Gay couple's gay night
at Philharmonia Baroque
by Jason Victor Serinus
For the second year in a row, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO) follows its first season concert in San Francisco with a post-concert LGBT reception. Not only is the performance itself – the PBO premiere of Henry Purcell's Dioclesian, which some describe as the baroque equivalent of a Broadway musical – especially suited to a lavender audience, but it also casts a spotlight on the gay nature of the organization, and of one of the long-term partnerships that makes the San Francisco music scene so special.
It is hardly news that the conductor of PBO, Nicholas McGegan, and the director of the orchestra's Philharmonia Baroque Chorale (PBC), Bruce Lamott, are gay men. Nor will it come as a surprise to learn that both are in long-term relationships, that they are not the only gay men in the organization, and that several of the seven soloists in Dioclesian are also friends of Dorothy. But what is unusual is that Dioclesian appears in a week when both the organization's chorus director, Lamott, and his partner of 40 years, Kip Cranna, have been cast into the spotlight for their pivotal roles in the Bay Area classical music scene.
On October 1, Cranna received the Osher Cultural Award, a $15,000 cash prize for "distinguished efforts by an individual to bring excellence to a particular cultural institution or metier." Lamott, who attended the award ceremony, had to dash out early to help conduct a rehearsal of Dioclesian. On October 5, after Cranna heads next door from his office in the War Memorial Opera House to attend one of the Purcell performances, the couple will head home to contemplate how the prize money will help finance their forthcoming 40th anniversary RSVP gay cruise to the Danube.
"We show up for each other's concerts, and are very supportive of each other's professional lives," Cranna explained in a joint interview with Lamott. "But we talk very little music when we get home."
Chiming in, Lamott declared, "Our big issue is coming home and establishing a place that's safe from all of the music stuff we're doing. It's not a question of what opera we're going to put on at night. Instead, after he's put in a 14-hour day, it's who's going to walk the dogs and how's the plumbing doing, and who will fix the electricity. It's the domestic kinds of things. We met in music and have similar tastes in music. But our relationship is not grounded in music; it's grounded in a personal relationship."
That relationship began 40 years ago, when the two men, both graduate students in 17th-century music history at Stanford, met in Music 169A: Introduction to Performance Practice. Cranna, a North Dakota boy just out of the Navy and ostensibly looking for the right girl, couldn't help but notice the cute blonde guy wearing a velour shirt sitting in front of him in class. Lamott, a Presbyterian and high school organist who had once thought of going into the ministry but who was sure of which sex he was attracted to, smiled.
The following spring, after Lamott's gay roommate headed out of town, Cranna became his summer replacement. It didn't take long for roommates to become partners. Two weeks later, it had already become clear that they wanted to stick together for the rest of their lives.
"Our priorities," says Cranna, "were: stay together, stay in music, and stay in the Bay Area. Given how unconceivable it was that two musicologists who were focusing on the same century were going to find jobs in the same town, we quickly decided to cast our nets further."
Lamott, who played harpsichord during his Stanford years, went from directing a church choir on the Peninsula to the start of his 33-year career as a teacher of music, orchestra, chorus and Western civilization at University High School. To this he added Chorus Master at the Sacramento Symphony (1984), then 30 years at the Carmel Bach Festival that culminated as Choral Director (until 2003), then the directorship of PBC (1997-present), and a teaching position at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Cranna, who for a time worked at Carmel Bach as program editor and lecturer, soon made a shift to San Francisco Opera. Starting off as assistant to the business manager, he moved into Music Administration. Chances are, if you've attended any of San Francisco Opera's pre-concert presentations, or any of the Opera Guild's preview presentations, you've heard him speak and play musical examples.
Both men give a thumbs up to Dioclesian . "It's a very user-friendly show," says Lamott. "No piece is longer than three-and-a-half minutes. It's really like a baroque Broadway revue. If you don't like the number we're doing, wait a couple of minutes and everything will be new. It's got dancing, singing, and bacchanals. The dialogue is left out, and for God sakes, don't try to follow the plot. It's music in the moment that, divorced from the style of somebody like Nick, could be absolutely deadly. Nick understands the language, so it becomes an endless delight. Maybe it's a big plate of bon bons, or more like dim sum than a full meal, but it's delightful. And afterwards, our LGBT patrons and their friends will dine on more sweets and treats."
Asked what kind of sales pitch they'd like to give about classical music in general, Cranna declared, "For gay people, classical music is a great date. It's a great way to try your relationship out. There are these very expressive cultural creations from composers, a lot of whom are gay, that can enrich people's lives and help bring them together."
"It's music without additives," declared the socially conscious Lamott. "Classical music is almost the only place where you'll sit in an acoustic environment and hear things for their natural sound. If you go to a Broadway show, movie, rock concert, or disco, the technology has gotten so out of hand that the experience of walking into a room that used to be fun is now an assault where you're unable to carry on a conversation.
"With Philharmonia, you have a kind, gentler sound, and at the opera, you have all the acoustic power with preservatives and additives. Speakers are like the MSG of great food; they affect the flavor and push it beyond where it ought to be. It seems to me that if you're wearing natural fibers, you should be going to an unamplified concert."
Head thee to Dioclesian on Friday, June 5 in San Francisco, or on October 6 and 7 in Berkeley. See www.philharmonia.org/oct2012/ or call (415) 392-4400.