Saturday, October 22, 2016

Whirlwind Fall: Grammy Submissions and Global Music Awards

from Berkeley
Ensemble for These Times
Dear ever-patient readers in the Blogosphere,

It's been (and continues to be) a whirlwind fall! Just to catch everyone up a wee bit,  Ensemble for These Times' debut CD of music by David Garner, "Surviving: Women's Words" won a Silver Medal in the Global Music Awards, received two nice reviews (one at American Record Guide, calling the CD, "fascinating," and "compelling" and the other at Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Reviews, calling it "extremely well done" and "Recommended."), and has been submitted for the 59th Grammy Awards--oh, my; I've been in California and Washington; and E4TT is preparing for the first of our Call for Scores concerts, 56x54 #1.

What's a 56x54 #1, you might ask?  Google's latest algorithm, perhaps? Well, this past December-January, we had our first-ever Call for Scores, as you patient reader-folks might remember.  We were honored (and overwhelmed) to receive 275 scores from 200 talented composers. In the end, we chose 56 fabulous works of varying lengths to perform over the next two seasons (Read more here and here) and we're excited to be performing the first set this week, along with one of David's song cycles from the CD and the world premiere of Bruce Nalezny's "Toccata," dedicated to our fab pianist, Dale Tsang.

So, for a teensy plug (Wait, isn't today's blogpost all a plug, you might also ask? Well, although I didn't mean it as such, just trying to catch up is making it go that way.  Thanks again for your. already praised and much-vaunted patience.), the concert will be on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 3 p.m. at the Berkeley Piano Club. Tickets ($20/15) are available at the door or from

Ensemble for These Times

And who is that woman in the green dress in E4TT's new photos above? That, everyone, is the wonderful--not to mention beautiful--cellist Anne Lerner-Wright. Anne played with us last May and June, and we're thrilled to have her with us this season!

As you can imagine, I've been living and breathing E4TT--mostly, as there's lots else going on in my life, all of it good, for which I'm immensely grateful. More over the next weeks and months as time permits.

What I'm reading: The Alphabet and the Goddess and Mercedes Lackey's Elite
What I'm listening to: Scads and scads of fabulous CDs submitted for the 59th Grammys.
What I'm working on: 56x54 #1 plus music by David Garner!

Friday, August 19, 2016


Muir Woods

...from San Francisco

The tour is over--has been over for some while now--and it was wonderful!  Now let the catching up commence... Pictures galore to come in the future...

But first, for this week, here's a short meditation on my favorite season of the year: summertime....  What makes me love summer so much?
  • The air is warm, even when there's fog and wind (unless, of course you are in San Francisco... Mark Twain is said to have quipped that the coldest winter he ever spent was July in SF. While  this may be apocryphal, as there's no good attribution to be found, it certainly sounds like something he might have said.)  Today it's gorgeous in San Francisco, though.
  • The character of the sunshine in the summer. It shines a brighter bright than the winter sun, at least in northern climes, when one almost feels like rooting for it, much like the "Little Engine That Could": I think you can (shine), I think you can, I think you can...
  • The quality of the color of the light (related to but different from the above).  The blue is more blue; the light is...well, more light.  The hues sparkle and make my eyes smile.
    One of San Francisco's many claims to fame
  • The sense that anything is possible...Who knows where you'll go?  You might travel anywhere or do anything. It's summer--school vacation for kids and teachers--and all bets are off...or maybe they're on?
  • The long summer days, where the light doesn't fade until laaate in the evening and where dining outside at 9 feels balmy, sensible, relaxed and just right.
  • As Clara sings in her lullaby from Porgy and Bess--which I've loved singing for years--in  summertime, the living is easy.  Everyone knows Gershwin wrote the music, and yet we tend to forget all about DuBose Heyward, who wrote the opera's unforgettable lyrics. Here's a picture of one of the amazing American soprano Leontyne Price--probably my favorite soprano of all time, among a wide field of fabulous singers--when she played the role of Bess in 1952:
Leontyne Price

  • The lovely feeling that mañana will do just fine for most anything...because, of course, it's summertime.
Which is your favorite season?  Why?

