Archive for the ‘music’ Category

jcm’s Top 10 Performances of ’13

It was another stunning year of live performance in the Bay Area and beyond. I’m forgoing reviews this time, thanks to grad school demands. I’m grateful yet again for the embarrassment of riches…one of the many reasons I gladly call San Francisco home!

1) Matt Alber @ The Rickshaw Stop
Presented by SF Bear Pride
November 8
With NAKIA, Jeb Havens…
Program incl.: Monarch, The River, Velvet Goldmine, Old Wallingford, Tightrope, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Field Trip Buddy, Hide & Seek, Always (ACAP), End of the World, Yellow, New York, Old Ghosts…
A taste of Matt live

Matt Alber

2) Pink Martini @ The Hollywood Bowl
July 19
With China Forbes, Storm Large, Saori Yuki, Ari Shapiro…
Program incl.: Brazil, Zundoko bushi, Splendor in the Grass, Eugene, Hang on Little Tomato, Get Happy/Happy Days medley, And Then You’re Gone/But Now I’m Back medley, Yo Te Quiero Siempre…

(Photo by jcm)

(Photo by jcm)

3) Mephistopheles, San Francisco Opera
September 14
With Ildar Abdrazakov, Patricia Racette, Ramón Vargas, Marina Harris…

Mephistopheles_680x385-(3)

4) Anything Goes, Broadway Tour, Curran Theatre
January 28
With Rachel York, Fred Applegate, Erich Bergen, Alex Finke…

4.179493

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jcm’s Top 10 SF Performances of ’12

In the midst of the embarrassment of riches jcm partook in this year, above all, it was the year of the art song, “Hasa Diga Eebowa,” and contemporary american opera (and THIS without even having seen Moby Dick ;-(. This was particularly good news for art song and american opera, as it’s more the norm to bemoan their demise these days.

In capturing the highlights of the year, the performance and production were weighed most heavily, but in the case of new material, the script and score were of course considerations. Oh, and who can help some personal biases slipping in? Not jcm (ie: West Side Story = the greatest show ever written)! SO, here goes…

1) Sandrine Piau, (Susan Manoff, piano) CalPerfs, Hertz Hall

It was as if a gentle, gamine spirit had landed for just an hour or two, gracing us with her rare magic. She left us transfixed, susceptible to the whims of her potent storytelling. The program was studio-ready in its refinement and attention to detail, yet never bland or white-washed. She uses her lyric instrument to full advantage, painting a broad palette of tones and expressions. The very satisfying program featured french, german and english sets of Fauré, Bouchot, Chausson, Mendelssohn, Strauss and Britten, followed by a generous set of encores: “Voyage a Paris,” “Clair de lune,” and Strauss’s “Madchen Blumlein.”

sandrine-piau-black-and-white

TIE

Karina Gauvin,  (Michael McMahon, piano) Weill Hall at the Green Music Center

The Bay Area has been given a great gift in the form of the new Green Music Center. In structure it is reminiscent of the great Musikverein of Vienna. It is nearly all wood, which is visually rich, and acoustically perfect. In a word, intoxicating. This was the inaugural recital of the hall’s vocal series. They programmed very well, especially as Karina’s Bay Area appearances are rare. Highlights included: “Le Printemp” by Hahn, “Phylidé” and “L’Invitation au Voyage” by Duparc. For her encores, she performed Weill (ie: Weill Hall) and the Scottish “Ae Fond Kiss.” The latter was deeply satisfying. Her english diction is stunning, and her textual delivery particularly soulful. On a personal note, her sister and mother were in the audience, just a few rows in front of me. She shared that this was the rare performance they were able to attend, and dedicated a song to her sister. A special night indeed.

karina-gauvin

2) The Book of Mormon, National Tour, Curran Theatre

It takes you by the balls, and won’t let you go. I’ve rarely seen the kind of go-for-broke commitment from a cast as this. 21 year-old Grey Hensen, who played Moroni and Elder McKinley, as well as Jared Gertner as Elder Cunningham stole the show. I live for Gavin Creel, but oddly he seemed not to embody the role as much as to act it. Surely he’s settled into it by now, or will fully by its UK West End run. The first 20 minutes have to be the most perfectly crafted portion of almost any Broadway show I’ve seen LIVE. You know…those laughing-and-crying at the same time moments? The vocal power in the ensemble numbers was very impressive. Having an 8 year-old behind us in the audience made the profanity and vulgarity seem even more raucous and saucy.

gavin-creel-book-of-mormon

Continue reading jcm’s Top 10 —>

Delicacies: The Finest Light Lyric Sopranos

Why LLS (Light Lyric Sopranos)? Why now?

In April, I attended the Cal Perfs recital of Sandrine Piau at Hertz Hall. I’ll wait until my “Top 10” EOY post to review it, but needless to say, she was sensational. I bought my tickets well in advance, knowing it would be the sleeper of the season.

