Michelle Dulak Thomson
Michelle Dulak Thomson is a violinist and violist who has written about music for Strings, Stagebill, Early Music America, and The New York Times.
Articles by this Author
Some "regional orchestras" settle down to the comfort levels of their audiences and their all too often exhausted players. During Jeffrey Kahane's tenure as music director, the Santa Rosa Symphony distinguished itself repeatedly as the one stop on the "Freeway Philharmonic" circuit where players and audience alike were encouraged, or rather commanded, to stretch their ears.More »
There was half an hour to go before the concert, but if you happened to be standing outside St. Mark's Lutheran Church in San Francisco at 3:30 on Saturday you could hear them. Just a few highly trained people, a few feet apart, yet formidably strong and utterly fearless — powering through their chosen medium at alarming speed and with frightening precision ...More »
If you had been in the audience for Saturday's Michael Tilson Thomas–led San Francisco Symphony concert, and had opened the printed program at random, more likely than not you would have hit the page of bios for the soloists in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which are just at the midpoint of the booklet. You might, on the other hand, have landed a few pages further on, with your eye lighting on the bolded phrase "abnormal thoughts and behavior." Part of the Ninth's program note?More »
It was a hot and sticky night, and the gut strings weren't staying where they were supposed to. "With luck, there'll be more music than tuning on this concert," quipped violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock after an opening couple of minutes' struggle with her instrument's pegbox.
Near the beginning of Blumenstock's recital Saturday night at Berkeley's Trinity Chapel, under the auspices of Trinity Chamber Concerts, it looked almost as though the tuning would get the upper hand.
Have you seen Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg yet? If you read The San Francisco Chronicle, you probably have. She smiles out at you from full-page ads in the last several Sunday "Pink Sections," not to mention smaller, but still eye-catching ads in the occasional weekday edition (sometimes even in the first — that is, the national news — section, rather than the arts pages).More "New Century, New Vibe" »
Early Sunday morning, a visitor to Atherton's Menlo School might have seen a smallish crowd of eager-looking people congregating around the steps of Stent Family Hall. A number of these folks might further be seen to be carrying copies of a small, bright-red, hardbound volume. The hymnal of an esoteric sect? The Sayings of Chairman Mao?More »
The didactic imperative runs deep, if gentle, at Music@Menlo. Every season and indeed every program boasts a design, one calculated to make the audience hear anew, or differently, or both. But throw a roster of musicians of the Music@Menlo caliber together on programs, and the lessons you planned for your listeners might not be the only ones they learn.
"Classical Bookends: Haydn and Schubert" was the title of the second evening Music@Menlo program, and meant no more than that Haydn and Schubert stood at opposite ends of what we've come to call the "Classical Period" in music.
The American Bach Soloists began, 20 years ago, as an ensemble formed by tenor and conductor Jeffrey Thomas specifically to perform the Bach choral/vocal works. If the group branched out rather rapidly in other directions (including, most famously, a Beethoven Ninth Symphony at the 1994 Berkeley Early Music Festival, recorded live and subsequently issued on CD), still it has tended not to stray far from home in more than one direction at once.More »
The New Century Chamber Orchestra's next season will see the orchestra with a regular music director again, in the person of the newly hired Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Still, the ensemble's two-year run of guest-directed concerts, a running adventure that has resulted in far more hits than misses, is ending on a high note.More »
The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble is unique among the Bay Area's new-music-focused ensembles in spending a fair amount of time outside the 21st or even 20th centuries. LCCE programs typically juxtapose new, 20th-century, and yet older works playable with a particular clutch of four or five instrumentalists, the instrumentarium changing from program to program as each of the ensemble's 12 players gets a lick in.
So Monday's program in the Veterans Building's Green Room, featuring music for clarinet, violin, cello, and (in two of three pieces) piano, was typical of the ensemble's planning.
There's a certain satisfaction to be derived from designing a program that combines a narrow focus with enough variety to work as an actual concert, and I imagine that San Francisco Symphony Associate Conductor James Gaffigan was modestly proud of the one he and the orchestra brought off Thursday afternoon.More »
An entire program's worth of Haydn is not something the San Francisco Symphony is apt to serve up every year, so thanks are due up front to guest conductor Bernard Labadie for Friday night's generous helping. The program, which also featured the Symphony Chorus and an excellent quartet of vocal soloists, had a martial theme, bringing together the Missa in tempore belli (Mass in time of war) of 1796 and the “Military” Symphony (No.More »
A decade or so back, there was some talk of a planned, independent-label Beethoven symphony cycle from Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, all the recording to be done in concert. Since then, PBO has taken to issuing live recordings on its own label, and the Beethoven project appears to be taking slow shape. A disc coupling the "Eroica" and the Eighth Symphony appeared in 2005, and last year was joined by this Ninth.
Listen to the Music
By the time an erstwhile hot young virtuoso has lived through a couple decades of concertizing, whatever keeps you still listening is necessarily something other than hotness, youth, or virtuosity. Sometimes, to be sure, even the youth and the hotness persist longer than you would think possible.More »
Tastes in violin recitals have changed markedly over the years. At one time, the second half of a virtuoso's program generally consisted entirely of what we now think of as encore pieces. Nowadays, paradoxically, the only time you are likely to see a program like that is when the player is an "intellectual" musician making a historical point.More »
Competitions play a smaller role in jump-starting the careers of chamber ensembles than they typically do in launching instrumental soloists. Even so, if your ensemble is something as specialized as a string trio, it doesn't hurt to have a high-profile competition victory or two to your credit. The Janaki String Trio, formed at the Colburn School of Music only three years ago, won the Coleman Chamber Music Competition in 2005 and then the Concert Artists Guild Competition in 2006.More »
The primary strength of some string quartets lies in transparency, in making what they play sound as though it could only go this way. Others insist on making you aware that theirs is a point of view, that there is a medium as well as a message.More »