What I'm reading: Just finished Rachel Caine's Paper and Fire (the sequel to her dystopian steampunk Ink and Bone, from her Great Library Series).  When's the 3rd book coming out?!

What I'm listening to: electro-acoustic music by the wonderful Diane Thome. Her Palaces of Memory Cd arrived this week.

What I'm working on: a fabulous, but little-known "Ave Maria" by Franz Schreker

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Krakow from Bilbao!

E4TT performing at Galicia Museum
... from Bilbao
It will take me weeks and weeks to share all the wonderful places and pics from this summer's tour--which isn't over yet even now!  So today I'm making a valiant effort to cover a bit more of the photos from Krakow. ... Not to confuse anyone, of course, but I'm posting pics from Krakow from Bilbao, as it were... The phrase has a lovely ring to it, no?

Workshop at JCC Krakow
(Anna Gulinska translating)
 And the rest are from Krakow's Old Town (not to be confused with the Kazimierz).

What I'm reading: Montalbano's First Case and Other Stories

What I'm listening to: Handel's "Ombra mai fu" and Mahler's Symphony #2.

What I'm working on: Revisiting Desdemona 

Monday, July 4, 2016

La Juive: a gorgeous opera tells a timely tale

Bayerisches Staatsoper
...from Munich

More photos from Krakow and Warsaw to come, including performance pics, but before then, a post about the fabulous production I saw tonight of the rarely-performed-today--but formerly very popular--opera, La Juive (1835) by Halevy--himself the son of a cantor. It's tragic French grand opera at its best, with themes of thwarted love, betrayal, anti-clericalism, and religious in/tolerance at the fore.

It was a very interesting and fun multilingual experience for me as I was using at least four parts of my brain simultaneously: listening to and watching an opera that was being sung in French with German supertitles.

Other than a few odd missteps in the staging (by Calixto Bieito), tonight's was a production for the ages: ravishing singing, incredible use of light and shadows, glorious music, moving acting, beautiful playing.  (The few missteps in the staging?  Periodic tussling over a jacket; odd catfight-like tussling between the two women; the regular throwing of oneself or other characters onstage that so often  seems to be de rigeur for Regitheater; and the odd Passover scene which had Eleazar perform something that looked more like a cross between an Ash Wed. ceremony and Communion). 

The score is demanding of all the principals, and in this production, the singers rose to the challenge, with Roberto Alagna as Eleazar--his French diction was a glory to listen to, so absolutely clean, and clear--Vera-Lotte Boecker as the coloratura Princess, Ain Ainger as Brogni, John Osborn as Leopold, and Aleksandra Kurzak as Rachel, La Juive.

Featuring stellar orchestration, the score also includes a lovely a cappella chorus and some gorgeous ensembles--duos for the two female leads and the two male leads, plus a show-stopping trio.  The writing for female voices made me ponder yet again what it is that makes the French so good at writing ensemble music for women's voices...

So why isn't it done any more? Did tastes change? Perhaps. Did the out-and-out racism start to bother audiences? Unlikely.

(As an aside: the most racist depiction is of Eleazar who is shown as a money-grubbing, Christian-hating, vengeful SOB, redeemed only by his love of Rachel, whom he has raised as his daughter but who (major spoiler here), unbeknownst to anyone else, is not. From the get-go, the opera makes it very clear that Eleazer has ample reason to be angry as all get-out.)

To look at the flip side, was it the rise of anti-semitism and the Nazis that dropped the work from the operatic Top-10?  Probably. From what I've read, it was wildly popular for a century and then disappeared from the rep sometime in the 30s...hmmm.

Munich's La Juive
Methinks mesmells a racist rat--yet another way in which the Nazi purge of Jewish cultural references  (not to mention those millions of people along the way) shifted the narrative of music history, and not in a good way, either.  To the Bavarian State Opera's credit, they had a talk afterwards led by the dramaturge (although that may actually be a regular BSO feature that I don't know about, since I'm not a local). In this case, a theologian spoke a few eloquently relevant words; it looked like a good 60-70 audience members came.  I stayed for a bit, until I got too tired to follow the different accents in the German-language discussion.

And, at least in my opinion, there is no doubt that this work should be in the recurring repertory for all the major opera houses that have the resources to do 19th century French grand opera.

