Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Clara Schumann and the May Uprising

Clara Wieck Schumann
...from Berkeley

Happy New Year to all out in the blogosphere and beyond!

Thinking about Germaine Tailleferre's pregancy reminded me of another composer and another pregnancy--this time Clara Schumann (1819-1896).  Once again, there were armed men and guns involved, although luckily not quite so close up close and personal an experience as Tailleferre lived through.

Most music lovers today know at least a little about the tumultuous life story of concert pianist and composer Clara Schumann, nee Wieck--her lawsuit against her over-controlling father, her romance with Robert Schumann and her relationship with Johannes Brahms, to mention a few of the many highlights. A child prodigy who first performed at the Leipzig Gewandhaus at age 11, Clara grew up to tour as a world-famous concert pianist, had 8 children (7 of whom survived to adulthood) and supported her family with the help of Johannes Brahms after her Robert died (having committed himself to an insane asylum several years earlier). Clara was influential as a teacher, performer, and composer, shaping performance practice to this day as one of the first pianists to perform from memory, and directing musical tastes that affect the music we hear and play today as well, via which composers' works she chose to perform. A proto-feminist heroine in so many ways... and undoubtedly the worthy subject of a post or three for another day.

Today, though, let's look at a short, heroic moment in Clara's personal life... one Dresden day and night in May, 1849.

For months, much of Europe had been gripped by revolutionary paroxysms. Clara, seven months pregnant with her fifth child, and Robert, in weak health, were living in Dresden with their 4 children between the ages of 1 and 7. The government of Dresden, fearful of explosives said to be in the hands of the citizenry, had withdrawn behind barricades. When troops fired on the angry crowd, surprise, surprise... the city erupted.

Caught in the midst of this militant mess were the Schumanns: one very pregnant pianist, a sick composer, and 4 very small children.
Ferdinand c. 1885

The story goes that Clara hid Robert and the children as long as she could.  But when it became impossible, she slipped him out the back door, along with their oldest child, Marie, fleeing with them to safety, having left servants to keep an eye on the younger three children, Elise, Julie, and Ludwig. That night she snuck back into town past armed soldiers and roving bands of troops, risking her life to retrieve the rest of her children and take them back to the 'burbs, as it were, where the family stayed for a month.  Ferdinand, her fifth child with Robert, was born July 16 that year--2 and a half months later.

A brave woman, indeed, and one who lived a very full life.

What I'm reading: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes; Alistair Grims Odd Aquaticum

What I'm listening to: smooth-voiced singers (Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra)

What I'm working on: Tailleferre, Delage, Poulenc, and Handel for January performances.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Germaine Tailleferre, part two--and Christmas

from Berkeley

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

Although it's not a particularly Christmas-y topic, today's blog continues the Tailleferre story I promised from last week.

But before we dive into the tale, the other modern French woman composer after Lili and Nadia Boulanger and Germaine Taillerre is...were you able to guess? No? This would be the influential and well-respected Betsy Jolas (1926- ).

Now, back to the rest of the story...

In most marriages, the announcement that the wife is pregnant is greeted with joy, or perhaps a smile mixed with resignation about another mouth to feed.

Germaine Tailleferre
But Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983)--the only female member of Les Six, whom I wrote about last week--had a much darker experience.

Here's the back story....

It's 1929.* Tailleferre is 37 and has been married to NY caricaturist Ralph Barton for about 2 1/2 years, during which she has not been composing but rather, based on what she later says, hoping for a child. The couple had moved to NY in 1927, but Barton has been raging jealously about her career success.

Nonetheless, Tailleferre is delighted when she discovers she is pregnant! Quelle joie, non?

But Barton...loses it and what follows is a bit more of quelle horreur!

Ralph Barton
According to Tailleferre's memoire from nearly half a century later (excerpted and discussed here: https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-274519831/trauma-and-recovery-in-germaine-tailleferre-s-six), he tells her he'll shoot her in the abdomen to terminate the pregnancy, but that she'll be fine.


Imagine the scene: Barton with shotgun in hand. Tailleferre hiding in the bushes. (Awful jokes about shotgun weddings spring to mind and must be expunged.)  Hidden, she hears shots ring out. Luckily they miss and she remains unharmed. She flees to a friend of Barton's for help and subsequently divorces Barton, who commits suicide the next year.** By her reports she never sees him again after that episode, although she suffers a miscarriage as a result.

