May 31 - Music Tutorials

Down at the Apple Store in Walnut Creek for a first OneToOne tutorial -- very helpful -- but as helpful, ran into Feona Jones, who gave me a copy of Cubase for Mac -- wonderful!  So perhaps soon I'll be able to have a mobile recording studio from the MacBook...

Then off to Potrero Hill Neighborhood House for first rehearsal of the Hi, I'll Be Your Composer This Evening June 9 San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra show -- a delightully varied program, as usual, which we, as per tradition, rehearsed in what will probably be the reverse (largest instrumentation to smallest) performance order (usually smallest to largest). So tonight it was:

Allan Crossman - Earth March
Gary Friedman - Trumpet Concerto
Michael Cooke - Ha'meggada
Loren Jones - Golden Gate Bridge
John Beeman - Phoenix Rising
Brian Holmes - Two Songs from "Death's Jest Book"

Impressive music, to which we will add more in same spirit with a March by Harry Bernstein...

Waiting for Godot 41-42 orchestration in the mind....

May 30 - Reverse Circuit

Worked out programming/schedule for upcoming San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra concert on June 9, then off on business to Marin and DVC on a brisk day, with coastal fog penetrating hills and baylands in all the usual places.

Conceiving orchesration of Waiting for Godot 39-40...

May 29 - Yosemite Birthday

Harriet and I head out the door at noon and decide, by the time we get to the car, to go to Yosemite -- long overdue. -- zipping via 80 to Sacramento, down 99 to Manteca / Escalon /

Oakdale, bringing back many memories, past glorious oak savannahs and a surreal lumber mill,

up the sunny, sere, chapparal-clad Priest Grade, with its abandoned lodgings at the top, past Big Oak Flat / Groveland (of KXPN transmitter fame), the Northern Rim of the World, to Yosemite entrance in c. three-and-a-half hours. 1/2 beyond, past the Tioga Road and Crane Flat (more memories), it's the first view of the valley, and we're tourists all over again, now with cellphone cameras...

Half Dome,

Bridal Veil Fall (in fairly full form, not the whisp blown up in the wind in the latter parts of some seasons, probably this season, too),

Leaning Tower, Cathedral Rocks,

Sentinal Rock,

El Capitan,

Yosemite Falls, and on and on, what Ansel Adams and so many others have experienced.

Late lunch outside at Curry Camp, and Crystal calls. It's her birthday -- I had called her earlier and left a message -- wonderful to hear from her. She's passing through Vallejo (Vacaville?) on 80, on way back from Seattle -- hope to rendezvous with her later this week, before she heads to Boston for a summer job that includes free housing, such that she's probably going to be earning more take-home pay than me! (from a certain perspective, not hard to achieve....)

Quick spin to the Ahwahnee Inn,

then down the Merced River Canyon,

past storied Savage Trading Post,

with a detour to the far (north, usually fairly inaccessible) side of the river, due to a massive landslide that totally buried the road last winter.

Up and over at Mid Pines, past the subterranean bar in Mariposa,

the beautiful nothing-doing-ness of Cathey's valley(somethimes the border between fog and sun in the winter), watching the foothills turn slowly, almost imperceptively back into the work-a-day Central Valley before Merced.  Past Cal State Stanislaus and looping back home -- contemplating orchestration of 37-38 of Godot....

May 28 - Memorable Memorial

Time to take the first Sierra hike of the season,

through the

forest on Mosquito Ridge Road to the turn-off to Placer Big Trees (the most northernly grove of Giant Sequoias -- only a scattered impressive few) -- part of a continuing series of dayhikes linking San Francisco to Reno.

Exploratory drive thereafter on the gravel-soon-dirt-eventually-rock Robinson Flat Road.

Deceptively easy start, and better views than along upper Mosquito Ridge (lower parts are quite impressive). Contouring around the open slopes of Duncan Peak, past a few lingering snow patches, the question came to mind, "Just how bad does this have to get before it's time to turn around?" Up a screeish slope, with gullies and some water, there came, Dante- or Tennessee Williamseque, the place where the straight way was lost. As an overly-hasty peering at the map did not recall any forks, this was time to exercise prudence -- while it's summerish, the thought of those lost temporary Oregonians came to mind.

Bumping the roughly 6 miles back, I later realized I had been within about a half mile of paved road and the possibility of a nice loop -- the separation of the road was actually marked on the map and the route obvious -- oh well....

