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  July 22-29, 2002
Mary Watkins' Queen Clara 
Debuts at Oakland Metro
Mary Watkins is skilled in the styles of classical and jazz tradtions, often incorporating ethnic, blues, gospel, country, folk and pop music into her work. 
Should you find yourself in Oakland later this week--and one never knows do one, as my friend Luther Henderson likes to say--you should catch the premiere of  Queen Clara, a new opera based on the life of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, a very early but forgotten feminist. With a score by Mary Watkins, libretto by Lance Belville, and conducted by Susan Swerdlow, the music includes elements of classical opera, with spiritual and gospel stylings.

What is most remarkable about this, of course, is that Oakland--perpetually in the shadow of its more glamorous sister city across the Bay--has an opera company at all.  And, an innovative and active one at that.

According to its mission statement:  "The Oakland Opera Theater is a group of artists who produce newly created operatic works. We address issues relevant to modern urban life. We highlight performers and artists of color. We use modern digital technology to reach beyond the audience seated in the theater. We produce fully staged productions geared to the pace of the 21st century. We seek to make opera more accessible to all ages and cultures and to represent Oakland with a dynamic arts organization that embodies the unique and vital spirit of our local community." 

All the usual good intentions, but what separates Oakland from many of these sorts of projects that begin with a fanfare and fade away  is that the company has managed to mount a half dozen original productions in its short history, opening last December with Gertrude Stein/Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in 3 Acts, which will be staged again this December.

The company's home is The Oakland Metro,  a black box theater and operahouse, located at 201 Broadway just around the corner from Jack London Square in Oakland's downtown entertainment district. . Formerly a blues club, a Greek tavern, and a cabaret, the theater is equipped with a full theatrical lighting system, state of the art sound reinforcement and a beer and wine bar. The venue is a 3000 square foot converted warehouse with 22 foot ceilings and 16 foot windows on three full sides, and can seat betwen 135 and 270 people, depending on the seating configuration. 

Mary Watkins is an eclectic composer and pianist of the classical and jazz traditions, often incorporating one with the other or bringing the various styles of ethnic, blues, gospel, country, folk and pop music into her work. Her versatility as a composer, arranger, pianist, and producer has led her to compose for symphony orchestra, chamber and jazz ensembles, film, and theatre. 

Born in Denver, Watkins began playing piano at age four. By eight, she was accompanying the children's choir and had begun to improvise and compose short pieces. In 1972 she received a Bachelor's degree in Music Composition from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She later earned her living performing with jazz groups in the DC area and as Musical Director and Resident Composer for the theater group Ebony Impromptu. - JB

Oakland Opera Theater

What's Recent

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Earle Brown Dies

Jennifer Higdon's Concerto for Orchestra Bows

Oliver Knussen at 50

Music for Chillin'

John Eaton's "...inasmuch" Debuts

Lincoln Center Festival

Interview with Gloria Coates

Entering the 21st Century with
Kitty Brazelton
Frank Oteri

Henry Brant's Ice Field


Wins 2002 Pulitizer Prize

Julia Wolfe after minimalism

Philip Glass at 65
Jerry Bowles

An Interview with Steven R. Gerber

New Hall for Philadelphia


Deborah Kravetz

Interview with Poul Ruders

Our writers welcome your comments on their pieces.  Send your witty bon mots tojbowles@sequenza21.com and we might even publish some of them here.  And, don't forget--if you'd like to write for Sequenza21 (understanding that we have no money to pay you), send me a note.  JB

Modern Music News
DEATH OF THE ICONOCLASTS: The recent deaths of American composers Ralph Shapey and Earle Brown recall a long-gone era in American music. "Musical New York in the 1960s - when both men were casting long shadows, and mine was considerably shorter - was wonderfully astir. New names carried new hopes: Pierre Boulez, Lincoln Center, the National Endowment. Every month, or so it seemed, there was something new from Shapey... LAWeekly 07/18/02

ARE CONCERTS PASSE? Violinist David Lasserson has some concerns about the static nature of classical music concert. "If the life of the performance is in its sound, why should everyone face the same way, in a darkened auditorium before a lit stage? How could the mind fail to wander in such a situation? The classical concert has retained 19th-century performance protocol in providing an unchanging, formal setting for music. In the debate about how to attract young audiences to the concert hall, we have to ask questions about the concert hall itself. Is our culture too visual to support this activity? Is the end in sight for the static concert?" The Guardian (UK) 07/19/02

TO EVERY SEASON: Composer Philip Glass reflects on how the composition of music has changed since the late 20th Century: "The impact of digital technology has also been pervasive in the music world. It has influenced almost all aspects of composers' work: how their music is notated, how it is performed, how it is recorded and even how it is published. Furthermore, even when technology is used as a tool, it turns out to be much more than a passive collaborator." Andante 07/18/02

