Weekend at the SFS: Esa-Pekka Salonen & Leila Josefowicz [Preview]

BY NATHAN CRANFORD

This weekend at Davies Hall, famed Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen will be leading the San Francisco Symphony in two evenings of Nordic-influenced classical music. Salonen is a conductor and composer whose Violin Concerto will be performed in addition to works by Richard Wagner and Jean Sibelius, who is considered by many to be Finland’s greatest composer.

The evening begins with a performance of Jean Sibelius’ tone poem Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49. The tone poem is based upon a character from the Finnish national epic Kalevala, which is considered to be one of the most significant examples of Finnish literature. Sibelius had originally wanted to name the tone poem after the epic’s shamanistic hero Väinämöinen (pronounced VI-na-MER-nen), but his publisher insisted upon naming the work after the beautiful maiden from the northern land of Pohjola, whom Väinämöinen wishes to marry. In addition to perfectly capturing the essence of the narrative, Sibelius musically evokes the chilled, wintery beauty of the northern lands and its mythology. As a matter of fact, the word pohjola is now used in the modern Finnish language to refer to the Nordic countries.

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Weekend at the SF Symphony: Brahms’ Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham [Preview]

BY NATHAN CRANFORD

This weekend at the  San Francisco SymphonyMichael Tilson Thomas, along with famed violinist Gil Shaham, will be leading the orchestra in another performance of the works of 19th Century German composer Johannes Brahms. However, whereas last week’s program was a comparative study of progression in German musical conservatism, this week’s program showcases the contentious battle between conservative and progressive elements in the music of German Romanticism.

Richard Wagner

The evening begins with a work by the great German operatic composer Richard Wagner, the “Prelude” to Act III of his famed opera Lohengrin. Familiarity with the opera’s plot is not necessary for an appreciation of the work, which is often performed alone in concert due to its highly exciting and virtuoistic writing for orchestra.

Less than 5 minutes in length, many listeners will find the melodies showcased by the “Prelude” (which are repeated throughout the opera) to be immediately recognizable. Although it’s not being performed by the Symphony this weekend, the end of the “Prelude” flows seamlessly into the even more famous “Bridal Chorus”–a piece of music that has become associated with the bride walking down the aisle at weddings throughout the world.

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Weekend at the SF Symphony: MTT Leads Brahms’ German Requiem [Preview]

BY NATHAN CRANFORD

Michael Tilson Thomas Conducts Brahms | Friday, November 17 to Sunday, November 20 | Davies Symphony Hall | San Francisco

This weekend at the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas will be leading the orchestra in performances of three very disparate pieces of German music: Ich bin ein rechter Weinstock by Heinrich Schütz, Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, and the evening’s centerpiece, Johannes Brahms’ German Requiem.

Heinrich Schütz

The first piece, Ich bin ein rechter Weinstock (I’m the Only True Vine) is a choral work by 17th-century German composer Heinrich Schütz that is based on Bible verses from John 15:1-5. The passages are believed to be the words of Jesus himself as he explains to his disciples that he is the one true vine and his followers are its barren branches that will one day bear fruit. Religious connotations aside, Schütz’s work is considered to be an exemplary example of the composer’s mastery of his craft and his meticulous adherence to the established music fundamentals of the time. The work is representative of Schütz’s strict musical conservatism, which set him in dialectical opposition to many of his contemporaries who sought to push the boundaries of musical expression through experimentation.

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Weekend at the SF Symphony: MTT Conducts Schubert [Preview]

BY NATHAN CRANFORD

Michael Tilson Thomas Conducts Schubert | Friday, November 11 to Sunday, November 13 | Davies Symphony Hall | San Francisco

Franz Schubert

This weekend at Davies Symphony Hall, Michael Tilson Thomas will be leading the San Francisco Symphony in performances of works by 19th-century German composer, Franz Schubert.

The program begins with the “Overture” from Schubert’s opera Alfonso und Estrella, written in 1822 when the composer was only 25 years old. Schubert’s operas (he only wrote two) are rarely performed and show the more ambitious side of the composer, whose most renowned works were generally written for soloists or small ensembles.

