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. A photomontage enthusiast, he illustrates his own reviews.
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An ominous postcard greeted San Francisco Symphony subscribers a month ago. Upstart visiting conductor Ingo Metzmacher was abandoning all semblance of 19th-century comfort, and would drop an Antonín Dvořák symphony in favor of one by Dmitri Shostakovich, and thus forge, along with music by György Ligeti and Béla Bartók, a "triple threat" program consisting solely of works written after the beginning of World War II.
Why triple? To the musicians, the music is probably difficult and unfamiliar — could they learn/rehearse it in time to do it justice?
A fairly standard lineup: Wagner, Bach, Mendelssohn, and a new work having its first West Coast performance. A predictable response: moderate applause for the Wagner, a loyal standing ovation for the concertmaster soloist in the Bach, an enthusiastic reception for the Mendelssohn — and a tepid "So what?" for the new piece.More »
Last Wednesday's San Francisco Symphony concert presented a strong contrast in luster. The second half had it; the first lacked it.
First, there was a fairly opaque opening number, Oliver Knussen's Symphony No. 3; second, there was Deborah Voigt's voice, which seemed to have trouble warming up to Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs; third, there was Michael Tilson Thomas on automatic pilot, doing little to contour the music. But after intermission everyone came to life for Samuel Barber's dramatic Andromache's Farewell and Beethoven's Fourth Symphony.
As we begin the new year, San Francisco Classical Voice takes a look back at the performances of 2007 that some of our reviewers most enjoyed. As with any such list, the choices are entirely subjective. Each of these critics attended a large number of performances in their areas of specialization throughout the year, and so was able to choose from a broad range of music (in some cases, listing events they attended but that another SFCV critic reviewed).More "The Best Performances of 2007" »
Contemporary composers are like presidential candidates: A few front-runners get all the attention while others languish at the margins of recognition. And then there are the two major "parties," the American and the European. How does a composer from Latin America stand a chance?
Armando Castellano founded Quinteto Latino to provide such chances, having grown up in a U.S. classical music environment that offered little of relevance to his heritage.
The music is necessarily colored by the life.
Conductor Leonard Slatkin and the San Francisco Symphony had multiple personalities to deal with in last week's concert program: the trickster in Franz Josef Haydn (Symphony No. 67), the troubled craftsman in Samuel Barber (his Piano Concerto), and the elusive alluder in Edward Elgar (Enigma Variations). For each, Slatkin, along with soloist Garrick Ohlsson in the Barber, had a successful strategy, and for all, the Symphony players held up their end with nearly flawless execution.
A year of research. Over 100 works by Swedish composers examined. Only four chosen. For the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players' "Shimmers and Thrills" concert, the anticipation generated by Executive Director Adam Frey's Swedish quest was similar to that found in Beth E. Levy's wonderful program notes on one of the four finds, Truffle Hymn: "The ground itself gives way when, at the last, the long-sought treasure is unearthed: Is it an aroma? A taste? A transfiguration?"
Or maybe a shrug?
Ah, the tunes! People were singing them in the subway on Saturday, humming them home in the BART seats behind me. There are at least a dozen Dvořák gifts to humanity in his "New World" symphony, memory-permanent melodies that bring renewable pleasures for years to those to whom they speak — all presented on a silver platter by Roberto Minczuk's spirited conducting of the San Francisco Symphony.
But what did the other composers on the program have to offer, Bohuslav Martinů and José Antônio Resende de Almeida Prado?
When Philippe Jordan conducted the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra at the Proms in London last year, a critic wrote that Jordan and his ensemble could "whip up musical Viagra." With all that testosterone, the Swiss conductor seemed certainly capable of striding effortlessly to the summits of Richard Strauss' gargantuan Eine Alpensinfonie at Davies Symphony Hall Friday, and he did so admirably. Even more commendable, however, was his reinvigoration of a warhorse brought in from pasture after 15 years, Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture.
Jordan's is a striking presence on the podium.
"It is only the modern that ever becomes old-fashioned."
— Oscar Wilde
In a radio interview almost 30 years ago, the Bay Area composer Wayne Peterson spoke about a new piece of his for violin and piano, remarking that "problems of line, of melody, and the relationship of the piano counterpoint and so forth are concepts that are rather old-fashioned, I'm afraid."
How things have changed in music since 1978. Peterson, a distinguished professor of music at San Francisco State University for over 40 years, celebrated his 80th birthday on Sept. 3.More »
Swarms of new and returning students clogged the streets around UC Berkeley Thursday evening. What to do: Attend a free opera or check out frat-house receptions? Considering the state of art music in the U.S. today, you can guess where they went. Nevertheless, about a hundred or so did show up for Our American Cousin in Hertz Hall.More »
If posting the phrase "World Premiere" on a concert program seems to lend a certain aura to the proceedings, imagine how aurific a program must be that consists solely of premieres, three "world" and one "U.S." Such was the promise of the first concert of the Cabrillo Music Festival of Contemporary Music on Friday, whose music turned out to please listeners mightily, despite the varying quality of the offerings.
Festivalgoers are rightly proud of Music Director Marin Alsop's national and international achievements and her eagerness to entertain.
Animals, anthropomorphic and otherwise, were honored in the marvelously performed and interesting second program of the increasingly well-heeled Music@Menlo festival. A large and enthusiastic crowd was particularly pleased with the final number, Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, but every selection was well-received, enjoyed by audience and musicians alike.More »
With music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge
A recent contender for the classical-music world's loudest piece attempted to blow away the Lincoln Theater audience at Napa Valley's Festival del Sole, but the shotgun failed to go off.
The German composer Hans Werner Henze, considered one of Europe's major composers of the '60s, '70s, and beyond, rarely gets a hearing in the U.S. One fan, however, will not take this neglect (is it simply old-hattedness?) lying down. Instead, the founder of the Worn Ensemble, Richard Worn, has organized all-Henze concerts to reenlighten the Bay Area as to the merits of this artist.
His latest concert at the Presidio Chapel in San Francisco (you can buy a poster of the previous one for $10) offered up four of Henze's chamber works for audience delectation.
Festivals should celebrate something that doesn't happen every day. The fourth and last program of the San Francisco Symphony's Prokofiev Festival was no exception to this ideal, with an unusual structure and repertoire adding spice to the expected high-quality performances and enthusiastic receptions that do happen most every day with this orchestra.
Structurally, the concert was really three concertlets: a piano recital, a piano concerto, and a concert of Prokofiev's "primitivist" works from 1917 and 1915.
After you’ve written a world-class masterpiece, what comes next? Thanks to the Berkeley Edge Festival, Cal Performances' third showcase for contemporary music, fans were given two concerts to evaluate the case of Frederic Rzewski (pronounced ZHEF-ski), who was born in Westfield, Mass., in 1938.More »