After having lived closely with the themes and music of Ensemble for These Times' Jewish Music and Poetry Project for much of the past decade--performing music by composers killed in the Holocaust as well as having just come from performing at the Krakow Culture Festival (and a short visit at the amazing POLIN Museum in Warsaw)--I felt as if seeing La Juive fit well into the fabric of my artistic life: it gave a funhouse view of the same historical issues from a different angle, and a very timely message.

The point of the Munich production was a good one, and a point that sadly needs emphasizing in today's xenophobic, us-vs-them, Brexiting, religious-intolerance-filled world that feels in some ways scarily like a 1930s redux: racism and hate ruin lives.  Period.

What I'm reading: Fortune's Fool by Mercedes Lackey

What I'm listening to: La Juive!

What I'm working on: revisiting Desdemona, now that the concerts in Krakow are over, before diving into E4TT's fall rep once I go home.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Are there food trucks in Krakow?

...from Krakow 

You bet! With food that ranges from huge stuffed baked potatoes (kumpir) to cakes to fish n' chips, burgers, Belgian frites, pulled pork, the legendary (and seemingly hard-to-find) blue trucks that sell kielbasa, and more, Krakow has a thriving food truck scene and even a food truck square or few. I've been with two dedicated blue truck hunters, who at last report hadn't found their local blue truck nirvana.  But the kumpir that I had (at Krakowski Kumpir last night after our concert) was certainly delish--and more than one human could finish--although we all tried!

A few more photos:

                 and  also

(No, I haven't eaten at even half of these.)

What I'm reading: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Str

What I'm listening to: klezmer in the Kazimierz, music by Feldschuh, Kapralova, Delej, and Vandor from today's lecture-recital with Dr. Teryl Dobbs and E4TT.

What I'm working on: the latter ;).

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Karski statue
... Czećś from Krakow!

We (E4TT) are in Krakow, specifically in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter. We're appearing at the 26th Jewish Culture Festival from June 26-28. It's the perfect location for us, as our two venues, the Galicia Jewish Musem and JCC Krakow, are all of 10 minutes away on foot. At night, klezmer music wafts into our windows from the restaurants on the square: the renovated birthplace of a famous cosmetics magnate (Can you guess who?), the hotel is great, with friendly, helpful staff.

On our street (Szeroka) there is a life-like statue by Karol Badyna of Jan Karski (above, as Jan Kozielowski was called), the Righteous courier for the Polish government in exile during WWII who brought news from Poland to the West. Passing tourists flock get their pictures taken sitting next to him on the sculpted bench.... Dale and I may not be able to resist joining them.
Old synagogue

As we're so far north--a little north of Calgary and Moose Jaw in Canada, but still south of Alaska--sunset doesn't come until late, officially 8:54 p.m--but in fact there was still enough light for photos until past 9:30 p.m.--and there's a heat wave on. But it's very pleasant in the evening.

Enjoy another photo or five of "our" street in Kazimierz. It's pleasantly hopping--and nothing like what I'm told it will be like in 2 days, when the Festival starts on Saturday, June 25. Last year nearly 30,000 folks are said to have attended. And this year...who knows? More photos to come--at least, I hope so...

Finally, here's a quick shout out and dziękuję  and to the SF-Krakow Sister Cities Association and also to E4TT's generous supporters, who helped make this tour possible. Na razie!

 What I'm reading: Just finished a beautiful, unbearably sad book, When Breath Becomes Air; read The Little Paris Bookshop and The Museum of Heartbreak on the plane; am currently reading In Gratitude and Sweet Bitter.

What I'm listening to: klezmer music from outside my Krakovian window, natch ;).

What I'm working on: Music by Garner, Kapralova, Vandor, and Winterberg for our programs on the 26th and 27th.

Monday, June 6, 2016

More Yosemite views

...from Berkeley

I'm back post-wedding for two wonderful concerts last week with E4TT in the SF Bay Area. Still, I can't help but continue last week's pictorial paean to the amazing paysage of Yosemite.  Look carefully below and you may even spot a glimpse of a double rainbow--and check out the amazing volume of water in the falls...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


...from Yosemite

where I've been for my son's wonderful wedding.  Just a few lovely photos for the sharing with everyone!

