Archive for June, 2011

Opera On Tap comes to SF

After four years of filling the taverns and pubs of NYC with the sounds of Wagner and Verdi, Opera On Tap seems to be opening a San Francisco chapter. An audition has been announced on Facebook (hosted by local soprano/neuroscientist/miracle-debunker Indre Viskontas) and the Opera On Tap website has an as-of-yet unpopulated page for a San Francisco chapter. The invitation claims that the first concert will be August 27th at Cafe Royale.

Opera On Tap’s classical opera in casual settings is exactly the sort of non-traditional presentation that Classical Revolution has been doing with chamber music. There are certainly many fine singers in this town and I’m surprised it’s taken this long for the group to start up something out here. I’ve been to a couple of events in NY (mostly through my friend Natalie Wilson as well as their Opera Grows in Brooklyn co-productions with American Opera Projects) and they will be a welcome addition to the music scene here.



Jun 2011

ViolaGate! Mini-riot erupts during piece for viola and electronics

Well, perhaps not rioting, but there was some pretty spirited heckling during JHNO’s performance at last night’s Longer Burning concert at The Royce Gallery presented by Pamela Z. Details are sketchy, but apparently in the middle of a rather loudly amplified piece, two audience members started complaining about the music even more loudly. One started applauding ironically in an effort to get him to stop playing, the other was less subtle and just yelled out “stop”. One audience member in attendance claims that the hecklers went as far to shout “This is a DESECRATION! I am a REAL violist and I can tell you THIS IS NOT MUSIC!”

Apparently this very vocal and persistent minority got under JHNO’s skin and he abruptly stopped playing, threw his viola onto the stage, causing considerable damage, and stormed off. After the outburst, an angry group of audience members (including original Kronos Quartet member Joan Jeanrenaud) amassed around the hecklers, arguing about proper decorum. Apparently one of the hecklers is a well known performer and educator, but no one has named names yet. (update: George Mattingly has identified the heckler as none other than Bernard Zaslav, former violist of the relatively forward thinking Fine Arts Quartet!)

From the accounts I’ve heard, it was a shocking and disturbing occurrence for everyone there. We mythologize stories of extreme audience reaction to the new, (the famous ‘riots’ after Sacre, the woman screaming ‘I Confess!” during Reich’s Four Organs) but with the general sanitization of the concert experience, actual displays of emotion are exceedingly rare (outside the opera house at least).

(ed. Please see the comments for responses from the heckler, hecklee, and concert presenter.)



Jun 2011

Tweaking a masterpiece: Assassins

Few, if any, musicals mine darker creative ore than Assassins. By humanizing a group of disenfranchised, semi-stable malcontents, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman tell a story of the American Nightmare, a haze of anger, frustration, and humiliation that can, apparently, only be relieved by killing the President of the United States.

It’s long been in the short list of my favorite shows of all time (it shows up twice in my “greatest moments of Sondheim” list). It’s also bear of a show to pull off, requiring a very deft directorial hand to keep the audience in that uncomfortable state where they’re genuinely empathizing with despicable characters. Furthermore, it’s an ensemble show that requires vocal virtuosity throughout. The piece is rangy and demanding. But Ray of Light continues to be a small company that insists on thinking big. With last year’s excellent Jerry Springer: The Opera the company showed their ability to rise to the challenge of a large cast singing tough music. If any non-professional company would be able to put on a convincing production of Assassins, it would be Ray of Light. Read the rest of this entry →


Jun 2011

SF Girls Chorus, Bach, and Me

Like Glee. But with better music.

Next Thursday and Saturday (June 9th and 11th) the superb San Francisco Girls Chorus will be performing a remarkable concert of new works including an arrangement of JS Bach’s famous Wachet Auf Cantata 140 for chorus and string quartet by… me.

Cecily Ward from the Cypress String Quartet approached me a couple of months ago with the idea of combining both the chorale movement at the end of the cantata with the popular 4th movement. Rather than simply giving the girls chorus the unison tenor line featured in the 4th movement, (which would have been a waste of talented voices), Cecily wanted to be able to trade themes between the string quartet and the chorus, as an exercise in timbre matching. This would give the chorus an opportunity to sing some lovely sixteenth note runs, but also meant that musical lines that had no text associated with them would need some sort of syllable to sing. Simply singing “aahs” or “ooh” seemed underwhelming, so I was tried to find text in the chorale movement that would fit the melody and sit well on the voice. I’m quite happy with the results, which even managed to land an ecstatic “Hosianna!” or two on some of the extended sixteenth note runs.

The rest of the concert promises to be fascinating, complete with a world premiere from Tania Leon and works from Libby Larsen and Chen Yi. Thursday night is sold out, but Saturday night tickets are still available.

Funny… I remember the Girls Chorus singing with us at the San Francisco Symphony for a few Mahler symphonies back in the 2000s. They haven’t aged one bit!


Jun 2011

A 1-bit rave (with no dancing)

Hey! There's my social security number!

When in New York last month I was lucky enough to be invited to the advanced opening of Ryoji Ikeda’s mammoth video/audio installation the transfinite at the Park Avenue Armory. It’s a 40′ high screen, both imposing and overwhelming. The front side, entitled test pattern is a series of aggressive strobing black and white patterns flashing rapidly on both the screen and the floor. The ‘back’ side, both data.tron and data.scan, is a more subtle projection of a staggering amount of data, millions of digits represented in fonts no thicker than a pixel (at this scale, about 1/3″)  with individual table monitors spread throughout the room echoing parts of the data in greater detail. Both sides are augmented by a soundtrack of digital clicks and noise emanating from powerful speakers surrounding the room.

No images or video can replicate the sensation of being in that space, one that can alternate between amazement, disorientation, discomfort, and for some sensitive folks, just plain nausea. My wife could only stay in the room for short periods of time before stepping out for a break, and she didn’t dare actually step in the central area where the projection was on the floor as well (although that may have been because she didn’t feel like taking her shoes off.) It’s an impressive battering of your senses, one that strikes a chord for a tech geek like myself, (who was inspired to pursue a career in computer graphics after seeing Star Trek II as a kid. The visual displays of information all over the bridge of the Enterprise were just spellbinding.)

The 8-bit aesthetic (possibly even 1-bit? I’m trying to remember if there were any grays on the front side at all…) and digital artifact nature of the sound track reminded me of David O’Reilly’s lovely work in the short film Please Say Something. Standing in the transfinite is what I imagine an O’Reilly character experiences when they’re very agitated. Or when they’re at a rave.



Jun 2011