Home via UC Davis Library for some Stravinsky orchestratonal inspiration, then beginning conception of Waiting for Godot 35-36 orch...

May 27 - Waiting for Waiting

Made it through Acts I and II of Godot (the short version). Meghan gets the prize for most memorized thus far, and we're getting some good schtik happening. We have an electrical thing going, too, with the tree as a giant industrial fan, Lucky's rope a bright orange extension chord, the leaves in Act II as smaller brown electric extensions.

Robert stopped by to pick up Playboy score; then brisk Connecticut Yankee lunch w/ Harriet, outside camped under one of the heaters, with the sun coming out at the very end; finally home to the sunshine and warmth, orchestrating 33-34.

May 26 - Pozzo Solo

Orchestrating Godot 31-32, then rehearsal with Janet at her place in a particularly foggy windblown SF for Act I Pozzo, standing in (or should that be falling in, kicking in) for Lucky...

May 25 - TGIFreeday

Back at school, but no particular schedule, receiving last-minute papers from some folks. Recorded Waiting for Godot 24 and 26, returning to 25 soon, then back home, orchestrating 31-32.

Harriet relays that we have won a Meet-the-Composer grant for The Playboy of the Western World -- that, added to the Hewlett, Zellerbach, and Getty grants, and we're in as good a shape as we could hope. Additionally, Piedmont piano will donate rehearsal space in exchange for an ad in program and their hosting of a party. Happy to have them host parties for us any time!

May 24 - Last Spring Semester Hurrah

Nice pieces in last Spring 2007 Theory Class, then relatedly impressive evening show for Doug Michael's electronic music class, including the six-singer Brunnhilde from Cats, Dogs, and Divas.

May 23 - I Can't Record, I Must Record, I'll Record

Recorded orchestration of Godot, 22-23. Will go back and do 20-21 soon.

May 22 - Last of the Literarians

Last day of Music Lit -- with the Theory group, both fine classes. Beginning 29-30 Godot orchestration....

May 21 - Examination Give and Take

Gave Theory students final today -- excerpts to analyze and realize from Nirvana, Elton John, Mark Alburger, Howard Shore, Radiohead + intervals and My Bonnie Lies for dictation.

Doug Michael gave a tutorial to prepare for my make-up of his Cubase exam -- many thanks -- then recorded Godot orchestration, items 16-19.

Orchestration of 27-28 tonight...

May 20 - PlayBoys and Girls

Staged Act II Waiting for Godot with Eliza (Vladimir), Janet (Pozzo/Lucky), Cat (Lucky/Pozzo), and Lea (Boy) -- good spirits and progress made. Looks like there will be an electrical theme -- tree as giant shop fan, Lucky's rope as bright orange extension cord....

Also initial meeting for The Playboy of the Western World, with Suzanna (Pegeen Mike), Lea, our new young lady, Cat, Lisa McHenry (Sara, Honor, Nelly, Susan -- not necessarilly in that order), William (Sean Keogh), Karl (Michael James), Harriet (Direction) -- looking forward to catching up with Robert Benda (Christy) and Ms. Henry (Widow Quin) -- still have to cast Jimmy and Philly (Michael James's cohorts) -- looks like I may be covering old Mahon, and have a more active role in directing, as per Harriet's suggestion -- distributed scores and CDs, played through bits of Acts I-III.

At work therefter at home on orchestrating numbers 25-26 of Godot...

May 19 - Goodbye Dali

Picked up the scores to The Playboy of the Western World on Friday, and they look pretty good -- hope they sound pretty good, too. Harriet likes them; what she does not like is the poster I designed for Fresh Voices VII: A Precarious Balance -- took the Salvador Dali Soft Construction with Beans and ran with it -- too anthropomorphic and apocalyptic for her taste -- oh well...

Meanwhile orchestratiing 23-24 of Waiting for Godot -- slow going -- plus filled out the yearly ASCAP standard award form (also slow going) and hoping for my usual luck (have consistently been awarded since first application -- definitely not my experience in certain other arenas)...

Almost surreal how I've gotten these....

May 18 - I'll Have the Usual

Orchestrated sections 21-22 of Waiting for Godot -- will need to do at least two a day to stay on course for performances at end of next month.  Have been memorizing dialogue so that I may fill in for absences in rehearsals + simply to be a better conductor-director....

