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
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 »
We in the Bay Area have had a remarkable number of opportunities to hear the young violinist Hilary Hahn, whose more-or-less-yearly performances here stretch all the way back to her Brahms Concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony in 1999. This year her return, courtesy of Cal Performances, was in recital with pianist Valentina Lisitsa, in a dauntingly difficult program given last Tuesday at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. It was a program seemingly calculated to demonstrate Hahn's range, and so it did, though not perhaps entirely as it was intended to.More »
Is there anyone in the Bay Area consistently putting together cooler programs than Nicole Paiement? Saturday's season-opening BluePrint concert, by the San Francisco Conservatory's New Music Ensemble and various guest artists under Paiement's direction, was typical of her programming since BluePrint was launched six years ago. That is to say, its design was ingenious and thought-provoking in a way that we are in danger of coming to regard as routine from her.More »
An all-Vivaldi program is a tricky proposition. The Four Seasons notwithstanding, the listening public is apt to regard an evening of Vivaldi concertos with a certain skepticism, as half-remembered jibes about "the same concerto written 500 times" float to the mental surface.
As it happens, concocting a Vivaldi program bristling with variety and excitement is dead easy, as long as you avail yourself of the wildly scored ensemble concertos clustered toward the end of the Ryom (RV) Catalog.
For the past year-plus, the New Century Chamber Orchestra has been auditioning prospective artistic directors to replace the departed Krista Bennion Feeney, the orchestra's leader from 1999 through 2006. The search is nearing its end — the winner is to be announced at the orchestra's "Evening Serenade" benefit performance Nov. 29 — and the orchestra's admirers are watching with some anticipation to see what direction the ensemble will take.More »
One of the downsides of living and listening in a place so attractive to visiting artists as the Bay Area is that even the best musicians who actually live here have a hard time attracting notice among the touring stars. It takes attention to lower-profile recital series, faculty recitals, and the like even to realize how good we have it.
The Crowden School's "Sundays @ Four" series, at the Crowden Music Center in Berkeley, is one of our invaluable lines on the quality of the Bay Area's year-round musical community.
The San Francisco Lyric Chorus and its director, Robert Gurney, have a history of presenting programs both ambitious and unusual, so Saturday night's concert at San Francisco's Trinity Episcopal Church was unexpected only in specifics, not in quality.More »
Ah, it's that time again. Spring is in the air, school's almost out, and summer music festivals beckon legions of young musicians. The Yehudi Menuhin Chamber Music Seminar and Festival, which the Alexander Quartet launched five years ago at San Francisco State University, is, when measured against the big weeks-long summer programs, a sort of summer-music-festival concentrate — that is, a welter of coachings, master classes, and performances crammed into a few days.More »
From a listener's perspective, one of the joys of pedagogically oriented programs like the Yehudi Menuhin Chamber Music Seminar and Festival is the opportunity it affords to hear both the faculty and the seminar participants in two roles — the former teaching as well as playing, the latter learning as well as performing. It is fascinating to see an ensemble rehearing and adjusting a performance at a teacher's instigation, and fascinating to see how that teacher applies his own advice in his own playing.More »
Sometimes it's better not to know too much of what goes on behind the scenes in the making of a performance. History is replete with examples of acrimonious, not to say borderline murderous, artistic partnerships resulting in splendid performances (and, for that matter, of unfailingly genial partnerships that never managed to spark).More »
Even in the early-music-saturated Bay Area, scant attention is paid to the "high-art" portions of the medieval musical repertory. Listeners interested in hearing much of it professionally performed must rely on visiting ensembles. We are lucky, though, to have around us several daring presenters that seek out and invite the best musicians working in areas that are specialized even for early music aficionados.More »
The New Century Chamber Orchestra's ongoing season of guest-conducted performances has produced some fascinating programs (see, for example, SFCV's reviews of its January and March sets). April's run, guest-conducted by St. Lawrence Quartet first violinist Geoff Nuttall and heard Saturday at the Florence Gould Theater of San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor, was a dicier affair, owing to the music chosen and the ensemble's (and leader's) approach to it.More »
Ah, a Takács Quartet recital. Another few months gone (the violist-groupie in me thinks), another rare chance to hear Geraldine Walther play. Only I find that I'm not really thinking about the Takács' visits like that anymore. Walther is a great violist, but the Takács with her in it is something more interesting — a great quartet, and one that seems to become greater by the minute. Sunday's all-Beethoven recital, presented by Cal Performances at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall, the last we'll hear from this quartet for some time locally, found the players working at a fearsomely high level.More »
Ah, a Takács Quartet recital. Another few months gone (the violist-groupie in me thinks), another rare chance to hear Geraldine Walther play. Only I find that I'm not really thinking about the Takács' visits like that anymore. Walther is a great violist, but the Takács with her in it is something more interesting — a great quartet, and one that seems to become greater by the minute.More »