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Jeff Dunn

Jeff Dunn is a freelance critic with a B.A. in music and a Ph.D. in geologic education. A composer of piano and vocal music, he is a member of the National Association of Composers, USA, a former president of Composers, Inc., and has served on the Board of New Music Bay Area. 

Articles by this Author

Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
December 2, 2010

Supercharged love ... That’s what Music Director Joana Carneiro programmed in two works for the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. But it was the sultry presence, superb expressiveness, and fine singing of mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway that really heated up the sea of love to bubbly.

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Chamber Music Review
November 7, 2010

The French Ensemble Zellig focuses on innovation and experimentation and is fully at ease traveling through time and musical styles. In its West Coast debut on Sunday night it was a breath of fresh air.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
October 24, 2010

This symphony orchestra is so old, Franz Schubert is one of the first violinists. So what can be learned from experiencing the first visit from the Dresden Staatskapelle in Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday, an ensemble rated as one of the top five in Europe, with a 462-year-old pedigree, and it lays before you a Schuman-Beethoven-Brahms program right from their sweet spot in musical history?

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CD Review
October 12, 2010

“Recorded Music of the African Diaspora” is the first release of what promises to be a series in a partnership between Albany Records and the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago. This series starter can be strongly recommended for the Wilson song cycle.

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Chamber Music Review
September 27, 2010

Does the personality of a composer matter? Will knowing more about the life of a composer enhance our experience of his or her music? “You bet!” is Other Minds’ answer, as judged from its Sept. 27 combo of exhibit, discussion, and performance that brought the remarkable Dane Rudhyar (1895-1985) back to life.

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Feature Article
August 23, 2010

Symphony concerts are good places to bring friends. There’s excitement, variety, time to talk at intermission, a focal point to the evening, and a chance to do something together afterward. The fall season in the Bay Area is crammed with goodies everyone can love. 

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Festival Review
August 15, 2010

Ah! The Cabrillo Festival finale: “To hear infinity in the Mission San Juan Bautista and eternity in 97 minutes” — such was the hope implied by its “in aeternam” moniker.

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Festival Review
August 6, 2010

Sure, the Cabrillo Festival showcased a trio of distinctive, lauded — and breathing — composers on its opening night program. And yes, Music Director Marin Alsop and her band played their hearts out, as they usually do. But perhaps more impressive was the most neglected portion of the classical music communication channel: the audience.

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CD Review
August 3, 2010

If you head to iTunes, you can check out a great new recording of American compositions in the live DG Concerts series, for which John Adams conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in his own work. It used to be that new classical pieces, if they got recorded at all, took years to get on a CD. But things aren’t the way they used to be, thanks to the advent of the download.

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Upcoming Concert
June 28, 2010

Which variety of love do you prefer to listen to — hapless, or timeless? The first half of the final concert of this year’s Festival del Sole in Napa Valley, on July 25, will immerse itself in both, and will require deep breaths.

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Chamber Music Review
May 22, 2010

How in the world could the San Francisco Library lead the violist Pamela Freund-Striplen to a pool, “full of old fish, blind-stricken long ago … revealed only by the croaking of consumptive frogs”? Like the best adventures, the path was circuitous, but the result was a highly imaginative program for her Gold Coast Chamber Players that absorbed lucky listeners at the Lafayette Library Community Hall Saturday night.

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CD Review
May 18, 2010

“What?!” you say, “another recording of Rhapsody in Blue?” Amazon lists 632 recordings of this music co-opted by United Airlines ads and 71 MP3 downloads. What’s so special about this rendition?

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
May 11, 2010

Gustavo Dudamel brings a cheering crowd to their feet with a predictable, but audience-effective rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique symphony, while Jean-Yves Thibaudet entertains with Leonard Bernstein’s The Age of Anxiety.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
May 1, 2010

Guest conductor Christoph Eschenbach lit flames in two symphonies with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Hall on Saturday evening. Whether he was conducting a familiar warhorse or a rarity Eschenbach made them sear.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
April 17, 2010

For Music Director David Robertson, it’s his rubber-man upper torso and windmill arm gestures. For violin soloist Gil Shaham, it’s a puckish crouch that enables instant flitting between positions within an inch of the conductor, the first-chair violinist, or the front edge of the stage.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
April 11, 2010

“Courageous and psychedelic” wowed one patron. “It wasn’t the Four Last Songs” (of Richard Strauss), belittled another. Such reflects the mixed reaction of audience members to the music and the vocal challenges faced by soprano Christine Brewer in David Carlson’s work The Promise of Time, the premiere of which formed the centerpiece to Sunday’s final concert of the Marin Symphony’s season.