May 17 - A Test of the Beckett Broadcasting System

Home comparatively early to orchestrate pieces 19 and 20 in Waiting for Godot.

May 16 - Block Two on the Camino Creole

Eliza and Meghen and I got through entire blocking of Act II Waiting for Godot excerpts -- challenging, but looks like we'll be able to do it -- then back to Dead Fish to finish up grading Theory quizzes for the semester -- spoonfuls of crab chowder are definitely good medicine, along with the impressive view on another beautiful day...

May 15 - San Francisco to Golden Gate

Drawing Lines and Following Them


One of La Monte Young's Compositions 1960 is, in its entirety, the direction "draw a straight line and follow it." Easier said than done. And on May 10 at Davies Hall, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony reminded us that not only are musical lines difficult to draw and follow, they are also difficult to demarcate.

The Richard Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra is a case in point. Written in 1896, this work stands at the door to the brave new world that was the 20th century, and Thomas and company caught the expectancy and the passion, making the music fresh even when the brass lines were a bit unfocussed. The rumblings of the organ were present, but not allowed to dominate, and indeed the performance had the requistite late romantic sweep, but at the same time an objectivity that suggested future developments.

Is this music that follows a line? Hardly. More like sinuous coils, overlapping tresses, and billowing waves that surprise and delight at each moment, and occasionally confuse and confound. The wild proto-12-tone science fugue subject (an overlapping of C and B tonalities) is at once brilliant and murky. The returns of the notorious one-five-one, do-sol-do, C-G-C music -- which discovered a new life when utilized by Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey -- still impress whether obviously at the end of "The Convalescent" section or subtly in the oboe accompaniment to the waltz. And what's the deal with the end? An amazingly gutsy ambiguity for the time. This was a performance that made the most of the ramble, and featured the articulate ruminations of concertmaster-soloist Alexander Barantschik

There was again something unexpected and non-linear about the five songs from Gustav Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn (to texts from The Boy's Magic Horn, of Achim van Armin and Clemens Brentano) which preceded. First, why these five? A little anti-war-and-oppression suite? Worked for us. As did the decision to have baritone Thomas Hampson have at them -- a commanding performer at the top of his game bringing all of his dramatic prowess and shining tone to play. This is another work that straddles rather than follows a line, of songs composed between 1898 and 1901, that can split apart at the emotional seams, as in "The Prisoner" and tear at the heart as in "The Drummer Boy." No, this is no Christmas song, as one of Mahler's ominous veiled military exercises. In this performance, the reverie of "Reveille" connected Mahler appropriately to his younger colleague Arnold Schoenberg, who astounded the world with his chromatic freedoms darkly in such related works as "Troopers" from the Six Pieces for Male Chorus (1930). Yup, we're all going to die, and sometimes we whistle into that good night.

No one could have really predicted the course of either Strauss's nor Mahler's careers, given the music on this program. The former composer jumped ship from tone poems to operas and ultimately from radical to conservative; the latter kept art songs in his output, but primarily focused on symphonies in his relatively short life.

As some kindred spirit, Aaron Copland continued to surprise from the 1920's through the 80's in works at once consistent yet varied. If the Short Symphony (Symphony No. 2, if the composer's Organ Symphony is No. 1) is not on the top of many lists of Copland's Greatest Hits, it was good to hear in this committed performance. And, what do you know, in the first movement, at least, it's almost all about one music line, however angular and un-straight, and following it to a more-or-less logical conclusion. Not an easy thing, indeed.


Learning from the iPod Shuffle


So, I've got my iPod, and I'm not as hip as all of those dancing silhouettes in the advertisements, and initially I thought I'd never use the "shuffle mode," because I'm a control freak. But then I tried it and realized, "Wow, radio," and there is joy to giving o'er and being surprised.

But the further surprise was, despite the seemingly random play, I was hearing certain pieces more than others. Why? Not sure, but since there's a playlist of "Top 25 Played," seems that this is incorporated into the statistical mix.

The moral take-home message? Success breeds success. I'm hearing more of the same because I've heard more of the same.

The point? Let's talk about "Greatest Hits." It's time to shuffle the mode. If your greatest hits are simply other people's greatest hits, the hits won't ever change, and there goes your iPod shuffle delight-surprise.