With the rainfall we've had this year, the falls are flowing and the mosquitoes are growing.... More blogging in weeks to come, with concerts May 31, June 2, and June 11.  And probably some more Yosemite pics, too.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Musings on "important"

Talya at a refugee camp

...from Berkeley

Today I've been pondering the word "important" and what it means, especially for projects, initiatives actions, and the arts.  To ground my musings, I started out with the OED (Online Etymology Dictionary, whose acronym apes another, more august tome, and which does, indeed, list its word-ly cousin among its sources.).  I'll call the online etymology version OED2.

At  OED2, I read that the modern English word "important" comes via Middle French (15th century) from Medieval Latin, importans, importantem and ultimately derives from the verb importare, "to bring in, convey or bring in from abroad." It was first used to mean "be important" in English around 1580.

How does that definition apply to artwork, projects, or even governments.  It doesn't even seem relevant--until we realize that important initiatives bring us understanding and perhaps bring help to those in need. (There's that word from the definition, bring.)

If a project is a major one, that can mean many positive things, such as pathbreaking, innovative,, or just plain excellent. But when it's an important one, that usually means it deals with hard topics, ones we know we need to look at but shy away from as joyless and non-celebratory, problematic issue-laden subjects that the world needs to address.

At a refugee camp
So, for example, when my wonderful niece, Talya (shown above and left, too), worked with Syrian refugees in Lesbos and Idomeni through IsraAID, it was important work (and courageous for a young woman). My friend, Paula, too, for that matter.

An important project probably deals with the four horsemen of the apocalypse--traditionally war, famine, pestilence/conquest or death--in one way or another, or at least mini-me versions of them. (Pestilence vs. conquest has to do with translation differences and dissemination through popular culture, both  topics for other days.) See below right for Albrecht Durer's woodcut depiction.

Albrecht Durer (woodcut, 1498)
An important project makes us look at things most of us want to sweep under the rug, or at least to say, "Yes, yes, we know and agree. It's awful. Glad you're dealing with it.  Sigh. Too much to bear thinking about it. Don't know what to do about it. Now go away and let the rest of us relax." And I should know, as that is a slightly over-the-top caricature of my own sometimes past-attitude, despite my having somehow found myself doing an "important" project over the last 6+ years, the JMPP (some of which were recorded on our brand new CD, Surviving:Women's Words).

An important project often has to work extra hard to draw an audience, as who enjoys emotional flagellation? Catharsis is one thing, but to deliberately go to an event that focuses on bad things happening to good people? (Actually, that's a partial definition of what happens in many an opera or tale, so maybe that's not such a bad plot device...) Or on revisiting unhappy history, so that we aren't condemned to repeat it? (Ditto.)

MOR's Jake Heggie
As another example, in yesterday's mail, I received a postcard for Seattle-based Music of Remembrance's Out of Darkness: an Opera of Survival, the new chamber opera by Jake Heggie about the Holocaust that will be produced on May 25-26 at the SF Conservatory of Music.  MOR is an important project and MOR's mission is much in alignment with that of the JMPP; I like both Jake Heggie and his music. So although I fear that it may be an emotionally wrenching evening, I will try to go, and on today, the eve of U.S. Holocaust Remembrance Day, I encourage those of you reading this who are in the SF Bay Area to go, too.

To answer the question I started with, what does the word important really mean, at least in this context?  In other words, what does a project, action, or initiative that's labeled important really deal with?

Tragedy. Misery. Suffering.

What I'm reading: More Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny. (Now about midway through the series)

What I'm listening to: Mozart, Shostakovich, Prince.

What I'm working on: works by Martha Stoddard, Judith Shatin, Hans Winterberg, and Frederic Sharaf, for May and June concerts--plus Mozart for my son's wedding :).

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Surviving: Women's Words and a play with few survivors

New CD cover: photo by Michael Halberstadt

...from Berkeley

Today's post starts with a flat-out plug for E4TT's new CD, released on Centaur Records
on April 8, "Surviving: Women's Words."

