Young People’s Concert

“My music is best understood by children and animals.”
– Igor Stravinsky

Each year the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus inaugurates its new season with a presentation for San Diego-area students. The Young People’s Concert, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of La Jolla and hosted by Music Director/Conductor Steven Schick, aims to introduce students to the symphony and encourage an active interest in music. Schick guides the audience through the intricacies of the orchestra by means of excerpts from two works appearing on the full concert program, Tan Dun’s “Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra” (also known simply as the “Water Concerto”) and Igor Stravinsky’s “Petrushka.”

Though very different in form and style, these pieces are each reflective of the overall theme Schick has chosen for the 2018/19 season: Lineage. Tan Dun drew inspiration for the “Water Concerto” from his childhood in rural China, noting the paramount importance of water in everyday life and, indeed, as the source of life itself. In that sense water becomes a truly universal instrument, one instantly familiar to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Set half a world away, Stravinsky’s “Petrushka” evokes childhood memories of Russian Shrovetide fairs, and in particular the puppet theater that was a popular feature of those festivals. Originally written as a ballet for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, “Petrushka” went on to become a concert staple and one of Stravinsky’s most beloved scores.

Between excerpts Schick and orchestra musicians answer questions from the audience, such as “Why does the harp have different color strings?” (an excellent question) and “How long have the violinists been playing?” This interactivity, sadly uncommon in orchestral music circles, de-mystifies symphonic practice for the uninitiated and helps the students to gain an appreciation for the process of rehearsing and performing as a unified ensemble. Throughout, Steven Schick emphasizes the joy to be found both in collaboration and in active listening.

Watch Young People’s Concert 2018 – La Jolla Symphony & Chorus

Celebrating Paper Theater

Paper theater (also called toy theater) is a form of miniature theater dating back to the early Victorian era. Paper theaters were often printed on posters and sold as kits at playhouses, opera houses, and vaudeville theaters, and proved to be an effective marketing tool. The kits were assembled at home and the plays performed for family members and guests, sometimes with live musical accompaniment and sound effects.

At the height of its popularity over 300 European theaters were selling kits, but paper theater saw a drastic decline in popularity in the late 19th century as realism began to dominate the dramatic arts, and again with the arrival of television. Thankfully, paper theater survived near-extinction and has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years among puppeteers, writers, hobbyists, designers, educators, and filmmakers. Several publishers now offer replicas of famous paper theater kits as well as new models, and there are numerous international paper theater festivals throughout the Americas and Europe.

One such festival is presented yearly at the UC San Diego Library under the direction of staffer and “paper devotee” Scott Paulson. The Library’s Paper Theater Festival (billed as “The Smallest Show on Earth”) features examples of the form from Paulson’s personal collection, as well as performances of student-authored plays. The exhibition runs the gamut of paper theater history and formats, including posters, pop-ups, postcards, and souvenir books. Paulson attributes his interest in the medium to seeing Franco Zeffirelli’s autobiographical film “Tea with Mussolini,” which prominently features a paper theater performance. Others are drawn by paper theater’s tactile nature and by its value as an interactive educational toy, one that serves to stimulate a child’s creativity. A number of well-known figures were introduced to art by paper theater or have worked with the form, including Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Winston Churchill, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, Ingmar Bergman, Terry Gilliam, Pablo Picasso, and Orson Welles, to name just a few.

Like these luminaries Paulson appreciates paper theater both as a fascinating link to theater history and as an art form in its own right, one that celebrates craftsmanship and beauty on an intimate scale. He inaugurated the annual Festival in order to share his enthusiasm and to encourage others – children especially – to step away from our technocratic age for a time and let their imaginations take the lead.

Watch Celebrating Paper Theater.

High Notes

8232In recent years the STEM educational initiative – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – has gradually evolved into STEAM, as both educators and employers have gained a greater appreciation for the importance of arts education (the A in STEAM) in an innovation-driven economy. While it has long been held that early exposure to the arts, in particular music, contributes to the development of a well-rounded character, recent research and practical application both quantifies these benefits and identifies them as essential for developing marketable skills.

Since 1945 San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory (SDYS) has offered thousands of student musicians the opportunity to study and perform classical repertoire. SDYS’ programs include chamber music, soloist competitions, group lessons, theory classes, mentor programs, and more, and have grown from one advanced orchestra of 60 students to over 600 participating in 12 orchestral and wind ensembles at various levels of proficiency. While many participants have gone on to leading conservatories and professional careers in music, SDSY sees its mission in the larger context of broadening cultural horizons, embracing diversity, and enriching the community. To this end, the Youth Symphony had partnered with area schools to provide both in-class and supplemental music education. This initiative has yielded measurable results, including:

• Improved attendance
• Improved academic performance, particularly in language and reading skills
• Better performance on standardized tests
• Increased parental involvement in their student’s education

Additionally, students themselves report a greater sense of discipline, purpose, organization, belonging, and self-worth, all of which translates into a young person better equipped to tackle higher education and the marketplace.

