carnegie Hall rather than Davies Hall.

Jurowski was born in Russia, moved with his professional musician family to Germany in 1990, and currently lives with his own family in Berlin, but he's an honorary Londoner because his major career so far has been out of that city, including a stint as the Music Director of Glyndebourne Opera. I've heard him three times now, with three different orchestras, starting with the San Francisco Symphony, his debut with the New York Philharmonic earlier this year, and now this appearance with his own orchestra. He's my new favorite conductor in the world. Even the overplayed Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was interesting in the orchestra, although the boorish, pounding style of piano soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet made me want to run out of the hall.

The Monday evening concert started with a curtainraiser commissioned by the orchestra in 2002, Magnus Lindberg's Chorale, an intentionally dense, beautiful and stirring work for a huge orchestra. After intermission, that same huge orchestra played Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony from 1943, written in the darkest Russian hours of World War Two. The strange hour-long piece alternates between moody string meditations to full-out, cacophonous marches written for an orchestra so loud as to cause hearing loss, which in this case was actually worth it. The performance was assured, powerful, and mysterious. I can't wait to see what Jurowski does next.