The CD features pianist Dale Tsang, cellist Adaiha MacAdam-Somer, and--as Miss Piggy would say--moi, performing four song cycles written by composer David Garner for the group, to poetry by four different Jewish women poets. The  culmination of an ambitious five year commissioning project, the CD gives a musical voice to these women's viewpoint and experiences of wartime, the Holocaust, exile, and displacement.

Stephen Smoliar in  describes "Surviving: Women's Words" as "a fascinating project within a project"--alluding to the fact that the project is itself a project of E4TT's Jewish Music & Poetry Project--and goes on to say that "...this album offers four passionate meditations on the Holocaust experience, delivered through a unique and highly compelling pair of voices, those of both composer and singer."

(For the curious, the CD's title, "Surviving," comes from the fourth song in the final cycle on the CD ("Song Is a Monument"), which sets words by Polish-American Holocaust survivor, Yala Korwin. We were honored to be able to use poems written by Korwin, who passed away in May, 2014, only two months after E4TT premiered the cycle. The other poets  whose texts are set muscially on the CD are Mascha Kaleko, Rose Auslaender, and Else Lasker-Schueler.)

"Surviving: Women's Words" is available from Amazon, HBDirect, Arkivmusic, and E4TT. Check it out now or starting May 13, when streaming and downloading will be available for purchase!

And the play with few survivors? Shakespeare's Hamlet, which I saw this evening in a fabulous production by the England's National Theater Live with the inimitable and multiply talented Benedict Cumberbatch (of "Sherlock Holmes" and "The Imitation Game" fame).

Watch the trailer.  Watch Prince Charles deliver Shakespeare's arguably most famous line.

Partly a ghost stoy with a great fight scene, Hamlet is a "greatest hits" play, and deservedly so: much as the opera "Porgy & Bess" is filled with hit after Gershwin musical hit, so too is Hamlet filled with quote after famous Shakespeare quote.  The NTL's stunning production--albeit often very loud--brings out an important sequence in "Hamlet" about the army led by the character Fortinbras--well nigh the only principal character left standing by the final curtain, other than Horatio, whom Hamlet has begged to stay alive to bear witness to his story.

That sequence?  To set the scene, Hamlet has happened upon the Norwegian army on its way to attack Poland and asks the Captain what they're up to. The interchange:
"Hamlet: Goes it against the main of Poland, sir, Or for some frontier?
Captain: Truly to speak, and with no addition/ We go to gain a little patch of ground/ That hath in it no profit but the name./To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;/Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole/A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee.
Hamlet:Why, then the Polack never will defend it.
Captain: Yes, it is already garrison'd..."

Thus does Shakespeare four centuries ago emphasize the insanity of war--so often waged for "a little patch of ground"--and the suffering that results, and that, you see, is the connection with the CD, as well.

What I'm reading: More Louise Penny Inspector Gamache mysteries

What I'm listening to: Mp3 after mp3 for making the final vocal decisions for E4TT's call for scores :).  Plus the wonderful artist known as Prince, may he rest in purple peace.

What I'm working on: new music by Judith Shatin and Emma Logan, plus Hans Winterberg and songs by Vitezslava Kapralova

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In memoriam Brian Asawa (1966-2016)

Brian Awasa (1966-2016)
...from Berkeley

Today's post is a heartfelt farewell to the wonderful and wonderfully talented pathbreaking countertenor Brian Asawa, who passed away this afternoon (April 18)  at the age of 49 from  advanced cirrhosis.

Brian was the first countertenor in SF Opera's Adler program, the first to win the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the first to win Placido Domingo's Operalia, Seattle Opera's Artist of the Year award...his accomplishments are legion and myriad. He was also a kind, generous colleague. He was so very supportive to me at the memorial for  Zheng (mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao), and now sadly, the memorial will be for him.

You can hear two different sides of his artistry in Rachmaninoff (Vocalise):

and Handel (the gorgeous duet "Son nato a lagrimar" from Giulio Cesare):

And here, he is working with his (and my) voice teacher Jane Randolph, which is how I met him years ago.

As singer after singer after friend after colleague posts remembrances and farewell messages in social media, you can read a lovely tribute here.

The musical world mourns his passing.

What I'm reading: Louise Penny's Armand Gamache mystery novels
What I'm listening to: Brian Asawa
What I'm working on: music for CD release concerts