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Five Starry Early Music Concerts Light Up the New Year

January 4, 2011

The venues may range from hither to yon, but the early-music concerts on offer this season around the Bay Area will field a dazzling array of stars and novel musical experiences.

Countertenor David Daniels Sings Handel

Renowned for his magnetic expressiveness and vocal agility, David Daniels (see interview) ranks among the world’s leading countertenors, and his upcoming performance with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra may be your best chance to experience the stirring purity of the countertenor sound. Befitting his status as “the quintessential exponent of Handelian style” (to cite The Wall Street Journal), Daniels focuses on arias by Handel. Vivaldi’s haunting Stabat Mater and instrumental works of Telemann are also on the bill. And for another chance to see this dynamic singer in action, check out his free master class at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Jan. 19 — a great opportunity to witness Daniels up close and personal as he coaches talented Conservatory students.

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra presents David Daniels, Jan. 15, 8 p.m., and Jan. 16, 7:30 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley; Jan. 18, 8 p.m., Center for the Performing Arts, Menlo-Atherton; Jan. 21, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre, S.F., $30-$90.

Twin Peaks, Commedia Dell’Arte Style

The madrigal comedy — a collection of works in that song form united by a common narrative — enjoyed a brief but passionate vogue in late-16th-century Italy, when it was an important precursor to opera. Orazio Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso (The twin peaks of Parnassus) is one of the genre’s masterworks, a collection of 14 five-voice madrigals using characters from the commedia dell’arte tradition to tell a tragicomic story of love, rebellion, and human nature. With Magnificat’s accomplished performers joined by comics from the Dell’Arte Company, this performance promises a riot of visual and aural stimulation.

Magnificat presents L’Amfiparnaso, March 18, 8 p.m., St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park; March 19, 8 p.m., St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley; March 20, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, S.F., $12-$35.

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Wieland Kuijken and Friends

Belgium-based Wieland Kuijken is both the doyen of the viola da gamba and Baroque cello and a guiding light in the 20th-century revival of these instruments. For his concerts with the San Francisco Early Music Society, Kuijken joins with his former student Lynn Tetenbaum to perform duets by a colorful array of English, French, and German composers.

San Francisco Early Music Society presents Wieland Kuijken and Friends, March 25, 8 p.m., First Lutheran Church, Palo Alto; March 26, 7:30 p.m., St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Berkeley; March 27, 4 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, S.F., $25-$28.

Trevor Pinnock, Harpsichord

For sheer diversity, the early-music offerings at MusicSources are hard to beat. Berkeley’s hideaway home for historical performance embraces an eclectic programming schedule, among its other resources, offering monthly concerts of repertory seldom heard elsewhere in the Bay Area. This spring, the big-ticket item is a visit by harpsichordist Trevor Pinnock — a don’t-miss chance to hear one of the early-music movement’s pioneers in an exceptionally intimate setting.

MusicSources presents Trevor Pinnock, April 3, venue and time TBA.

The Maestro of San Marco and the Cantor of Leipzig

The final concert of American Bach Soloists’ season offers a pleasing mix of the familiar and the obscure. Bach’s glorious Magnificat shares the bill with the West Coast premiere of a little-known jewel, the Mass for Three Choirs by Antonio Lotti, one of the great succession of musicians to take charge of the musical forces at the Cathedral of San Marco in Venice. This latter work’s first American performance occurred as recently as 1996 at Harvard University, after a gift of scores and manuscripts to that university’s Houghton Library brought the Mass to light. It encompasses highly varied styles and textures, and employs vastly divergent moods, instrumental combinations, and choruses ranging from four to 13 parts.

American Bach Soloists in concert, Bach and Lotti, May 6, 8 p.m., St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere; May 7, 8 p.m., First Congregational Church, Berkeley; May 8, 7 p.m., St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, S.F.; May 9, 8 p.m., Davis Community Church, Davis, $18-$50.

Joseph Sargent holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Stanford University and teaches at the University of San Francisco.