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May 23, 2000



A Cataclysm As Magnum Opus,
And Chang's Sensibilities

San Francisco Symphony


The Girl From Cochabamba
And Other Stars To Be

Schwabacher Debut Recital


Korngold Rediscovered
And A Premiere To Match

San Jose Chamber Orchestra


Sutherland's Deeply
Personal "Goldberg Variations"

Robin Sutherland


The New Music
Came Out In Front

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble


Portrait Of The Teenager
As A Post-Serial Composer

San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra


Ramadanoff Makes The Day
With Mozart

Master Sinfonia


The Tintinnabulation
Of The Bells



A Pleasant Musicale
For Lafayette

Gold Coast Chamber Players

Robert P. Commanday, Editor

Early Music Takes Center Stage

How far the early music movement has come! "Into the musical mainstream," the upcoming Berkeley Festival and Exhibition tells us. What used to be specialized, regarded by some as arcane and of chiefly scholarly interest, and by others as "leading edge," "on the cusp," now seems as normal and regular as the Opera, the Symphony or any of our traditional series or festivals.

That's not to say that the anticipation level for participants and audience of this year's Festival has lessened since the first of the six biennial events 12 years ago. The nature of the excitement generated is probably just different since the event's become the oldest established permanent floating early music festival in the west.

The early music scene--can't call it a "movement" any more--has entered comfortable middle age. The Festival makes that evident in the predominance of Bay Area artists and groups on its menu, not so many brought in from afar. There's now a life here for musician-specialists in that field. In fact, as more of them go both ways now, performing on both modern and period instruments, they're better able to make a go of it.

The normalization of "early music," or historically informed performance, is signaled in the final three rounds of the International (Bach) Violin Competition, included in the Festival, sponsored by the Oakland/Belvedere-based American Bach Soloists. No problem in finding violinists up to the age of 32 willing to come here from wherever and play Bach "in style." Twenty or thirty years ago, that couldn't have happened.

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The long-time separation between early music and modern performance is getting narrower all the time, the difference is simply understood and needs no repeated explanations. The broader musical community is by now long if not deeply familiar with the pre-Mozart repertory and the ways of playing it, if only by way of the ubiquitous recordings and broadcasts. So the Festival can open with "Venice 1600" and the names of the St Marks chapel masters, di Rore, Monteverdi and the Gabriellis strike all the resonance a prospective audience member needs.

From that, the Festival attractive programming goes on with Teatro Bacchino staging Handel's Aminta e Fillide , with groups like The King's Noyse, Tragicomedia, the imported Ensemble Clément Janequin performing "Les cris de Paris & Autres Fricassées (stews) Parisienne du XVIème siècle."

For "far-out" entertainment, the topper is "Le Carrousel du Roi" at the Heather Farms Park in Walnut Creek June 9 and 10. It's a pageant of concert and equestrian ballet, with choreography and horse coaching, costumes by Thierry Bosquet, reconstructed from descriptions, engravings and drawings. Le Roi in this case, is Louis XIII for whose marriage in 1612 this spectacle was produced (and not seen since).

The 27 events scheduled by the sponsoring San Francisco Early Society and Cal Performances is only the official half of it. By way of the FRINGE events, as much, probably more in elapsed performing time will take place in every nook in Berkeley and cranny of time. Taking the lead from the cloud of unofficial programs that engulfs the city of Edinburgh during its great festival, the early musickers descend on Berkeley like happy locusts, to play in chapels, churches, the Berkeley City Club, International House, Live Oak Park, Music Sources (1000 The Alameda).

This year, there will be 56 Fringe events, more than twice the number of official programs and almost twice as many as popped up two years ago . Robin Lockert, the San Francisco Early Music Society director, reports that more Fringe groups this year are from out of town, about 20 of them. These include the Second City Musick (from Chicago), "La Monica," a quintet plus soprano which will come from Los Angeles to perform at 11 a.m., June 8, in Music Sources' small salon several miles from the University. From Pittsburgh, PA, comes the well-regarded Chatham Baroque, to play in the Berkeley City Club Drawing Room, dance selections from England, Spain, Versailles and the missions of Mexico, at 3 p.m. June 8, (the busiest day, Fringewise).

To a fair extent, the fringers are established musicians from these parts, with lots of crossovers between the groups. There's whimsy in a couple of programs, like "La Foolia," a kind of PDQ Bach spin-off , and a quartet's "Tea Time with Bach. Of course, most have serious intentions and interesting program concepts. Fringe events are listed on the San Francisco Early Music Society web site,

Apparently these special performers are happy to come here at whatever expense, to play mostly for each other. So much talent and dedication was just not around twenty years ago. The whole larger event signifies an extraordinary example of historical change that happens in music. That shift is not as fast as occurs in other elements of our society and culture, because music involves more deeply rooted skills, traditions and habits. Nevertheless, the change was still huge.

Until the early 1950s, the amount of music before Mozart readily available and in the public realm was very small, and aside from Bach and Handel (but not his operas), almost negligible. It was only some forty short years ago, that the Baroque Music Revival began to enrich, enliven and elevated the music world. Becoming more comprehensive, it morphed into the Early Music Revival.

Within one decade a forgotten repertory of music was reclaimed, a scholarly industry launched, "ancient" instruments rebuilt and copied. Importantly abetted by the new LP record and the industry behind that, the revival became a movement. It can't even be called that any more. Period instrument and "historically informed" performance (up through the 19th century) is simply a part of the main stream.

The Berkeley Festival, without making any claims or particular bones about it, by its very existence celebrates the legacy of a half-century of rediscovery. That most of the performances are provided by the Bay Area's community of early music artists and groups speaks eloquently to the maturity of this historic development.

_______________By Robert Commanday


Mary F. Commanday and Elliot Simon, staff


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