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!