Jason Victor Serinus
Jason Victor Serinus is a music critic, professional whistler, and lecturer on classical vocal recordings. His credits includes Seattle Times, Listen, Opera News, Opera Now, American Record Guide, Stereophile, Classical Voice North America, Carnegie Hall Playbill, Gramophone, San Francisco Magazine, Stanford Live, Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco Examiner, AudioStream, and California Magazine.
Articles by this Author
Who can resist a birthday celebration where everyone receives a musical treat? That's exactly what happened Sunday afternoon in Hertz Hall, when Cal Performances celebrated composer and music professor Jorge Liderman's 50th birthday. Although it didn't include cake, the smile-filled afternoon featured some of Liderman's favorite players in definitive performances of music he wrote for them: Cuarteto Latinoamericano, pianist Sonia Rubinsky, guitarist David Tanenbaum, and, working as a trio, clarinetist Carey Bell, marimbaist Florian Conzetti, and pianist Karen Rosenak.
Time for full disclosure. As much as I admire the Oakland East Bay Symphony, I asked to review its season opener, "A Grand Opening: Beethoven and Bernstein," for one specific reason: to have the opportunity to reassess the artistry of soprano Hope Briggs. In a striking departure from his usual opening-night format, which always includes music by a living composer, Music Director and Conductor Michael Morgan announced on August 3 that he had replaced composer Peteris Vasks’ Sala: Symphonic Elegy for Orchestra with Briggs singing arias by Wagner, Puccini, Verdi, and Cilea.
To some, John Cage is a joy guide, a trickster, a brilliant confounder of established expectations. To others he is a constantly vexing presence: an incontrovertibly original iconoclast who changed the course of modern composition by giving artists permission to do any one of a number of things at any given time. Thanks (or no thanks, as the case may be) to Cage, artists now feel free to create vastly different-sounding performances from the same score — sometimes harmonious, sometimes impossibly jarring — and call the disparate results music.
Many observers, myself included, tend to put Philip Glass in an uncomfortable box: He writes repetitive drones, he's been writing the same thing over and over for more than 35 years, he can't compose a melody worth a hill of beans, what was revolutionary in his earlier music now seems dated, and so on.
Oakland Opera Theater’s The Turn of the Screw is both a triumph of spirit and a stumbling of conception. The triumph, as Michael Zwiebach recounts in this week's feature, involved moving the entire company and adapting a production intended for one venue to another twice as large, all within the span of a few too-short weeks.
I thought I knew Olga Borodina’s voice pretty well. But then I discovered myself seated in second row center of Zellerbach Hall. Sitting that close to the Russian mezzo, the glories of her instrument were nigh overwhelming.
Even as she was on the mend from the audible and visible affects of bronchitis, Borodina’s voice radiated magnificence. In the low- and midranges, it has an all-encompassing Earth Mother fullness and warmth that’s hard to resist. On high, it blazes with such power that, even from the second row, it can be heard reverberating throughout the hall.
If every piece of architecture had its own inherent sound, the church of Mission San Juan Bautista would be heard for miles. The relatively high-ceilinged structure (long and narrow, made of wood and plaster, and primitively painted), whose interior was completed in 1817, creates a resounding acoustic like none other I've experienced.
If thoughts of nonprofessional community choruses make you cringe, rest assured: The San Francisco Choral Society is something else. This 200-person chorus, in which people pay for the opportunity to sing in such venues as this concert's Davies Symphony Hall, may not perform on the exalted level of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, but it is nonetheless capable of making beautiful music.
You'd think that nothing could steal the thunder from the likes of Frederica von Stade, Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway, and the Russian National Orchestra. But Friday the 13th brought a decidedly unmusical close to Festival del Sole's opening night in Napa. That the potential fiasco was handled with copious amounts of charm and grace shone a much-deserved light on the evening's unjustifiably shadowed conductor, Stéphane Denève.
Hundreds of thousands, millions, perhaps billions of people around the globe, had just taken the seven-point Live Earth Pledge to do their part to avert global warming. But in Walnut Creek on Saturday night, at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, it was business as usual. With not a single recycling bin in sight, the only recycling effort was onstage, where Festival Opera opened its 2007 season with the perpetually popular Carmen.
In what could be considered a case of premature delivery, Oakland Opera Theater attempted a first last week. Although the diminutive company has garnered an enviable reputation for staging intriguing multimedia productions of original or rarely performed contemporary works in the too-funky-for-comfort Oakland Metro Opera House, it has never before, to my knowledge, produced a short evening consisting entirely of snippets from works in progress.
Chamber Music San Francisco's director, Daniel Levenstein, seems to favor loud Slavs. Soon after an eardrum-shattering recital by pianist Nikolai Demidenko, in which he pounded out Bach and Schumann with the same force that Samson used to topple the temple, we get powerhouse tenor Vladimir Kuzmenko. The Ukraine-born singer, who joined the Kiev Opera as principal tenor on graduation from the Kiev Conservatory, has since been feted as "Leading Artist of the Ukraine" and principal tenor of the Warsaw National Opera, and has sung in a number of notable houses.
Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades (Pikovaya Dama) delivers a decidedly mixed bag: a lush, gushingly romantic score, rich with gorgeous, often-sprawling arias and ensembles, married to a tryingly melodramatic and barely credible tale of love and obsession.
It was a special afternoon, delivering more musical delights, revelations, and unadulterated joy than you might expect from the recital format. Why such an unusual event that united two of today's most talked-about composers — men whose versatility successfully bridges the gap between opera and modern musical theater, and who ably accompanied the likes of Frederica von Stade and a cast of younger, highly gifted artists — was not attended by more people is a puzzlement better addressed by the I Ching than yours truly.
With the announcement that 2008 will mark the farewell of the Beaux Arts Trio, its every remaining performance is precious. Cofounded in 1955 by pianist Menahem Pressler, who remains with the group (in his 84th year), the Beaux Arts Trio has, for many of us, served as a model of great piano trio interpretation.
Measha Brueggergosman is a trip. A statuesque soprano with a larger than life personality, her eye-catching hair, nose ring, huge smile, and propensity to perform barefoot toy with us as if to say, "Here I am, boys and girls. Accept me on my own terms or be on your way."