Tailleferre's Six chansons francaises from later that same year (1929) are one of her very first post-Ralph compositions. While not truly autobiographical, the poems are an assortment of six 15th-18th century French texts that are uniformly and scathingly bitter towards marriage and husbands, with lines such as "la fidelite n'a jamais ete qu'une imbecilite" ("Fidelity has never been anything but  idiocy"), "...mon mari qui ne vaut pas un grand blanc" ("...my husband, who is not worth a fine white wine"), and "Je n'ai bonjour ni demi avec ce mari mechant..." ("I have neither good days nor even half of one with this spiteful husband...").  You get the idea.  If ever the creation of art can be considered an act of personal exegesis--as it so often is--this song cycle has got to be it.

Curious? (Gratuitous plug time...) I'll be performing them with the talented Dale Tsang and Ensemble for These Times (E4TT.org) next month on Tuesday January 19 in SF at Noontime Concerts, along with other works by Debussy, Maurice Delage, and the Boulanger sisters. And if you can't come, you can still hear them on my CD with the Athena Trio, Fabulous Femmes (Centaur CRC #2461), with the wonderful Sylvie Beaudette at the keyboard.

What I'm reading: Well-read Women (a beautiful book of with sayings and watercolor drawings of 50 famous women in fiction), and Infinitas.

What I'm listening to: Tailleferre, Poulenc, Delage, and Handel

What I'm working on: same

*Quick quiz: Remember what major U.S. event happened in 1929?  Major hint: Think of two pairs of words...financial meltdown and stock market...

**In all fairness, Ralph Barton was a talented artist who achieved immense success and recognition during his lifetime, but he was also severely manic-depressive, a condition that grew worse as his life progressed, ultimately leading to his suicide. Tailleferre was his fourth wife and fourth (and final) divorce. When he shot himself in 1931, he wrote in his suicide note that his third wife, Carlotta Monterey, who had divorced him in 1926 was "the only woman he'd ever loved."  Although Tailleferre's treatment at his hands was beyond cruel, one can only feel great sadness and pity for his own suffering and mental illness.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Germaine Tailleferre

from Berkeley...

Returning to the 20th century French composers and especially French women composers from my November 10 post...  After the Boulanger sisters, two other women composers spring immediately to mind. First and foremost, Germaine Tailleferre, one of the most famous French women composers of the 20th century.

Tailleferre was the only woman of Les Six, a handful of six composers (well, that's the tautological point of the group name, no?) composers from the first half of of 20th century France. This is as opposed to The Five, another famous handful from music history, from 19th century Russia.  There are several apocryphal stories about who started the name and why, but all make clear reference to The Five or the Mighty Handful. i.e., five (yes, yes, that's why they're called The Five...) composers from 19th-century Russia, who never seem to have referred to themselves in that way.

The 20th century name, "Les Six," seems to have become official with an article by French critic Henri Collet and--unlike the Russians in The Five--the group did use that term for themselves.

Les Six did a handful (there's that word again) of collaborative projects, sometimes with other composers, and only once with all six of Les Six.

Mighty Five*
So who were the five in The Five and the six in Les Six?
The Five: Balakirev (at the top in the compiled picture,) Cui (below him, left), Mussorgsky (to his right), Rimsky-Korsakov (lower left) and Borodin (lower right).

Les Six (as noted in the picture, below, right): Auric, Durey, Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc, and--miracle of miracles, a woman!--Germaine Tailleferre. They're depicted in this painting on the right by Jacques-Emile Blanche (Center: pianist Marcelle Meyer. Left, bottom to top, Tailleferre, Milhaud, Honegger, Durey. Right, standing, bottom to top, Poulenc, Cocteau; seated, Auric). 

"Les groupe des six," 1921
Not all of them are famous today, but all five in the Five have fared somewhat better historically compared to Les Six of, well, the six. It could just a question of odds, one in five being better odds than one in six. Or not. Plus one of the six was a woman. Women composers haven't fared well at all historically. Why that's the case is a very long discussion for a series of rainy days.

More on Tailleferre in a future post...and on who the mysterious other famous 20th century French woman composer is that I referred to at the start of today's post.

Any guesses who that mystery woman composer might be?  Comment if you think you know and/or check back in a week!

What I'm reading: Infinitas, The Map to Everywhere, the Handbook for Dragon Slayers.

What I'm listening to: "Six chansons francaises" by Germaine Tailleferre (from Fabulous Femmes, my own very first CD :), a nice blast from the past); Handel's Tolomeo, and Trois poemes desenchantes by Maurice Delage. (Plus I can't get the lovely Mozart Laudate Dominum from yesterday's Christmas concert out of my head. A delightful ear-worm to have running in my head!)

What I'm working on: same...