EXCAVATING AMERICA'S PIONEERS: Conventional wisdom used to be that American music before World War I was derivative and not "distinctly" American. "Copland, Virgil Thomson and others of their generation wrote disparagingly of the musical 'childhood' and 'adolescence'of precursors they ignored or never knew. With the passage of time, this simple evoutionary scheme seems ever less supportable. In the case of American music for solo piano, it may even be argued that what came before 1920 was as impressive as what came after." The New York Times 07/14/02

THE ART OF SOUND: "The borderlines among sound art, experimental music and contemporary composition used to be clearer, policed by mutual disdain. Sharing the same tiny ghetto in the rear-corner record store bins and 2-to-5-a.m. airwaves, the practitioners of these various strains of what a friend once summarized colorfully as "unlistenable, self-indulgent crap" gradually began to realize that they were playing to the same audience." LAWeekly 07/18/02

PROTESTING ABOUT PAYNE: Prominent figures in Britain's opera world are protesting the English National Opera's dismissal of director Nicholas Payne. In a letter to the Times, nine prominent conductors and directors, including three ex-ENO leaders, wrote that "the ENO’s treatment of a great experimenter was as dangerous for the future of opera as it was shabby. Payne is the most experienced professional still working in British opera. His sin....seems to be that he has taken too seriously ENO's tradition of being at the forefront of operatic experiment." The Times (UK) 07/18/02

MORE REASONS WHY YOU CAN'T HAVE A STRAD: In America, the largest roadblocks to a musician gaining access to one of the world's great instruments are prohibitive cost and hoarding collectors. In Russia, the biggest stumbling block may be the cost of insurance. Rates for coverage of a Stradivarius violin or Amati viola can run thousands of dollars per year, and even the concept of insuring valuable instruments is fairly new in the former Soviet bloc. Moscow Times 07/19/02

HUSTLING FOR A MUSICAL BUCK: String quartets have cult followings, and major orchestra musicians are financially secure and tend to engender a certain respect from the public, but the vast majority of professional musicians enjoy no such prestige as they struggle to keep themselves in rosin and reeds. The freelance market in most big cities is brutally competitive, and it can be impossibly tough to crack the ranks of the top players. It's easy to become paranoid and cynical, and freelancers must keep their schedules completely clear and available for gigs, lest contractors quit calling after being turned down once or twice. But, as they say, no one gets into this business for the money. Chicago Tribune 07/21/02

BUT DO ANY OF THEM SPEAK CONDUCTOR? Boston's New England Conservatory has been famous for decades for its outstanding youth music program. NEC's various youth orchestras tour the world, playing to sold out crowds in cities as diverse as Caracas and Prague, and the school's legacy of turning out some of America's top young musicians is nearly unmatched. This month, NEC plays host to the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, a trilingual ensemble made up of 110 teenagers from 20 different countries, which will shortly be embarking on a tour of the Western hemisphere. Boston Globe 07/21/02

ALAN LOMAX, 87: "Alan Lomax, the celebrated musicologist who helped preserve America's and the world's heritage by making thousands of recordings of folk, blues and jazz musicians from the 1930s onward, died Friday in Florida. He was 87." Calgary Herald 07/21/02

DETROIT LOSES ITS LAST CLASSICAL MUSIC RECORDINGS STORE: "Harmony House Classical stocks tens of thousands of CDs, videos and DVDs, ranging from the latest by composer John Adams to the obscure operas of Alexander Zemlinksky. The store has been a locus for classical music in metro Detroit for more than a decade, offering not only a huge selection but also the welcoming feel of a neighborhood tavern." Detroit Free Press 07/18/02

IS CLASSICAL MUSIC DYING? If classical music is dying, then "how do you explain the surging popularity of live opera performances? Or the widespread excitement generated by organizations like the San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic? Or the increase in concert attendance nationwide?" San Francisco Chronicle 07/15/02

 Last Week's News

Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for our Editor's Pick's of the month.  Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, NY, NY 10019  Also, feel free to nominate your favorite composer-- even if it's you--for Spotlight of the Week.



Richard Wagner apparently once remarked that "The viola is commonly (with rare exceptions) played by infirm violinists, or by decrepit players of wind instruments who happen to have been acquainted with a string instrument once upon a time."  Clearly, Wagner had never heard Kim Kashkashian, the brilliant young American violist play.

On "Voci," her new ECM recording of pieces by Luciano Berio she displays the rare gift of getting inside the haunting and evocative music born of and synthesized from the folk music of Sicily. Berio doesn't directly emulate the folk songs but uses their elemental characteristics to form new structures of melody and rhythm. What we hear on this recording is not the Bela Bartok-style of innovation and recreation, where the composer takes his native land's folk songs and directly incorporates them into more expanded and composed forms.

