Heuwell Tircuit is a composer, performer, and writer who was chief writer for Gramophone Japan and for 21 years a music reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He wrote previously for Chicago American and the Asahi Evening News.
Articles by this Author
You can hardly have more fun than by stumbling across quality music you didn't even know existed. Pianist Gary Graffman certainly provided a rich panoply of that Thursday in Palo Alto's St. Mark's Episcopal Church, via his recital titled "For the Left Hand." The event was presented as part of the important [email protected] Festival, to a packed and roaring audience. Their reactions were such that you might have thought you were at a rock concert.
Last Thursday’s San Francisco Symphony’s Summer in the City concert in Davies Symphony Hall turned into a light, but charming array of basic French fare, as conductor James Gaffigan went from opera excerpts to Ravel’s bitter take on the Viennese Waltz. The largest piece, however, turned out to feature pianist Inon Barnatan playing Saint-Saëns’ most popular Concerto, his second.
Two major masterpieces dominated Friday's opening of the annual Midsummer Mozart Festival as George Cleve conducted his merry band with two important soloists in Herbst Theatre. Each piece was a prelude to a somewhat lesser Mozartian work, but all of it was so well-presented that this hardly mattered.
For his 50th birthday celebration Friday night, pianist Daniel Glover presented his Old First Church audience with a recital split right down the middle. His first half featured works of overly ripe Russian Romanticism, heavy on flashy piano writing but music of questionable worth. His second half, however, was devoted to dazzling performances of major, not hackneyed Liszt repertoire, plus one gentle encore.
Last weekend saw one of the most unusual events of the piano world, in San Francisco. This was the second Milton and Peggy Salkind International Piano Duo Festival. The three-day festival at the San Francisco Conservatory was packed with five programs devoted to unusual as well as standard works for two pianos, piano duos, and a variety of music for chamber combinations. Then too, there was the strangest looking piano I've ever seen: a double piano invented by Germany's distinguished Grotrian piano company.
Russian music is internationally popular and much programmed. But for last week's San Francisco Symphony concerts under guest conductor David Robertson, we got three masterpieces by Slavic composers born west of Russia: a Pole, a Slovak, and a Czech. Robertson opened with Witold Lutoslawski's Mi-Parti (1976), then conducted Leoš Janáček's Taras Bulba (1918), and as his closing work presented Antonin Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104 (1895). The cellist in the concerto was a young American, Alisa Weilerstein.
A bit quixotically, the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra's "Bon Voyage" program, offered Sunday in Davies Symphony Hall, took on three demanding symphonic monsters from early last century. Conductor Benjamin Shwartz's program turned out to be a little less than I had hoped for, but better than I had feared. Still, it left me amazed that these youthful players could manage so well in repertory where even experienced professionals normally fear to tread.
On Friday evening, Old First Church featured the local debut of America’s newest chamber group devoted to promoting new music, New York’s Redshift quintet. The ensemble is especially idealistic in that it avoids big-name composers in favor of up-and-coming hopefuls. And this, while setting forth those intentions enthusiastically for every piece in sight: hook, line, and stinkers.
Nothing about cellist Lynn Harrell's two all-Bach recitals last week in Grace Cathedral could be called ordinary, except for his insightful virtuosity. First and most strikingly, those performances of J.S. Bach's six highbrow Suites for unaccompanied cello, BWV 1007-1012, were presented as part of the four-month jazz festival, titled the 9th Annual SFJAZZ Spring Season. Then too, the vast space of the cathedral atop Nob Hill seemed an unlikely venue for solo cello music. To my surprise, this worked.
One of the finer aspects of the San Francisco Symphony's current Brahms Festival is that in only three programs it manages to give a pretty complete view of what he stood for. The second of those three programs Thursday evening in Davies Symphony Hall featured one of his most lighthearted orchestral works, the Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Op. 16, the dramatically tragic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15, and one of his displays of sheer compositional technique, the Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a.
There apparently aren't a lot of moms who enjoy virtuoso chamber music, for although the Legion of Honor was packed for Mother's Day, the festive program of the Avedis Chamber Music Series ensemble downstairs in the Florence Gould Theater drew only half a hall's worth of listeners. The program featured unusual works, to be sure, but all were of the smilingly breezy type that's easily assimilated — nothing remotely troublesome in the way of repertory or the performances of it.
Yo-Yo Ma’s and his Silk Road Project have come up with a new CD featuring a host of young performers supported by the Chicago Symphony. Titled Traditions and Transformations, the disc includes two standard works, Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo and Prokofiev rambunctious Scythian Suite, Op. 20, plus two first recordings, Byambasuren Sharav’s Legend of Herlen (2000), and Lou Harrison’s final work, his Pipa Concerto (1997). It’s quite a spread.
A wide burst of music from three centuries in Slovenian pianist Dubravka Tomsic’s recital in Herbst Theatre engendered wide bursts of approval from her audience. With one exception, Saturday night’s full program, under the auspices of San Francisco Performances, stood as a model of sincerity and technical proficiency. That, plus her elegant stage deportment, again demonstrated why she’s considered today’s grand dame of the piano world.
A full and appreciative audience greeted the local farewell program of the Beaux Arts Trio Sunday evening in Herbst Theatre, presented by Chamber Music San Francisco, as the ensemble is about to bring down the curtain on its glory-filled concert career.
To mark the occasion, Mayor Gavin Newsom even issued a keys-to-the-city proclamation that declared April 20 to be "Beaux Arts Trio Day in San Francisco." I don't know about the day, but it was surely the Trio's night, for it played an exceptionally subtle program, even by its traditionally high standards.
May 7 will be Brahms' 175th birthday. You may have noticed that many musicians have been jumping the gun a bit to celebrate the event. The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra got out on the track Friday by delivering a fine performance of Brahms' Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Op. 16.
The first of two concerts by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Sunday in Davies Symphony Hall, required some program shuffling. The venerable Sir Neville Marriner was filling in for the indisposed pianist-conductor Murray Perahia. With the presence of 21-year-old pianist Yuja Wang, the combination of youth and experience made for a zesty evening of virtuosity.
Thunder and lightning flashed from the piano in Herbst Theatre last Tuesday night as Canadian virtuoso Louis Lortie presented a sort-of-Liszt program, under the auspices of San Francisco Performances. Actually, most of the evening was built around Franz Liszt's great admiration for Wagner. Transcriptions abounded, because of some last-minute programming shuffling.
Two masterpieces graced Thursday's program of the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, aided and abetted by violinist Gil Shaham. Only two works were on offer, but that was enough to provoke the audience to standing ovations. And, for a change, those reactions were no exaggeration.
Davis Symphony Hall resounded with the sound of William Schuman's big, bravura Violin Concerto (1947-59), and, following intermission, Beethoven's even larger, bravura Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55, the "Eroica" (1802-1804).
Performing Mozart is easy, but also terribly difficult because the transparency of his compositions offers nowhere to hide. It’s like being naked on stage. A nigh-flawless performance is a rare occurrence, but when all the elements are in place, as they were Friday night for the San Francisco Symphony's all-Mozart concert under conductor Herbert Blomstedt, the results are awe-inspiring. Every single element sounded precisely placed, maximally musical.