BluePrint: Riding the Elevator Into the Sky

BluePrint is a new music project of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music under the artistic direction of Nicole Paiement which began its ninth season Saturday night. When I was invited, I misunderstood what the program was about, thinking it was going to be a kind of preview for Ensemble Parallele's upcoming production of Phillip Glass' Orphée, which Paiement will conduct two performances of at the end of February and features Marnie Breckenridge, who was on Saturday's program. All of this would have been reason enough to attend, so imagine my pleasure two hours later after hearing a wonderful program of unexpected delights.

The first work was the West Coast premier of Laura Schwendinger's Chiaroscurro Azzuro- a concerto for violin and chamber orchestra. On hearing a work for the first time I often play this game in my head of "who or what does this sound like?" During this piece, which sounds firmly contemporary, I had Shostakovich recurring to my mind- for some reason. Perhaps it was the jagged rhythms in the score which would reach points of agitation only to subside into a somber mood. Violinist Wei He certainly did well with the score's demands of constantly shifting landscapes and tempos. The last movement seemed to recapitulate the first before deconstructing it in a glorious finish. I'd certainly like to hear this piece again. I'd also like someone to see to it that tuba player Bradley Evans is given a pair of socks.

After an intermission, pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi performed four selections from Phillip Glass's Orphée Suite- Orphée's Bedroom, Journey to the Underworld, Orphée and the Princess, and Orphée's Bedroom, Reprise. The arrangement for piano was by Paul Barnes who did a masterful job of making Glass into a Romantic. Actually, the lion's share of the credit should go to Nakagoshi, who played these gorgeous pieces exquisitely. The four movements took the listener from the upper world at 6:00 PM in the first segment, signified by 6 Fs, where Death is watching Orphée sleep with his wife. From there Nakgoshi led the descent to the underworld and back again, with another 6 Fs at the end of the reprise, bring us back to where we began.

The last part of the program was Sexton Songs by David Conte. These five songs are set to texts by Anne Sexton and sung by Marnie Breckenridge, accompanied by chamber orchestra. Paiement announced beforehand Breckenridge had strep throat and was due to record the next day so could we bear that in mind and be indulgent for the unfortunately afflicted singer. Really? Then I'd especially like to hear Breckenridge again when she's feeling well, because she sang beautifully with no signs of illness nor strain, though the Opera Tattler, whom I was sitting next to, heard it slightly differently. Conte's songs took Sexton's sad and anguished words and set them perfectly to music underscoring the depth of Sexton's poetry while leaving their own significant imprint.

SF Mike has his own positive take on the concert, complete with some great photos of the particpants here.

Afterward at a small reception Paiement offered a toast to Scwhendinger and Conte, saying how great it was to perform contemporary works destined to enter the canon. Usually I find these kinds of comments to be little more than hyperbolic platitudes for the assembled but in this case I thought these works could actually achieve that.

There were many seats available, so next time don't miss out on the November 20th performances of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour-  a collaboration with American Conservatory Theater, with the music of Yanov-Yanovski. Check the website for details and click here for the calendar of numerous musical events regularly taking place at the easily accessible Conservatory, many of which are free.