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
Viewed against the more robust concert scenes in San Francisco, the East Bay, and the Peninsula, the classical-music pickings in Marin County can seem slender. But alongside the programs of the county's indigenous ensembles (the Marin Symphony and the American Bach Soloists chief among them), plus the regular visits of musicians from the rest of the Bay Area, the county proffers established concert series that approach the other counties' larger presenters in quality, if not in scale.
Mill Valley Chamber Music, based at the city's Mt.
Even Cal Performances' starrier guests don't routinely sell out Zellerbach Hall. But more than two decades into his high-profile career, Joshua Bell's name still deservedly wields an uncommon pull, and it was to a capacity audience that he and pianist Jeremy Denk played on Sunday afternoon. The duo's Berkeley recital represented the one Northern California blip in a taxing tour (tucked in between a Costa Mesa concert on Saturday night and a Palm Desert one Tuesday). I hope the blame for a vexingly uneven recital may be assigned at least partly to fatigue.More »
The Tokyo String Quartet's personality has shifted over time, but through the ensemble's nearly 40 years of existence its technical panache and its fondness for minutely thought-out interpretation have remained in consistently high repute.More »
In the mid-1980s, when period-instrument bands began venturing out of the Baroque into music of first the late 18th and then the early 19th centuries, many had names at embarrassing variance with the sort of music they were playing. Some of them adopted different names depending on the repertoire on a given program, or reinvented themselves de novo under less period-specific monikers (the English Baroque Soloists renamed itself the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, for example).More »
There's concert programming as science, programming as art — and programming as pure, primal indulgence. I'm as fond of cleverly constructed, balanced, everything-relates-subtly-to-everything-else program design as the next girl, but the idea of hearing all the Brahms piano trios in an evening affects me at a gut level the way the prospect of a hot fudge sundae for supper affects the average 8-year-old.More »
Grateful though we must be for the continual flow of new, exciting young ensembles to Bay Area concert halls, it's another and possibly greater pleasure when the most impressive of them drop in a second time. The Belcea Quartet, whose first visit here was two years ago, made a most welcome repeat appearance Thursday night.
The 2006 recital revealed a strikingly polished young quartet with its own firm (and most unusual) profile.
It's one of the quirks of the music business that star players tend to get locked into playing and recording only the most familiar repertoire, at least early in stardom. Look at the trajectory of any young violinist signed by a major label (if, that is, you can find one).More »
One of the pleasures of working in the field of early music — really early music, that is, music from well outside the ordinary classical musician's realm of experience — must be the sense of having found a corner of the repertoire and built a relationship to it, minutely and intimately and genuinely from scratch.More »
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" »
It's yet another measure of how good we, the listening public, have it in the Bay Area that while the seasons of our "major presenters" would keep a voracious concertgoer pretty happy by themselves, you could eliminate every one of them from consideration and still put together a full — nay, impossibly overfull — calendar of first-rate recitals out of the offerings of the smaller concert series.
Monday night saw the opening of the fifth season of Music at Meyer, the concert series at the lovely Martin Meyer Sanctuary
Brahms chamber music seems to be breaking out unnervingly in threes this season. First it was the three string quartets on a single program (the Emerson Quartet, in October). Coming up in February are the three piano trios (Nicholas Angelich and the brothers Capuçon, courtesy of San Francisco Performances).More »
So many and illustrious are the touring string quartets that pass through the Bay Area in any given season that it can be difficult to remember the ones that are here all year round. And so hard is it these days to find a browsable selection of classical CDs in a record store that you might be pardoned for thinking that the only one making recordings regularly is the Kronos Quartet.
In fact, the Bay Area is home to at least a half dozen other quartets of considerable distinction, and no fewer than five of them have released new recordings in the last year.
Of the great Christian holidays, Christmas affords composers perhaps the greatest range between grandeur and simplicity. At one end, the whole of Creation rejoices; at the other, a tiny infant in a hovel is the linchpin of all things.More »
The Takács Quartet favored the Bay Area with fairly regular visits even before our own Geraldine Walther became a member in 2005, but in these last two years we have, gratifyingly, heard a lot of them. Sunday's visit to Berkeley's Hertz Hall, courtesy as usual of the indispensable Cal Performances, was nonetheless a departure.More »
The New Century Chamber Orchestra's search for a new music director has had the side benefit of allowing its audiences to hear not just a slew of interesting violinist/leaders, but also the diversity of the orchestra’s musical personality. Last Wednesday at San Rafael's Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, the leader-of-the-month was the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra's Margaret Batjer. Batjer is not, as I understand it, in the running for the directorship (the results of the search are to be announced on November 29).More »
Is there a body of acknowledged masterpieces more unevenly explored than the Haydn string quartets? It's taken as a given that they're "great music" (the later ones, at least), but what fraction are actually played with any regularity, and how many people know the neglected ones even well enough to judge whether they ought to be neglected?
As something of a Haydn partisan, I find it tempting to put the relative unfamiliarity of most of the quartets down to inexplicable and unjust player (or listener) prejudice. This, though, is unfair.
Playing string quartets once was no one's full-time job. The professional string quartet whose players spend essentially all their professional time concertizing, recording, or teaching as a quartet is a historically recent development. All the same, it's now so firmly established a pattern that such part-time ensembles as there are look almost like second-rate substitutes for the "real thing."
How can any four people get together after a gap of months and play with the refined ensemble of a foursome that practices together daily for years on end?
Watching Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra working with a guest director is always fascinating, but there's something special about the band's relationship with its own director, Nicholas McGegan, that makes his every appearance something to anticipate. Friday's concert at San Francisco's Herbst Theatre, the first of the 2007-2008 season's third set, held another attraction in the form of a healthy portion of McGegan's beloved Jean-Philippe Rameau.More »
It makes a neat, string-quartet Rorschach test. You've just played all three Brahms quartets at a single sitting. Quick: What do you do for an encore? A conventionally minded, reasonably sane quartet would pick something light and attractive from around the same time — the finale of Dvořák’s "American" Quartet, say, or a transcription of one of the Brahms Hungarian Dances. A more offbeat one might go for something goofy from farther afield (the polka from Shostakovich's Age of Gold?), or something counterintuitively slow and sustained (Puccini's Crisantemi?More »