*"Mighty Handful". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mighty_Handful.jpg#/media/File:Mighty_Handful.jpg

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Yosemite and Hanukkah

...from Yosemite
Yosemite and Hanukkah?  Huh?  Is there some kind of mysterious, previously unknown connection here? Was John Muir secretly Jewish? 


My family!
The only connection is that they both involve family time, that they both are related to holidays in one way or another, and that we were in Yosemite for a family trip this weekend, right before the beginning of Hanukkah.

The valley was lovely, cool and crisp, with patches of snow and ice on the ground, snow on the distant peaks, blue skies and sun. Glacier Point and Tioga Pass were closed, as is usual at this time of year, and Crane Flat was closed for renovation.  But we didn't mind: we were headed to the Ahwahnee Hotel, where we sampled potential dishes for an upcoming wedding. (Not mine, my son's.) The food was uniformly delicious; the service excellent.  We took a little walk afterwards, just as the sky began to gray and the late afternoon winter air chilled. It was wonderful.

At this time of year, the Ahwahnee is decorated for Christmas, with banners up for the annual Bracebridge dinners that start in a week and Christmas trees scattered all over the place (literally. I counted at least 3).  For us, coming to the Valley was truly a trip down memory lane, as we took family trips to Yosemite once or twice a year with our son, and many times before he was born.  

But going back to Hanukkah and Yosemite... After a light lunch on Sunday at Slim's Koffee Shak (emphasis on light as we were still stuffed from the yummy Saturday afternoon tasting and the delicious dinner at South Gate Brewery), traffic was easy enough Sunday that we were home before sunset, in time to light a candle or two.

To all who celebrate the Festival of Lights, a very Happy Hanukkah!

In the shameless plug department, if you're in Berkeley on Sunday, Dec. 13 at 2 p.m., there should be a lovely Christmas concert at the First Church of Christ Scientist (the beautiful Maybeck church at the corner of Dwight and Bowditch), with seasonal and other selections from works that include Handel's Messiah, Bach's Magnificat, Mozart's Vespers, and by Hildegard von Bingen. The musicians will be soprano Eliza O'Malley, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Baker, violinist Michael Jones, cellist Adaiha MacAdam-Somer, organist William Ludtke, and moi, your blogger, 

What I'm reading: Dante's Inferno (for an upcoming translation; more on this another day ;)); When She Named Fire (a fascinating anthology of modern poetry by American women); Map to Everywhere

What I'm working on: The December 13 concert rep (soprano solos from Mozart's Vespers and Bach's Magnificat, carols &seasonal hymns), Handel's Tolomeo.

What I'm listening to: Meistersinger (fabulous production live last week at SFO), Les Troyens (from YouTube and another get SFO production last season), and Handel's Tolomeo), lots of chamber music for the Barbara Fritz Chamber Music Award applications.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

SF Music Day Live+Free

...from SF 

Several weeks ago I ushered for a wonderful annual musical event put on by the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music: SF Music Day Live + Free.  As the name suggests, it's a day of musical events that are 100% free to the public.  The SFFCM curates it, with a focused theme each year, and some 30-40 chamber ensembles perform classical music, crossover repertory, new music, and jazz, a half hour show each, with breaks along the way and a food truck or two serving snacks outside. This year it ran from noon to nearly 11 p.m.

It's been at various venues, but this year it was at the newly remodeled Herbst Theater (which I only caught a glimpse of from the inside, as I was mostly enjoying greeting duty)--a terrific venue. And there were raves about the music making from the many happy concert goers in the crowd.

What a wonderful event! (Full disclosure: E4TT is honored to be a fiscally sponsored affiliate of SFFCM, and I think they do such great work for chamber music in the community).

And for a plug: if you're near Berkeley on Dec. 13 at 2:00 p.m., don't miss the Christmas concert at the First Church of Christ Scientist on Dwight at College, a beautiful historical Maybeck building.  Bach, Mozart, Handel, Hildegard von Bingen, and seasonal favorites, with 2 sopranos, 1 mezzo, violin, cello and organ.

What I'm reading:Seymour Chwast's adaptation of Dante's Divine Comedy; Handbook of Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskel.

What I'm working on: Handel's Tolomeo, Mozart, Bach, songs by Germaine Tailleferre

What I'm listening to: Bach, Berlioz, and more Bach...'tis the season, not that Bach is ever out of season...and Wagner: tomorrow I'm hearing Die Meistersinger at SFO.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the blogosphere! For me, this is family time and family cooking week, a time to be grateful for having happy and healthy family around me.