However, at the time it crossed my mind that the recital came and went without much fanfare, she had no SF Opera presence in this or any season to date, the hall was only half full despite its intimate size, AND even few if any of my opera friends in-the-know had it on their must list. The reasons? Her career has been almost entirely in Europe, she’s essentially a “specialist” (ie: early music, Mozart, and lieder/art song), and she’s an LLS. Unfortunately, this fach rarely commands the same mainstream attention as the big guns, and in more standard operatic fare usually serves ensemble or comprimario roles.

I’ve spent much time on jcm raving about my beloved coloraturas, dramatic sopranos, and at times full lyrics, but it’s time I shed a spotlight on the finest LLS of our time (all of them active). I hope you discover an artist new to you.

Wikipedia shares that an LLS “has a bigger voice than a soubrette, but still possesses a youthful quality.” SO, clearly this doesn’t include the full lyrics, typified by a Fleming, Moffo, or Steber. Their predecessors are Elisabeth Schumann, Bonney, and Cotrubas.

What are the qualities I want in my LLS?

I look for well modulated technique, emission “on the breath” (unless for expressive purposes), singing within one’s “column of sound” (— L. Price), a balance of sweetness and brightness (not too much of one), good taste (which is VERY important in this fach, lest they become cloying), and of course unique interpretive and expressive abilities/gifts.

There’s no hard line drawn between fachs, so some of these singers have characteristics of a coloratura, soubrette, and lyric, but I believe they are at their essence LLS. It should come as no surprise that many of their coloratura skills are astonishing, as a leaner voice is wont to move fast at times.

Karina Gauvin

She was the inspiration for this post, because, she, like Sandrine is offering a Bay Area recital this year (this weekend!), which I’m not going to miss. As with Sandrine, it likely won’t be sold out, has been rather under-marketed, BUT will surely contain some of the finest singing the Bay Area has heard all year. Her holiday album Images de Noël is always a part of my Christmas. I also recommend her Baroque duet album with Marie-Nicole Lemieux: “Streams of Pleasure.”

Sandrine Piau

She is the definition of good taste, portraying a supreme elegance, self-possessed carriage, and pristine tone. Her Mozart aria recital CD is superior to Dessays, but she’s less flashy and more reserved, so not the mainstream marketing darling that Dessay has become. (I admire Dessay’s art too for different reasons.)

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jcm’s Top 10 SF Performances of ’11

It’s time for my third annual Top 10 round-up. These don’t attempt to be comprehensive reviews…but rather an Amuse-bouche of the most stellar performances I witnessed by the Bay, in ’11. How in the world can I compare a Pop Star to a Handel opera, you ask? Well…I warm up the jcm-ulator, and out come the tabulated results. It doesn’t lie. I seem to be trending towards opera, with musicals taking a back seat. Why? They sing louder, higher and without mics?

1) RING Cycle, SF Opera  details

With the carefully crafted characterizations of a stage play, this Cycle was a well-deserved hit and had the city abuzz with Wagner. Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde was an utter triumph, equal parts true Wagnerian and singing actress. Stunning SFO leading role debuts were offered by Heidi Melton as Sieglinde, and Daveda Karanas as Waltraute. There wasn’t a weak link in the cast. Francesca Zambello’s concept was fortunately not too heavy-handed, largely staying out of the way of the story and score…more often informing it, and only periodically misstepping. I found the Industrial Revolution concepts throughout Das Rheingold to be the most iconic and potent. However, the mythic Die Walküre was the emotional highpoint, featuring the burnished, virile tenor of Brandon Jovanovich’s Siegmund. Siegfried was also surprisingly engaging. I had the good fortune of serving as Super Captain and Supernumerary in Walküre and Götterdämmerung.

2) Stacey Kent, Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel  details

I fell in love with her voice three years ago. After stalking her tour schedule for a Bay Area performance, I got to experience her art live at last. She’s a real pixie…a gentle spirit, with a frail flutter to her vibrato. She completely transported me and her audience, casting a convincing spell. Her palpable, loving connection to her band leader, sax player and husband Jim Tomlinson added to the glow. She embodied “less is more,” drawing us in, rather than overworking her numbers in a too extroverted manner. Her set included lots of brazilian and french songs unfamiliar to me, some off her just released album. Come back soon Stacey!

 

Continue reading jcm’s Top 10 —>

In the Bleak Midwinter

Happy Christmas to you!


Click on the image or link below (and turn up your volume) to enjoy my favorite performance from
Christmas in the Ballroom 2011 (a track off our live CD).

It features our chorale of 9 and pianist in a simple, largely unison arrangement of the Holst classic, by Catherine Bennett. So atmospheric and peace-filled.

The photography is from my february visit to beautiful Telluride, CO.

May you have peace and joy!

In the Bleak Midwinter

“Christmas in the Ballroom” 2011

I’m thrilled to be taking part in a musical reunion, reviving this Bay Area tradition with a small chorale of very talented friends! This will be my 4th year taking part in “Christmas in the Ballroom” (and the 9th for its founders!).

So, gather up your friends and family for a festive evening of traditional Christmas hymns and carols, as well as contemporary and popular favorites, including a sing-along portion (you know you want to!). The generous spread of hot cider and homemade cookies make it a cozy and family friendly tradition.