SDYS also supports statistical research through a partnership with the Center for Human Development at UC San Diego and participation in the Center’s SIMPHONY study. The goal of SIMPHONY is to explore how musical training influences a child’s brain and the development of skills like language and concentration. The results may then be used to bolster the case for music education and to refine teaching methods, not just in San Diego but nationwide.

“High Notes: The Case for Music Education” provides an overview of a few of SDYS’ activities, including their Community Opus project, the SIMPHONY study, and their in-school activities using the Chula Vista Elementary School District as a representative sample.

An All-Access Pass to Opera

8232UCSD-TV – in the form of Your Humble Correspondent – continues to chronicle the adventures of San Diego Opera with two award-winning series, San Diego OperaTalk (in its 17th season) and San Diego Opera Spotlight (now in its 19th year, it’s “the opera series that’s old enough to vote”). Taken together as companion programs, these shows offer viewers an “all-access pass” that goes beyond sound bites and packaged promos with in-depth analysis, rehearsal and performance footage, and interviews with key participants. The result is an entertaining and informative portrait of the creative processes and personalities that bring opera to life in San Diego.

8232Having stabilized after winning a very public battle to stay alive, San Diego Opera is now fashioning a new direction for the Company. New General Director David Bennett has assured long-time patrons that the Company will not forsake traditional repertoire; rather, the intention going forward is to mix large-scale productions at the Civic Theatre with intimate productions of the new & the unfamiliar at a variety of venues, and to markedly increase the Opera’s outreach, visibility and engagement in the community. In that light the 2015/16 season may be seen as both a summation of where the company has been – a producer of traditional grand opera – and as a harbinger of things to come – a presenter of new works by contemporary composers.

Tradition is represented in the best way by two of Giacomo Puccini’s most beloved works, Tosca and Madama Butterfly, in productions that are new to San Diego Opera but are directed by two SDO favorites, Lesley Koenig and Garnett Bruce respectively. The third production, the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, is SDO’s second staging of an opera by Jake Heggie, following the phenomenal success of his Moby-Dick. This original serio-comedy features a stellar cast and a libretto by Terrence McNally (Master Class), and is directed by former Old Globe Artistic Director and theatrical legend Jack O’Brien. Jack is no stranger to the UCSD-TV audience, from his appearances on our Backstage at the Globe series.

As in years past, UCSD-TV is delighted to accompany you backstage and seat you, front row center, for what promises to be a vibrant season of opera.

Visit Opera on UCSD-TV to learn more.

———

Contributed by Arts & Humanities Producer, John Menier

Nixon in China: The Opera

8232John Adams’ Nixon in China has attained the status of modern classic since its premiere in 1987, but the opera is not performed frequently and is still unfamiliar to many audiences. Nonetheless there is great curiosity about the piece, as I discovered when I began work on the Spotlight program; I think I’ve gotten more questions about this opera than any other I’ve documented.

In some respects it’s easiest to begin a discussion of Nixon in China by listing what it is not:

• It’s not a dry history lesson;
• It’s not a political rant;
• It’s neither a satire nor a farce;
• It’s not unmelodic or atonal;
• It’s not strictly “minimalist” (though it certainly has elements of that style).

So…what is it? I’m not an historian, political scientist, or musicologist (and I don’t play one on TV), but in the course of shooting rehearsals and talking to the cast & production staff I’ve made a few observations.

I was already somewhat familiar with the opera in its original incarnation as directed by Peter Sellars, but this production is a fresh conception (i.e., not a re-mount) directed by James Robinson. The music and dramatic intent are the same, of course, but the new staging has some interesting features of its own. The settings are less representational and more abstract, and very colorful (I joke that it “needs more red”). The media coverage surrounding the event plays a more prominent role. There’s increased emphasis on movement, both literal (the ballet, ritualized gestures) and figurative (from exuberance to reflection). Robinson and his cast have also worked to highlight the abundant humor in the libretto. And, the piece has an expansive, “mock heroic” tone that is, dare I say it, a lot of fun.

“Fun.” Now there’s a word you don’t often hear associated with opera, particularly modern opera, yet it’s a vital component of this one. Adams and librettist Alice Goodman brought a sense of playfulness to Nixon in China, and that was reflected in the rehearsals. Of course it helps to have a director, conductor, choreographer and cast who are confident and attuned to the demands & nuances of the piece, and San Diego Opera assembled such a group. The participants seemed to be genuinely enjoying their work; I think that comes across in the Spotlight footage, and hopefully it will prove contagious for the audience.

Back to my original question: What is Nixon in China? I could say that it’s a dramatic comedy (or a comic drama), or it’s a stage spectacle, or it’s a postmodern character study; or just say it’s an evening’s entertainment and leave it at that. But I’m not the authority here – watch UCSD-TV’s San Diego OperaTalk and San Diego Opera Spotlight, then attend San Diego Opera’s Nixon in China and cultivate your own impressions. It will be time well spent.

Submitted by John Menier, Arts and Music Producer