And not just family...wild turkeys as well.

There are wild turkeys that live near my street in Berkeley. They strut back and forth, mostly along the side of the road, but occasionally in it, luckily never getting hit. And they are safe from Thanksgiving predations, thank goodness. Every year, our tiny tribe of turkeys seems to grow a tad or several tads larger. Turkeys in Berkeley; peacocks, too. Plus deer, raccoons, possums everywhere...

Although I'm teaching and practicing this week, it's hard to think about anything other than food and cooking.  Preparations for the family feast are all-consuming, pun neither intended nor avoided.

Cranberries...we love 'em!
We always have lots of greens--usually a huge salad,Brussels sprouts with a hazelnut browned butter sauce on the side, and another green veggie such as green beans--cranberry bread, regular bread, two kinds of stuffing--this year three, as we will satisfy two sides of the family + those of the vegan persuasion--plus mashed potatoes, turkey, mushroom gravy, two kinds of cranberry relish, cranberry sauce, yams (neither mashed nor marshmallowed but rather with dried fruit and OJ). Hmm...methinks we like cranberries.  Dessert is usually a pie or two of some sort, although cookies and other sweets are welcome an often appear--generally later in the day, after a postprandial walk, a nap for some, and a bout or two of family board games.

This year we're trying out two delicious-sounding veggie recipes: rosemary roasted squash instead of yams and, for a change from the hazelnut version, brussels sprouts with brandied chestnuts and mushrooms. The bonus? They're vegan, too!

Ours is a non-exclusive celebration, with close friends and adoptive family often invited and always welcome. Everyone's favorite version of a dish is welcome, which is how we wind up with many iterations.  We're non-exclusionary at the table, too, with vegans, pescatarians, those who keep Kosher, those allergic to various foods, and basic omnivores all sharing the feast. This year looks to be on the average size with around 15+ at the groaning table, but we never know for certain until the day thereof.  It's a bit of a juggling act, but it's wonderful.  And we happily eat the leftovers again that dinner and for days. Leftover stuffing, sprouts, and potatoes an especially big hit.

What is Thanksgiving like for you or for your family?

Whether you do a big celebration, sit quietly by yourself with a cup of tea, or observe Thanksgiving from abroad, may your Thanksgiving Day be a time of happiness and fulfillment for you--and may it herald a week of world healing as well.

What I'm reading: Lady from Zagreb, The Marvels; Luna; The Sky Is Everywhere

What I'm working on: well, mostly Thanksgiving dinner, but I'm also working on arias for the Christmas concert and the next opera--Mozart (Vespers), Bach (Magnificat), and Handel (Tolomeo).

What I'm listening to: the same ;), but also Schumann and Strauss, due to a great concert last week. More on that next time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Music and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving hymn
One of the joys of living in the SF Bay Area is the wealth of musical events. On a given weekend, there's early music, new music, chamber music, world class orchestral music, jazz, pop, experimental music. The list goes on...and on...and on...and...

How's a thoughtful person to choose?

Sometimes the piece or the composer will be the draw for me, and most typically I go to hear one of my friends perform or see one of their works played. Yet so often, for me, my own performances and rehearsals make it impossible to go to anything at all, which makes for an interesting blend of guilt for not being able to support my friends and colleagues (which I really like to do), happiness that I'm busily working, and excitement for said friends and colleagues. Still two out of three positive emotions ain't bad and balances out the guilt somewhat...

As we head into Thanksgiving week in a few days, it's a moment for me to be grateful that I'm lucky enough to live in such a culturally rich part of the country. This, too, can drown out the guilt, although it  can never drown out my thoughts and concern for those suffering in Paris and other parts of the world.

I'm grateful, as well, for the wonderful annual retreat I just attended with creative friends--a retreat I almost wasn't able to attend this year until the stars realigned themselves at the next-to-last minute.

For my family, it's a day of cooking and clan time--joyfully large groups of relatives converging with large pots, pans, and serving dishes and said convergence spread over several yummy days of family togetherness.  More on this next post...

Thinking of music, there are so many pieces for many holidays, but what about Thanksgiving? The only piece I know of is "We Gather Together," a Thanksgiving hymn in the U.S. that actually comes from the Netherlands, from around 1600, and was first published in the 1620s. With words were grafted onto a traditional folk tune, it is said to commemorate a Dutch victory in battle over the Spanish.  There is more than one story for how it made its way to the New World and to American hymnals. Interesting how a folk+war tune then becomes a Thanksgiving hymn in our hemisphere.  There may be some kind of social commentary not so deeply buried there.