What Berio offers are compositions that use snippets of melodies and rhythms from traditional and ancient folk songs of Sicily; and create from them, a montage of colours, timbres and rhythms. The viola of Kashkashian is an integral and vital part of this synthesis. She coaxes a vocal, singing quality from the viola and gives the sound guts and great sensitivity. The viola's passages require these qualities, as the music's interpretation is not secure and spoken for but wild, challenging and changing. Kashkashian's viola sings, it cries, it pleads its melodic case and states its simple beauty.

"Voci" (Voices) subtitled "Folk Songs II", was written in1984 and has a direct correlation to Berio's work of 1963/64, the original "Folk Songs". The viola opens this piece with a strange, partly plaintive, partly innocent and partly raw vocalise. The long notes of the bow a followed by a flurry of plucked ones give the listener a sense of immediacy and directness that is found throughout this recording. Percussion adds the first accompaniment; background, ambient sounds, like the kind of background sounds that go unnoticed during the course of any day. The orchestra is soon present as well, barely heard, almost as a shadow for a while, its distilled strings mirroring and reflecting back the sound of the viola. 

When the orchestra does enter the effect is sparse yet tumultuous. It enters then disappears again and again to allow the viola to sing. This is a striking way to present the solo instrument. At once it is the central voice, the song and the language and at the same time it is a subject of study. The viola as character study; intense and deliberate; singing, providing the dramatic flow of emotion. Here again we see Berio's mark of the master; his ability to get at and explore the real essence of his subjects (instrument and instrumentalist). The orchestra is a beautiful and colorful addition. At once a backdrop and accompanist, it is a landscape of ever changing texture, terrain and climate. The melodies of the viola or more accurately, the melodic motives, are there, repeating over and soaring above the murmurings of orchestral sounds-scapes.

In the piece "Naturale" the viola is accompanied by percussion and the taped voice of a male voice singing a song-story; (a storyteller using song). His voice is interspersed throughout the score as a kind of commentary. The thematic and song material is directly related to the opening of "Voci" but altered for use in this different setting. Again the raw and stripped down voice of the viola is direct and immediate and completely engaging.

Between the two extended works are the original recordings that Berio used of ancient Sicilian folk songs form the Archives of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome.  --  DHG

Luciano Berio "Voci"
(Kim Kashkashian - Viola
Radio Symphonieorchserter Wien
Denis Russell Davis, Conductor
ECM New Series
ECM 1735

Classical Grammy Winners

Previous Interviews/Profiles
Simon Rattle, Michael Gordon,Benjamin Lees, Scott Lindroth, David Felder, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Erkki-Sven Tüür, John Luther Adams, Brett Dean, Judith Lang Zaimont, Meyer Kupferman, Evan Chambers, Poul Ruders, Steven R. Gerber, Gloria Coates

Previous Articles/
Busoni The Visionary
The Composer of the Moment:  Mark-Anthony Turnage
Electronic Music
Voices: Henze at 75
Henze Meets Emenim
On Finding Kurtag
Charles Ruggles:  When Men Were Men
Ballet Mécanique
The Adams Chronicles





Sonates pour violin et piano
Composer: Gabriel Faure
Performer: Isabelle Faust, Florent Boffard
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #901741 
Isabelle Faust demonstrates that the sky-high standards she set with her award-winning Bartok recordings were no fluke.  An intelligent, mature musician at the peak of her powers, Faust makes even Faure's most romantic  lollipops sound important. 

Chrysalid Requiem
Composer: Toby Twining
Performer: Michael Steinberger, Toby Twining, et al.
Cantaloupe - #21007 
Few recent CDs have irritated me more.  Too long-winded by half, too self-important by three quarters and yet there are moments of  real  inventiveness.  Whatever happened to less is more?

Faure: Requiem 
Franck: Symphony in D Minor
Composers: Gabriel Faure, Cesar Franck Conductor: Philippe Herreweghe
Performer: Johannette Zomer, Stephan Genz Ensemble: Collegium Vocale, Orchestre des Champs Elysees
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #901771 
Note to Toby Twining:  This is what a masterpiece Requiem sounds like.  You can't own too many copies of Faure's Requiem but if you have only one, this one will do.

...and the lotos rose quietly, quietly
Composer:  Klaus Ib Jørgensen
Da Capo [Naxos] - #8224201 
We are not without sympathy for those misguided individuals who believe the accordian is a musical instument and to demonstrate how large-minded we are in this regard, we recommend these most inventive works for accordion – from solo and duo through chamber music to concerto – by the young Danish composer  Klaus Ib Jørgensen.  The music is highly complex and if you try you can even forget that the noise you're hearing is coming from an instrument that launched the career of Lawrence Welk.

