Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Herbst Theatre Diaspora: SF Performances and NCCO

Herbst Theatre closed its doors earlier this month for the next two years while the Veterans Building at Van Ness and McAllister undergoes a retrofitting and remodeling. This has sent a number of performing arts companies which used the theatre as their San Francisco home to wander elsewhere, and over the weekend I caught up with two of them.

Ruth Felt's San Francisco Performances has long presented touring artists in different venues around town from Davies Hall to Yerba Buena Center for dance programs. Next season (click here) they are adding the new SFJAZZ Center and the refurbished Nourse Auditorium on the corner of Hayes and Franklin to their roster, and it should be fascinating to hear how classical music sounds in both venues. Last week they presented the Philip Glass Ensemble playing the composer's live operatic replacement of the soundtrack to Cocteau's 1946 art film, La Belle et La Bete.

The music sounded strikingly similar to the same composer's other Cocteau movie turned into an opera, Orphee, which Opera Parallele presented a few years ago. I am not sure that the Glass music is an improvement on the original score by Georges Auric, but I was entranced by the dialogue being sung, especially with singers as good as Gregory Purnhagen, Hai-Ting Chinn, Marie Mascari, and Peter Stewart under Music Director Michael Riesman.

The New Century Chamber Orchestra above is also losing their San Francisco Herbst home for the next couple of seasons, and they performed their final concert of this season at the SF Conservatory. This will be one of their stops next year, along with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the SF Jewish Community Center (click here for a schedule).

The major excitement of Saturday's concert was the opening work, a world premiere by pianist, poet, and Composer of the Moment Lera Auerbach, a prolific young Russian woman (above, hugging Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg) based out of New York. She's written the scores for a number of full-length ballets (including The Little Mermaid at the SF Ballet), operas, string quartets, piano works, and now a string symphony for the NCCO. The music is spare, quiet, trancelike and deeply evocative until somewhere in the middle where it explodes into wildness and jagged rhythms before retreating into spareness again. It was very good music, and made me want to hear more.

For the rest of the concert, the string symphony beefed up slightly with a brass and woodwind contingent, including the wonderful SF Opera horn principal, Kevin Rivard above center. They played fellow birthday boy Richard Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, which he wrote in 1870 as a birthday present for his second wife, Cosima. This was followed by a jolly and impassioned performance of Haydn's Farewell Symphony.

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