What about you? Do you know other pieces of music associated with Thanksgiving?

What I'm reading: Rywka's Diary: the writings of a Jewish girl from the Lodz ghetto found at Auschwitz in 1945; I'll Give You the Sun.

What I'm working on: solos from the Bach Magnificat and Mozart Vespers for my upcoming Christmas concert on December 13,  plus Handel's Tolomeo, Debussy, and Boulanger for January.

What I'm listening to: Other than "We Gather Together," Handel and Boulanger.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Boulanger Sisters

Nadia Boulanger in 1925

Lili Boulanger
A week or two ago, I had the opportunity to think about French music, specifically French music after 1900.  The opportunity? A serendipitous bit of advance program planning that dropped into my lap. It felt a bit like old home week in a very nice way, revisiting la France et sa musique--a musical "land" I'd spent a decent amount of time in the 90's with the Athena Trio and the talented Sylvie Beaudette and Jan Roberts-Hayden, touring and ultimately recording the program that became our CD "Fabulous Femmes."

So back to 20th century French music, programming, and women composers. I started thinking about the Boulanger sisters, Nadia and her younger sister Lili.  Without doubt the most influential musical pedagogue of the 20th century, Nadia taught literally scads of today's major composers. Her influence fans out exponentially if you include second generation Boulanger students, i.e., those composers who studied with those who studied with her.

Nadia won second place in the Prix de Rome, and lil' sis' Lili won it, the first woman to do so.  A talented composer in her own right, Nadia always insisted that her sib was the better of the two.  Yet Lili, never strong in constitution, died tragically young, before her 25th birthday.  In response, Nadia virtually ceased composing and turned her full attention to teaching, where she was already active, performing and conducting.

This leads to an interesting game of what if.

Imagine for a moment...

What if Lili had survived?  What then? 

Well, first of all, the world would probably have a wealth of works by Lili and Nadia--a wonderful legacy of both their musical talents and not a bad thing at all.

But what about all the composers who Nadia taught, such as Walter Piston, Marc Blitzstein, Elliott Carter,  Philip Glass, Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, and locally, David Conte, among many others?  Might their compositional voices have developed differently?  What might the shape, color, and sound of classical music in the second half of the twentieth century, let alone today, have been like without Nadia Boulanger as such a major pedagogue, if, for example, she had continued  to split her attention between teaching and composing? Or if she'd decided to stop teaching and simply compose?

The mind boggles.

Much like so much of chaos theory, in which the beating of butterfly wings halfway across the globe can change things a continent away, a single event had untold significant consequences. In this case, stunning tragedy begot a stunningly positive legacy.

What I'm reading: Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz and Paul Celan; Meet at the Ark at Eight (yes, those were my chuckles you heard), Luna, The Princess Curse, Playing Juliet, and that fabulous international mystery set in Berlin, The Lady in Zagreb.

What I'm listening to: Clara Schumann's Op. 6 and Robert Schumann's Davidsbundlertaenze (inspired by a lovely concert played by a friend and wonderful colleague recently); music by Nadia and Lili Boulanger.

What I'm working on: Winter Solstice Songs by Elena Ruehr, Kay Ryan Songs by Laura Schwendinger, Bartok folk settings, and songs by Vandor,  in other words, my  November performance repertory for E4TT.  (And a big shout out to the PJCC for presenting us this weekend for that repertory! Wonderful concert, with a great audience.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Trick or Treat... Halloween in Munich

Jacko' lantern

Some years I've been in Munich or even Berlin for Halloween; other years, in Berkeley. This year, I'm in Berkeley.  On the street where I live, we have no sidewalks, so only a handful of the local kids trick or treat. The very few littles come early, but the older kids (and parents) all go to one of the areas in Berkeley that go nuts for Halloween in a fabulous way.  There are several, although I won't name street names, to avoid totally flooding said fabulous neighborhoods. This year, we racked up an exciting 2 Trick or Treaters, for a new low. They knew they were rarities, though, and made up for it by scooping up immense amounts of mini-Butterfingers. My husband, having lent out his Count Dracula cape, visited some of the local Halloween neighborhoods as a ghost.

For the grownups in the Bay Area, there are also Halloween parties; in Bavaria, too. While Halloween isn't really a traditional German holiday, the custom has spread. In Munich, you see groups of young adults and older teens walking around, dressed in delightfully gruesome, Gothic costumes--Grim Reapers, ghouls, and the like.  No Tinkerbells, Cleopatras, or pirates, at least that I've seen. The day after, All Saints Day, Nov. 1, is a traditional religious holiday in Bavaria.  Stores, most museums, etc., are closed. Google honored All Saints, All Souls, and Dia de los Muertos with a special logo on Chrome.