Sacred & Profane
Composer: Britten, Elgar, Vaughn Williams, Delius, Stanford
Performers:   Rias Kammerchor, dir. Marcus Creed
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #901734
From Elgar’s Part Songs (1904) to one of Britten’s very last works, Sacred and Profane (1975), these are some of the most beautiful and best-loved pieces in the English a capella repertory, many of them rarely recorded. Berlin's RIAS-Kammerchor has not only played a decisive part in the revival of the musical life of Berlin but has established itself as the best a capella group currently performing.  Highly recommended.

Coronation Te Deum
Composer: William Walton
  Performer:  Layton, Polyphony, Wallace Collection
Hyperion - #67330 
Hyperion has gone riffling through some dusty corners of Sir William's music drawers to come up with a treasury of goodies--large and small-- from the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of Queen Elizabeth's coronation march to simple Christmas carols, all sung  majestically performed by Polyphony conducted by Stephen Layton with the resplendent brass of THe Wallace Collection.


Deep Night, Deep Autumn
Composer/Performer:  Roger Kleier
Starkland 211
Roger Kleier, an experimental guitarist,
seduces listeners by mutating his guitar in various ways, ranging from the hallowed techniques of Jimi Hendrix and Captain Beefheart, through the extended techniques of avant-garde guitar-mangling, to the recent technological innovations of sampling, layering, and digital sound processing.
All of which can be pretty unpleasant unless the performer has musical sensitivity that goes beyond mere technique.  Fortunately, Kleier maintains a clear connection to the "real" world and the
music on this brooding, elegiac CD is grounded in associations that speak to eloquently to us all. 

L’Invitation au Voyage
Composer: Henri DuParc
MVCD 1148
Henri Duparc was something of a nut case who destroyed virtually everything he wrote, except for this remarkable  collection of sixteen songs, and a few orchestral works and piano pieces. The songs are as good as anything by Berlioz or Debussy or anyone else in the  history of French song. Mezzo soprano Catherine Robbin and baritone Gerald Finley, accompanied by Stephen Ralls, make a strong case for these overlooked masterpieces.

Pierrot lunaire • Dichterliebe 
Composers: Arnold Schoenberg,
Robert Schumann 
Performers: Christine Schäfer • Natascha Osterkorn • Ensemble Intercontemporain • Pierre Boulez 
 Two films by Oliver Herrman on DVD of musical masterpieces by Schoenberg and Schumann.  Schumann's song cycle Dichterliebe is performed in an intimate setting, placed in a low-lit night club in the centre of Berlin, much of it might have been done in the composer's day.  In Pierrot Lunaire,  Herrmann has created onscreen a surreal and grotesque modern-day metropolis through which Pierrot (Christine Schafer) wanders like a ghost, adrift in time and space. 


Choral Ikons
Composer: John Tavener
Conductor: Zdenek Kosler
Performer: The Choir
BBC - Opus Arte
The Choir sings Sir John Tavener's hauntingly beautiful unaccompanied choral music in what is said to be a  virtual reality restoration of the ancient Hagia Sophia church in Constantinople.   Unfortunately, the visual effects are not only unnecessary but somewhat amateurish and cheap looking, thus detracting a bit from the full richness of Tavener's mystic inspiration. 
 This DVD also features Manifestations of God - Sir John Tavener on his choral music and other filler material. 

Solamente Romanz
Composer/Performer: Darren Curtis Skanson
Light classical music for summer chilling, played expertly by Colorado resident Darren Curtis Skanson.  Skanson's original pieces have genuine warmth and charm. 

turquoise swans
Composer: Paul Barker
Performer: Sarah Leonard, soprano
A  remarkable collection of piano and voice songs written by UK composer Paul Barker and sung by virtuoso soprano Sarah Leonard (Michael Nyman’s ‘Prospero’s Books’ and ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’ soundtracks and numerous other 20th century operas). Some of the pieces were inspired by Silvia Plath’s writings, others by Aztec poetry--all are finely crafted miniatures of emotional insight and a perfect vehicle for Leonard’s extraordinary vocal talent. Also included are three arias from one of Barker’s many chamber operas--Dirty Tricks--about the famous British Airways/Virgin lawsuit.  Leonard played an air hostess in that one.  Don't know who played Richard Bransom.

SEQUENZA21/ is published weekly by Sequenza21/, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019
Publisher:  Duane Harper Grant  (212) 582-4153
Editor:    Jerry Bowles   (212) 582-3791
Contributing Editor: Deborah Kravetz 
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