Alfonso und Estrella is situated in Western music history as a successful first outing for Schubert into the developing tradition of German Romantic opera on a large scale. However, due to the composer’s young age and lack of experience working in dramatic forms, many critics felt that the action tended to lag over the course of the opera. However, Schubert’s mastery of songwriting and melodic lines ensured that the music was consistently fresh and interesting, despite the opera’s structural weaknesses. As is generally the case with operatic overtures, the strongest melodies and arias from the opera are showcased in the “Overture.” The work’s premier was conducted in 1854 by Franz Liszt in Weimar, almost 30 years after the composer’s death.

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eventseekr Shuffle: The Golden Age of the Prog Rock “Epic”

BY NATHAN CRANFORD

The years 1971-1973 encapsulate what many feel to be the “golden age” of prog rock. Aside from the sprawling “epics” we’ll be discussing in this article, several other progressive rock albums were released during these years and are considered by many to be hallmarks of the genre. However, despite the huge advancements in recording technology and musical complexity that resulted from the ingenuity of progressive rock musicians throughout the 1970s, one of the more controversial experiments of the era was the introduction of the epic “record filling” prog song.

“Tarkus” – Emerson, Lake and Palmer (1971)

(A very short snippet from a 1972 live performance in Tokyo)

ELP begins this list simply because I feel their work marks the rise in popularity of the progressive rock “epic” during the early 1970s. The band’s sophomore album, Tarkus, is widely considered to be the first truly great album to highlight a rock song that ran for over 20 minutes–quite outlandishly taking up the whole first side of the record.

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Bands With Unusual Names #2 – Fokofpolisiekar

BY NATHAN CRANFORD

The Western world has seen the rise (and fall) of numerous upstarts in various artistic fields. One could say that the rise of Dadaism in Europe, as exemplified by that most fabulous Fountain of Marcel Duchamp, did much to open up the possibilities of expression in visual art. So too did those illuminations of the deepest, darkest recesses of the human psyche found in many of the films directed by Italian auteur Pier Paolo Pasolini. Nearly half a century after their creation, these achievements in artistic expression continue to haunt and bewilder both art students and connoisseurs alike, despite never having achieved mass appeal for the public-at-large. Yet, with music, effecting change to the expressive limitations of the artform hasn’t always been so dramatic–and many of the controversies it introduced were quickly absorbed and formalized within the medium with little to no public fanfare over time.

Left to Right: Hunter Kennedy, Wynand Myburgh, Johnny de Ridder, Francois Van Coke, Jaco Venter. Photo by 187.

As time marched forward into the 21st Century, many felt that there was nothing that music could do to effect change, or at the very least, cause a stir–that is, until the South African punk band Fokofpolisiekar (Fuckoffpolicecar) burst out onto the country’s burgeoning youth scene in 2003.

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Bands With Unusual Names #1: Oldfish (South Korea)

BY NATHAN CRANFORD

To kick off our regular series on bands and artists who perform under less-than-conventional stage names, we’ve chosen a rather obscure electro/indie pop outfit from South Korea called Oldfish. Indeed, there is no shortage of “strange” band names in South Korea, or East Asia in general. With names like Rumblefish, Lovefish, and the one we’re reviewing today, South Korean indie bands seem to have a special affinity with the suffix “-fish,” which may come as a result of the English word’s interesting phonetics (within a Korean-speaking paradigm) and not the word’s more dubious semantics–but in the end, it probably doesn’t matter.

However, with a name like Oldfish, the band seems to be purposefully drawing attention to the word’s semantics. While the idea of “old fish” may lead some to hold their nose in disgust, the name was actually chosen by the band to represent evolution. The band went so far as to rhetorically ask in an interview with Dramabeans.com, “However, can you call it true evolution when humans give in to their own desires and become cruel? Rather than heading in that direction, could we consider a fish with the mere memory capacity of three seconds who’d given up on that kind of evolution to be a more evolved organism than a human?” Thus, Oldfish represents the evolutionary potential of having only a three-second memory (like a fish)–the ability to live a life driven by progress and the simple act of living as opposed to cruelty and selfish desire.  These are some weighty progressive ideas coming from a small independent band trying to push against the behemoth of South Korea’s unimaginably lucrative culture industry.

On second thought, maybe it’s better not to dwell on a band’s name. Nevertheless, this one did pass our “weird” band name test, and that’s a good thing. Or is it?

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