Gabriel Faure
Gabriel Faure

Gabriel Faure
Because Nov. 1 was a Sunday, there was a flurry of Requiem activity at Catholic churches in the Bay Area. Oakland had a Faure Requiem; SF had Mozart, for example.  I heard the beginning of the Faure--which sounded beautiful, as it truly is a lovely work--but sadly was driven away by the heavy incense by the middle of the Introit.  Mozart's Requiem is on my bucket list of pieces I want to sing: I've had several near misses as the soloist but it's still sitting there in the bucket and on the list... Someday, hopefully!  And related to that, at today's lecture recital, we came very close to performing "Allerseelen" (not the ravishing Strauss setting, but rather David Garner's brilliant setting of Mascha Kaleko's "Allerseelen" poem) on All Soul's Day (today, Nov. 2), but time ran out before we got to it... Pity, but it was a wonderful lecture-recital, with very engaging, intelligent questions at the end.

What about Halloween or All Saints Eve customs in other countries or other parts of the world? Comment if you're so inclined!

What I'm reading: The Lady from Zagreb; And Tango Makes Three; A Dirty Job

What I'm listening to: Bach's Magnificat; Faure Requiem; songs by David Garner

What I'm working on: songs by Bartok, Ruehr, Schwendinger, and Vandor for Nov. 8 at the PJCC in Foster City.  Related to that, the JWeekly published a wonderfully supportive article  by Dan Pine about us (E4TT and JMPP) on Oct. 30.  Check it out if you haven't seen it already!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Winds of Change

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose...that (plus the appropriate diacritical marks that I'm not currently able to get on Blogger) was the title for Jewish Music & Poetry Project's enewsletter in September.

What's changing?  Well, for one, I'm making a New Year's resolution (albeit, in the middle of October, so it's either late or early, depending on your point of view). And what is said resolution?  To post on my blog weekly. Shorter posts, undoubtedly, but weekly.  Regularly.  No more of this random occasional-ness that has frustrated many of you, my friends, colleagues, and fans.

Any takers wanting to bet on how long this new leaf will stay turned?  Comment here with your best guess.  May the cynical among you be disappointed...or at least inaccurate. Want to see if I actually manage to blog in a week, which would be unprecedented?  Tune in one week from now.  Or even better, sign up for the blog feed and find out the answer to this burning mystery.

What else? Well, how about the new name for Jewish Music & Poetry Project:  Ensemble for These Times? Our new logo is up above. And check out our spiffy new website at e4tt.org, too, if you feel so inclined. The JMPP will continue as a project of the ensemble and our mission will continue as before (new, nearly new, forbidden and forgotten music that is relevant to today)--but with a broader horizon and a much shorter/simpler URL for the website: e4tt.org vs. jewishmusicandpoetryproject.org. Dale Tsang is still the fabulous pianist, and David Garner if still my co-director and an amazing composer.  Watch over time to see our new commissioning initiatives, call for scores, and more.

Our first E4TT concert of the season? Coming right up this Thursday, Oct. 29, at Laney College, a program of all contemporary music by local and national U.S. composers.

What I'm reading: I recently finished: the first two books in Michelle Knudsen's engaging YA Trelian series. (Watch for her third volume to come out in April, 2016) and the very moving I Am J. Wonderful poems by Czeslaw Milosz. 

What I'm listening to: music by Missy Mazzoli, Derek Bermel, and Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915.

What I'm working on: songs by John Harbison, James Primosch, Kurt Erickson, Elena Ruehr, and John Reager, all for E4TT's Thursday concert, natch.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Elektra rocks in Berkeley!

What an intense opera, Elektra by Richard Strauss... And, yes, it was amazing...a workshop production/house concert of Elektra with a 2-keyboard orchestra on Aug. 15. Thanks to our wonderful hostess (unpictured)!  The opera begins with an orchestral scream--really more of a wail--as a foretelling of the unwinding of the classic Greek tragedy.  I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that death stalks the characters and the gods reap their vengeance by the end.

In the picture, left to right front row: Maestro Kent Nagano, soprano Emma Rosenthal, moi, soprano Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai, soprano Lisa Houston, tenor Ross Halper, and soprano Shawnette Sulker.
Back row, left to right: stage director Jessica Clarkson, baritone Sepp Hammer, mezzo-soprano Heather McFadden, soprano Jamie McDonald Lee, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Boesing, and bass Richard Mix.  Not pictured: mezzo-soprano Meghan Dibble, pianists Monica Chew and Jerry Kuderna.  What a talented bunch, a great show: yes, we rocked! (And no, we're not in costume any more...This is at the post-show party.