Here are the complete details:

Three Notable Female Vocal Jazz Discoveries

Since I run my design biz from my home office, I have the freedom to follow my musical whims throughout a workday. But, I tend to craft a pretty predictable soundtrack. Almost without fail, I start the day with the equivalent of aural wallpaper: low-key, instrumental, classical music (ie: KDFC, or an iTunes playlist). It helps me focus, and offers just the right flavor and vibe to support my work, as I find my daily mojo.

Around the time 11:30 – noon rolls around, I normally make a switch over to jazz. I’ve grown to love 1.FM, Adore Jazz, a primarily vocal jazz station offered on iTunes. By the time 4pm hits, I’m usually on my way to pop, rock, bluegrass, or dance. Unless it’s friday, in which case I make that transition much earlier. But I digress…

Adore Jazz has introduced me to a slew of artists I’d likely not otherwise know. For that I am very thankful. I wanted to share and highlight a few of the best discoveries. Perhaps you jazz/vocals aficionados already know these singers well, but they feel to me to be unjustly under the radar, and were certainly outside of my mainstream. I’m not sure why this is so, as I’ve quickly grown to consider them some of the finest, certainly of the contemporary crop.

Stacey Kent

In trying to describe Stacey Kent to a friend, I likened her to a modern-day Blossom Dearie. She has an impossibly sweet tone. Coming from another artist, it could threaten to be cloying, but her delivery is so honest, it never rings false. She feels very much a product of a different time (ie: 50s-60s)…not only calling to mind Blossom, but also Astrud Gilberto.

Stacey, a Jersey girl, has been nominated for a Grammy, so I suppose she’s hardly a best-kept secret, but I’ve never heard another vocal-phile reference her, or heard her recordings in another venue or on a different station.

Continue Reading About Jazz Discoveries—>

jcm’s Top 10 Best LIVE Performances of ‘10

It’s that time again! I’m serving up my second annual Top 10 LIVE Performances of the year. It’s a follow-up to my ‘09 list. Sadly, there are no Broadway shows on this list. I plan on remedying that in 2011!

1. Die Walküre, San Francisco Opera (Details)

This production offered one of the finest casts that could possibly be assembled for this opera (and The Ring) in the current operatic landscape. The production said some new things, and offered a few fresh perspectives, but didn’t try too hard, or overshadow the score. Maestro Runnicles is a Wagnerian master, and he and the orchestra rose to the occasion again. Yeah, I was a “Supernumerary” in the production, but I was able to watch much of it from the orchestra during rehearsals, and even accounting for my bias, this would still takes my top spot. Enjoy my full review here.

Mark Delavan (Wotan) & Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde); Photo by Cory Weaver

2. Scalpel! The Musical, Brava Theatre (Details)

Can you say fun? It had me at the opening number, with countless heals and drag runway walks. It was the first show I’ve seen in the Brava, and I immediately loved this venue…the warm lighting, the urban ambience, and the straight, raked seating offering direct views. Even with all the camp and hijinks, the entire cast was completely committed to the material. This was the second mounting of the show, and my fingers are crossed that it returns yet again. Apparently, there was a bit of a curse on the production, with multiple cast injuries (including a very unfortunate broken leg for leading man, Mike Finn), but they pushed through, with some quick and fortuitous replacements and prevailed. Picturing Sara Moore as “poop-raking” TV reporter Kitty Kelly (“Hardballs” host) still makes me laugh.

 

Emily McGowan: Fritzy, Arturo Galster: Pepper Van Allen, Cindy Goldfield: Jacqueline Bulgari

3. Heidi Melton: Salon at the Rex, The Rex Hotel (Details)

To hear Heidi Melton plead in spoken french AND debut her chest voice was alone faint-worthy, and positively scintillating. And, to hear her in repertoire much outside her core operatic rep and comfort genres was a treat (ie: Irving Berlin and Kurt Weill cabaret, and Korngold songs). Her rendition of Berlin’s “Always” left not a dry eye in the audience. (Her Noe Valley Chamber Music Recital a few weeks before was also very beautiful). No thanks to the Adler “Future is Now” concert, which was on the same night, the recital was over all too soon (evidenced by a jcm quotation here and here)! I stuck around and imbibed and dined at the bar…I wanted to savor the spell Heidi had cast.

 

Continuing Reading jcm’s Top 10! —>

Animated Holiday Greeting: from jcm to you!

Dear Readers & Friends,

 

Please click on the image or link below (and kindly turn up your volume) to enjoy my holiday greeting to you:

Winter Gifts


Many blessings & best wishes to you and yours!

“Turn the clock to zero…”

I have no idea which interpretation of this Sting song will hold true for me on this most important of days, but it inspires me to start anew, continue looking and building forward, and choosing love and truth:

“I’m thinking in a brand new way…
The river’s wide, (I’ll) swim across.
We’re starting up a brand new day.”

Thanks Sting!

(Here are the complete song lyrics.)

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