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Recital Review
April 6, 2010

“It was somewhat excessive,” recalled Lera Auerbach onstage, understating the compulsion she felt in 1999 to keep composing preludes. Not satisfied after creating 24 of them for piano, one for every possible key signature (C major, A minor, and so on), she produced a second set of 24 for piano and violin. Far from exhausting her, this only whetted her appetite, so she wrote a third 24 for cello and piano.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
March 20, 2010

Did the Santa Rosa Symphony on Saturday night live up to part of a public-school student poem, by “Cristobal,” posted in its concert-hall lobby?

Sounds frightful, amazing, destructive.
Beethoven, great composer —
Music as powerful as the sun.

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Upcoming Concert
March 16, 2010

If you plan to drive up I-80 to the next concert of the Vallejo Symphony to hear virtuoso Meredith Brown, you must be prepared to play her second-most-important instrument. No, not the French horn, but the one in which “Freeway Philharmonic’” members are extremely practiced: the steering wheel. 

Freeway Philharmonic veteran Meredith Brown<br>plays Father-and-son Horn Concerto Brown is one of seven musicians depicted in Tal Skloot’s film Freeway Philharmonic, which depicts the struggles of freelancers to “balance a love of music with a road warrior lifestyle that often requires traveling hundreds of miles a day to rehearse, teach, and perform.” She is the principal horn for the Fremont and Napa symphony orchestras, in addition to the Vallejo, and she was the silver medalist in the 2009 International Horn Competition of America. But she also plays in seven or more orchestras, as well.

When I spoke to her on the phone, naturally, she was in her car, driving some of the 35,000 miles she covers in a year for the love of music. She explained to me why the Vallejo Symphony is “an undiscovered jewel,” according to Music Director David Ramadanoff, who told me earlier that in his 27 years with the orchestra, he has developed “a special connection” with local musicians. Quoth Brown:

It attracts some of the very best players. [Attendees] will really see a higher quality performance than you might expect from a group that size — much higher. We have one of the best conductors in the Bay Area, who is incidentally giving a great preconcert talk at 7, before the concert. If you want to know a little more about the music and some things to listen for in the piece, it will enhance the listening of the concert. And I’ll be taking part in that as well, for the [Richard] Strauss portion.

Freeway Philharmonic Trailer

The Strauss concerto people may not know well, even though it’s probably the most-often-played horn concerto in our repertoire. It’s a really amazing piece. It’s been great for me to rediscover it lately through getting to perform it with an orchestra. I normally will play sections of it for an audition. When you experience it in abbreviated form, you don’t get the effect of the whole piece. It’s incredibly well-developed, especially considering Strauss was only 18 years old when he wrote it for his, [father] Franz, who was one of the premier horn players of his time. His father liked the piece, but didn’t ever perform it in public because he said there were too many high notes!
Brown loves the music both for such technical challenges and for its inherent beauty.
When you put your thumb over the end of a hose, what happens to the water has to happen to our air, when we play these high notes. Our lips are the hose and thumb; we’re just decreasing the diameter of the hose.

But the Strauss piece has got some great melodies, as well. The guy really knows to write a melody. I also like that in the second movement, he jars in a kind of wacky theme in a completely different key. He goes from a key with lots of flats to one with lots of sharps in it. He brings in the heroic nature of the horn into a movement which is typically tender and lyrical.

In addition to the Strauss, the program features two Mozart pieces: the Symphony No. 39, and, to launch the concert, the overture to his opera Don Giovanni. The opener will be conducted by Ramadanoff’s wife, Pamela Martin, herself an accomplished batonista. She loves the way the piece “sets the idea of drama and comedy” in “high contrast.”

If you decide to steer your way to Vallejo, don’t forget your car keys. You’ll need them in E-flat for the Mozart symphony.

More about Vallejo Symphony Orchestra »
Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
March 6, 2010

Patrons flipped over the first half of Saturday’s San Francisco Symphony concert. A premiere by Victor Kissine pleased all listeners I chatted with, from the conservative to the avant-garde. And soloist Christian Tetzlaff’s subjugation of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto so electrified the audience that he received a prolonged standing ovation, convention be damned, between its first and second movements.

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