And, in case we didn't get enough rocking from Strauss and co., the Bay Area awoke to a 4.0  tremblor on Monday morning (6:49 a.m. on my clock), a long one!  Epicenter a little over 2 1/2 miles from me, on the ever-active Hayward fault, but luckily no damage here or anywhere else.

What I'm reading: The Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen (whom I met in L.A.--wonderful writer!), Clariel (Abhorsen series prequel, by Garth Nix), and Clockwork Dagger (Beth Caton).

What I'm listening to: Renata Tebaldi and Montserrat Caballe (so it should be who, really...)

What I'm working on: Bartok songs, songs by Hans Winterberg, recently released from archives where they had literally been hidden from the world, "L'altra notte" by Boito, "Letzte Rose" by Flotow, "Non ho cor" by Handel, and "Sombre foret" by Rossini.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Farewell, SCBWI LA 2015/ Hello, Elektra!

The 2015 LA SCBWI conference wound down to a fabulous end earlier this week. Filled with inspiring speakers and faculty--including, as Miss Piggy would say, moi!--it was a wonderful event.

Not to be missed. And sold out.

In a moment of random serendipity, I got to sit next to author Michelle Knudsen (Library Lion) at the Golden Kite Luncheon, where she received the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor for her novel Evil Librarian. (Can't wait to read it.)  Lucky me!

That's her in the photo up there, with her award, along with SCBWI Prez, Stephen Mooser.

I met so many talented, kind, inclusive folks! If you're the twitterlicious type, you can check out my Twitter feed (@NanetteMcG).

What a high-powered, high-energy weekend.

Coming back to earth, aka, the SF Bay Area, I'm gearing up for tomorrow's rehearsal of Elektra.  Many years and a number of books ago, Joseph Kerman described Tosca as a "shabby, little shocker...," one of those phrases that sticks and ignites debates. But if you take out "shabby" and "little" you've described Elektra in just one word. The opera's short--one intense act--but it doesn't feel little at all. Starting with a huge orchestral scream, the opera is steeped throughout in a brooding cauldron of fin de siecle angst.  A number of my colleagues are singing in it--Ross Halper, Lisa Houston, Jennifer Boesing, Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai, Heather MacFadden, Shawnette Sulker, and Richard Mix. This Elektra will be performed at a private house concert in Berkeley (invite only), conducted by the California native Maestro Kent Nagano and directed by Jessica Clarkson, with Jerry Kuderna at the orchestral piano.

What I'm reading: an ARC of The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis  (courtesy of Rotem Moscovich at the conference, thank you!); Drama by Raina Telgemeir; Minnie by Annie Schmidt; The Family Romanov, by Candace Fleming; Hook's Revenge, by Heidi Schulz

What I'm listening to: West Edge Opera's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria--tonight!--in Alan Curtis' edition, with Gilbert Martinez conducting, Kindra Scharich, Jonathan Smucker, and others singing. Can't wait! Mozart Piano Concerto #24 in c minor.

What I'm working on: Well, there's that Fifth Maid in Elektra ;). And I was requested to sing "Both Sides Now" for a church service recently. Who'd a thunk?  Starting in on some Handel--Elisa from Tolomeo for January, and brushing off some of Agrippina.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Mem Fox and Yvonne Printemps

Just a quick note, from LA, where the annual SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) conference got underway Friday July 31.  The conference kicked off with SCBWI Exec Dir. Lin Oliver's annual exercise,asking all the faculty to choose one word to introduce ourselves with. Mine?  Lyrical...of course!  After that, an excellent opening keynote speech by the ever droll, marvelous Australian writer, Mem Fox (shown on the left. Yvonne Printemps is to the right).

I've been asked to present the first-ever SCBWI session on translation--an immense honor!--and I'm thrilled to be here with the many talented faculty members and attendees from all over the world. The only thing they have in common?  They're all involved with children's literature in some way or another.

If you're at the Hyatt, do come to Directors I and II at 11:15 for "The Art and Business of Translation" on Saturday morning.

Couldn't get to LA this year for the conference?  Tried to sign up too late? (It's sold out.)  Do the next best thing: follow the official blog, put together by Lee Wind, official blogger for SCBWI and the conference.