So when Golden Gate Opera presented Opera's Greatest Hits on May 11 at Marin Center, your 20th-/21st-century guy wasn't going to be totally delighted to have Umberto Giordano (1867-1948) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949) be the most contemporary composers on the program (what's with this? RS has been popping up even more than WAM and LVB of late...).

How about Igor Stravinsky? Alban Berg? Gian Carlo Menotti? Carlisle Floyd? Leonard Bernstein? Philip Glass? John Adams? David Conte? Erling Wold? Lisa Scola Prosek? Mark Alburger? Just kidding.

I'd even settle for Stephen Sondheim. Just kidding.

It was a nice program, and mostly well-sung. Bit pricey, but then again, I didn't have to pay. Wonder how I'd feel otherwise... Probably not as content.

Olga Chernisheva took star turns beautifully in selections from Giuseppe Verdi's Ernani (not on many people's short lists) and Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly and La Boheme. Carla Lopez-Speziale was a shining special presence in excerpts from Carmen, winningly and athletically joined by Bryn Jimenez, Elizabeth Gentner, Zachary Sheely, and John Frederick for the lithesome Act II Quintet. And it was pleasing to hear Anja Strauss in the P-man's Gianni Schicchi.

The cast looked great in the impressively-lit opening tableau, but unfortunately had nothing to do (of course, that's what a tableau is, isn't it? maybe I just don't like tableaux -- but nice use of the French plural, n'est-ce pas?).

The two-piano accompaniment, narration, canned-music intro, and audience size might have suggested the adjacent and smaller Showcase Theatre, but certainly a good time was had by many. And there was dancing -- not anywhere like the iPod shuffle -- but dancing and applauding nonetheless.

Mix it up!

May 14 - Alburger's Big Book of Music History

Started a big, new version of the Music History text, full of color pictures, which will only be available on computer and online.

Same basic format of 14 chapters, with expanded introduction,...

World Music - Africa / Asia
World Music - Europe / America
Medieval Music
Renaissance Music

Baroque Music
Classical / Early Romantic Music
Mid Romantic Music
Late Romantic Music

Early 20th-Century I
Early 20th-Century II
Mid 20th-Century I
Mid 20th-Century II

Late 20th-Century Music
21st-Century Music

May 13 - Waiting for The Dead Fish

Nice Waiting for Godot rehearsal today -- we're up and running, and good to have Keisuke Nakagoshi along on piano, in addition to computer. Act I blocked and Act II blocking begun -- will concentrate on latter next time...

Some Goat Hall auditions, then off to the nice-restaurant-with-the-not-so-nice-name of The Dead Fish in Crockett, with a beautiful only-in-California (at least insofar as the U.S. is concerned) view of semi-arid mostly-treeless golden hills above the blue waters of Carquinez Strait...

May 12 - Nearer My God to The Times

Home for a change -- the farthest afield was acquiring The New York Times -- almost went much further in a near accident while running some errands...

Preparing Mice and Men Act III B for publication -- a long passage, may take a while....

May 11 - The Playboy of the West Bay

Produced two more album covers on the laptop -- One-Hour Color Processing and

Lost in Place....

Picked up June 2007 issue of 21st-Century Music from the printer and dropped off the piano-vocal score of The Playboy of the Western World.

Dinner with Harriet at Celia's San Rafael, then Golden Gate Opera at Marin Center, which may prove to be a difficult review....

May 10 - A Rainbow in Curved Space

Produced my first color hard-copy album cover -- for Mice and Men -- then recorded Act III A of same.

Thanks to Tim White, was able to transfer video made of the Duck Pond concert two Thursdays ago to the laptop -- wireless conveniently was down, so we went in via the Emergency Airlock, Hal, via ethernet direct wire.

Look over the film clip during outdoor dinner at Connecticut Yankee with Harriet (SF warm spell definitely over), then off together for SF Symphony of Copland, Mahler, R. Strauss -- report next week....

May 9 - Offering

Mark Alburger, Music Director

May 1, 2007 SFCCO (707) 451-0714



SAN FRANCISCO, May 1, 2007 -- Hi, I'll be your composer this evening, with the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra, 8pm, Saturday, June 9, at Old First Church (1725 Sacramento Street) in San Francisco.

Would you like to hear our specials? We have a lovely braised fowl, Phoenix Rising, the final section of John Beeman's Fire Suite, which will be brought to the ear crackling and sizzling in a multi-layered crescendo.

