Guest Blog: Pianist Simon Trpceski on Music, Macedonia and Making His Way

I asked the the superb, young Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski jotted down some thoughts for lies like truth about his world. Mr. Trpceski kindly indulged me with the following...Whenever I am asked to describe the Republic of Macedonia in a few words, I say that it is:The land of Alexander the GreatA country with an incredibly picturesque landscapeA land of both deep religion and vibrant cultureFull of tasteful wine and irresistible food...and beautiful women!What more can one ask for? :-)I grew up in Macedonia during the years after the … [Read more...]

The Worst Mid-Concert Speech Ever

Chanticleer's first National Youth Choral Festival drew to a close last night with a concert featuring some 400 high school students from around the country, the members of Chanticleer and guest mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade.From a musical perspective, it was a delightful and galvanizing event in many respects. The enormous chorus led by Chanticleer music director Matt Oltman brought feeling and energy to such cannonical masterworks as William Byrd's "Ave Verum Corpus" and arrangements of well-known songs like "Shenandoah". The only … [Read more...]

Shape Note Singing Baby Steps

I have a friend who's nuts about shape note singing. For anyone unfamiliar with this powerful yet not widely known and often misunderstood form of music, you can find out all about it here, at the Fasola website. It's a uniquely American form of a cappella singing which developed in the south. Also known as "Sacred Harp" singing (though it's an a cappella format and there are no harps or other instruments involved), shape note singing is a non-denominational community musical event which emphasizes participation over performance. According to … [Read more...]

Virtual Choir

I finally got around to viewing the performance of Eric Whitacre's "Lux Aurumque," a work which the composer created for his Virtual Choir, a sort of hybrid between a live performance by a choir standing together in one room and one involving people singing from many different locales via Internet hookup.The conductor brought together 185 singers from 12 countries. Each of the singers was recorded separately but conducted by Whitacre via a YouTube video. You can read about Whitacre's process and instructions (which he posted on the Web last … [Read more...]

The Duress of Watching DVDs Instead of Live Performances

Last week, while preparing to write my weekly column for the New York Times about San Francisco Ballet's production of John Neumeier's The Little Mermaid, I watched a DVD of a recent performance of the work which had been recorded at the Hamburg Ballet last November.The Ballet's press office was kind to let me have access to the recording. I couldn't really have done my piece without seeing what the ballet was like, my deadline preceded the ballet's opening so I couldn't view an actual performance and Mr. Neumeier would not let me attend a … [Read more...]

Learning from the Russians

Everyone knows the Russians can teach the U.S. a thing or two about playing the music of Rachmaninoff, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Shostakovitch and co. That's why audiences in this country flock in droves to hear groups like the Mariinsky Orchestra led by Valery Gergiev (pictured). At Davies Symphony Hall last night, the orchestra, conductor and soloist Denis Matsuev blew the lid off Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15 in A Major. The music raged with tears and laughter and sweat and sweetness. Matsuev's … [Read more...]

The Great San Francisco Seating Snafu

One of the many challenges facing performing arts presenters is figuring out seating plans. With audiences for some artforms such as dance typically booking up to see performances very late -- sometimes on the day of performance -- trying to work out how much to charge for tickets and how best to fill up premium seats is no easy matter for producers. Mathematicians could spend years working out algorithms to help arts organizations predict how to manage their houses and still the problem wouldn't be solved.I was reminded of this issue a couple … [Read more...]

Now Playing At SFMOMA

I dropped in on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's "Now Playing" happenings, which the museum is presenting on thursday evenings in honor of its 75th anniversary. Evening programing at museums is all the rage at the moment -- seems like almost every major institution around here from the Berkeley Art Museum to the Exploratorium is offering some sort of adult-oriented happening regularly.I didn't have much time, so I mostly skirted around the building to see what was going on. Besides the galleries themselves, the main cultural offerings … [Read more...]

Not Such a Guilty Pleasure

SF Playhouse's brilliant current production of Stephen Adly Guirgis' Den of Thieves is my guilty pleasure of the week. I say this with some reservations as the play is hardly trash, though compared to the artsy-fartsiness of the play I saw the previous night at Berkeley Repertory Theatre by Naomi Iizuka, I feel almost guilty for enjoying myself so much at the Guirgis play.What SF Playhouse's production demonstrates so beautifully is the extent to which a piece of theatre can be pure fun and also thoughtful at the same time. This is not a … [Read more...]

The Illusion of Artistry

Every so often I go to the theatre and get tricked into thinking the play I'm seeing is good. Beautiful performances, slick staging and strong visual imagery can sometimes make me believe that a drama is really profound when it isn't. It's only after the fact -- sometimes several days or even weeks after the curtain has come down -- that I realize that I had been duped.This happened last night during a performance of Naomi Iizuka's new play at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West. But luckily I came to my … [Read more...]

Why Can’t They Just Get Along?

As I do not currently work for SF Weekly or the San Francisco Bay Guardian, two weekly, advertiser-supported newspapers here in the Bay Area, I feel it's time to weigh in with my feelings about the increasingly nasty relationship between the two news organizations. The competing papers have been at war for years, deriding each other in print on and weekly basis and dragging each other through court. I guess there's nothing unusual about this in the world of newspapers. But I've never had much patience with tit-for-tat in the media -- especially … [Read more...]

A Misleadingly Titled Movie

One of the problems with Tim Burton's new Alice in Wonderland film is its title. Critics have been deriding the film for all kinds of reasons such as its shock tactics and the lack of charisma of its leading lady. And yes, much of the criticism is deserved, for the film isn't up to Burton's usual snuff.But I think one of the most basic issues is the movie's title. By calling his film, "Alice in Wonderland," Burton sets up obvious expectations, namely that the film will be an adaptation for the screen of Lewis Carroll's famous work of … [Read more...]