One of the big topics this year: diversity of all kinds, including translated works (yes!).  Did you know that only 3 percent of all works in the U.S. are translations, and of those, only 0.7% are literature (both prose and poetry combined)? Check out (and tweet) #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

What I'm reading: Sisters by Raina Telgemeier; Shadow Scale (the sequel to Rachel Hartman's wonderful Serafina)--and more of my Comic Con swag. Of course, I now have a reading list a mile deep from all the great books I heard about today.

What I'm listening to: Yvonne Printemps singing "Les chemins de l'amour" and Elektra by Richard Strauss.

What I'm working on: same as last post... Die Funfte Magd, from Strauss' Elektra, for a concert in mid-August; Flotow's Die letzte Rose, Poulenc's Les chemins de l'amour; new-to-me Hungarian folk settings by Bartok.

ADDENDUM:  After a workshop to a small but dedicated and enthusiastic group in the morning, moderated by talented poet and translator Mariko Nagai, followed by an inspiring keynote speech by Varian Johnson, the Sparkle and Shine party really...sparkled. Here's a picture of me with Lee Wind at the SCBWI Sparkle and Shine party.

And also from the party, Lin Oliver with fabulous writer, SCBWI Member of the year Ellen Hopkins.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Dear ever-patient blog readers,

It has been a shamefully long time since I last posted here: I vow to do better going forward!

But it's been a very full, exciting and busy 15 months, with a performance tour in Hungary--for which I learned to sing in the beautiful but challenging language of Hungarian--recording a new CD, premieres of new music by Laura Schwendinger, William Ludtke, and David Garner, translating 4 middle grade novels and 6 middle grade graphic novels from Italian and French into English, a family reunion in NY, my normal performing schedule...and more. So hopefully you'll all forgive my absence on these blogging pages and understand the  hiatus.

The CD recording sessions took place last month, with the Jewish Music & Poetry Project's pianist Dale Tsang and cellist Adaiha MacAdam-Somer. Intense but satisfying.  Keep an eye on the Centaur Records online catalogue in 2016 (or this space, natch) for the release of Surviving: Women's Words, song cycles by David Garner of texts by four different women poets.

Back to the present, I just returned from the annual craziness known as Comic Con, which was just as packed and huge as ever--possibly even more so. There's always some concern that it's gotten too big (legitimate) and that it's becoming too much of a pop culture haven (also legitimate), but it remains a fun and energy-packed time.  For me, it's a chance to check out the swag (books, books, and more books!), attend panels, see friends, and visit the SoCal wing of my family.  A shout out to First Second, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year with not one or two but three Eisner Awards, for The Zoo Box by Ariel Cohn and Aron Nels Steinke, This One Summer by Mariko and Jilliam Tamaki (which I read earlier this year and recommend), and The Shadow Hero by the multitalented Gene Luen Yang whose Airbender: The Last Avatar, from Dark Horse was the other half of his best writer award; also to Graphix/ Scholastic for its Eisner-winning Sisters by Reina Telgemeier, and to all the other Eisner nominees and winners.  Now everyone gets to catch their breath until next year's Con.

It's less than a month until another big annual conference in SoCal, although one that's a little tamer than Comic Con, thank goodness: the annual SCBWI conference from July 30-Aug. 3. I'm thrilled to have been asked to give a workshop on translating, quite the honor, as it's the first time they're having a talk on the subject.  Check out Avery Udagawa's interview with me on the SCBWI blog if you feel like it...

 In a far more sobering note, an important professor  of mine from grad school died this week at the age  of 81, Alan Curtis.  Alan had a major impact on  the early music movement, both at the keyboard  and also conducting Handel and Monteverdi.  And he had a major influence on me:  performing in the Collegium as a grad student with  him directing-- particularly my singing the role of Nino in Cesti's  Semiramide with the inimitable Elizabeth Anker-- was crucial in my decision to be an opera singer.  Requiescat in pace to him, and to also the towering  dramatic tenor, Jon Vickers, who passed away last  week.

Watch a marvelous interview with Alan Curtis  during recording sessions for Alcina in 2009, with Joyce Didonato and other wonderful musicians.

To hear some Monteverdi live, check out West Edge Opera's Festival 2015, which will include Monteverdi's Il ritorno di Ulisse in Patria, conducted by Music Sources' Gilbert Martinez.

What I'm reading: all the marvelous books I got on Comic Con! More later...

What I'm listening to: the first edits of the JMPP's CD, to give feedback to our wonderful team of audio engineer, Jason O'Connell, and producer David Garner; Elektra (Strauss, for performing).

What I'm working on: new-to-me Bartok settings for 2015/16 concerts; the Fuenfte Magde from Elektra by Strauss for a concert performance in August.