Can't make up your mind? You might want to try the delicious One Who Draws Circles (Ha-Me'aggel) by Michael Cooke. This will be sure to wet the appetite in a music that calls forth the story of Onias (Honi) Ha-Me'aggel, a first century Jewish scholar who drew a circle and placed himself in the center of it, praying for rain, and whose prayers were mysteriously and immediately answered.

For our main Concertos we have two offerings -- Gary Friedman's for Trumpet and Jonathan Russell's for Two Bass Clarinets. For comfort food, may I recommend the former, a high adventure for trumpeter Brian Hertz inspired by the music of Joseph Haydn. But, for the more adventurous palette, may I direct your attention to the latter, which is a spicy confection combining seasonings of heavy metal rock with the classical conventions of Carl Maria von Weber, all cooked up by duo basso chefs Russell and Jeff Anderle.

For refreshment, we offer surprising new chamber music by Harry Bernstein, and also Alan Crossman's consciousness-raising Earth March, which is both an energy drink and soothing opportunity for reflection. After a few sonic quaffs, you'll feel ready to take on the world, or at least visit Google Earth.

A meal is also atmosphere, of course, so we're happy to provide you with an aural view of Golden Gate Bridge, the tenth movement of Loren Jones's Dancing on the Brink of the World. This is a tried-and-true 14-part recipe on the history of San Francisco, 1600 to the Present, seven of whose scrumptious bon-bons have been previously performed in SFCCO concerts.

Hopefully, you've saved room for dessert. Here we have a most unusual offering in songs by Brian Holmes. New Cecilia and New Dodo will delight in sweet melody and good humor, but beware of overindulgence. Is that a bit of tonal tummy-rumbling? Could be.

Tickets for the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra's "Hi, I'll Be Your Composer Tonight" on Saturday, March 10, at 8.00 p.m. at Old First Church, 1725 Sacramento Street (at Van Ness), San Francisco are $15 general, $12 students and seniors. Tickets are available through the Old First Church Box Office at (415) 474-1608 and at the door. For more information, please call Old First Church Box Office, or the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra at (707) 451-0714, or visit the organizations' respective websites at and Tickets are also available at Other links to the show may be found at,, and


Saturday, June 9, at 8:00 p.m. Old First Presbyterian Church
1725 Sacramento Street at Van Ness
San Francisco, CA
(415) 474-1608

San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra


John Beeman - Phoenix Rising
Harry Bernstein - Chamber Music
Michael Cooke - Ha-Me'aggel (One Who Draws Circles)
Alan Crossman - Earth March
Gary Friedman - Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra
Brian Holmes - Two Grotesque Songs from Death's Jest-Book
Loren Jones - Golden Gate Bridge
John Russell - Concerto for Two Bass Clarinets and Orchestra

Tickets:$15 general, $12 students and seniors, available through the Old First Church Box Office at (415) 474-1608, at the door, and at

May 8 - Red Zone

Prepared Act III A of Mice and Men for publication and recording.

May 7 - Thrown for a Curve

Prepared Act III C and D of The Playboy of the Western World for publication, with particular emphasis on text underlay and staging -- essentially finishing the tome for the singer-actors, at least for now...

May 6 - What a Day!

Second staging rehearsal of Act I Waiting for Godot, playing Estragon, as Meghan was unable to attend (we'll catch up Wednesday). Poor Kat as Lucky had to spend a lot of time with a large orange extension chord around her neck, practicing comically/gracefully falling while holding a computer bag and a stool -- what we do for art.... Turns out Lucky's song can pretty much be done at the manic tempo, assuming we're not too fussy about diction (actually, more like downright cavalier)...

Lunch with Harriet at Connecticut Yankee, a cataloguing of music for the next SFCCO concert, then a GH board meeting casual enough that I could follow some of it lying down.

A walk-on-the-beach, just south of San Pedro Mountain, just like in the singles ads, then H and I had to pass up two restaurants before settling on a third

(Aperto, on this the anniversary of our first time out).

Finally, David Conte's America Tropical, with fine conducting from John Kendall Bailey and similar expertise from Keisuke Nakagoshi, who has been our Goat Hall pianist over seven years (including premieres of Henry Miller in Brooklyn, Animal Opera, Camino Real, Pied Piper, plus performances of Little Prince), and Jon, who we hope will have a piece ready for Composers Chamber Orchestra. Report will appear eventually here and in 21st-Century Music....