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
An encouragingly large and enthusiastic audience turned out Monday evening in Herbst Theatre for a serious, handsomely chosen program of new chamber music presented by the expanded Earplay ensemble. Mary Chun conducted most of the program's "Unorthodox Journey" evening, whose featured soloists were soprano Ji Young Yang, violist Ellen Ruth Rose, and clarinetist Peter Josheff.
For the 11th Basically British program Friday evening in Old First Church, the series’ founder, John Parr, chose to honor the memory of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Parr is head of the San Francisco Opera’s music staff, so he invited the young tenor Thomas Glenn, recently of the company’s Adler Fellowship program, to sing. He gathered five string players from the SFO orchestra, some of them veterans of the series, served as pianist himself, and presented a fascinating evening of the great composer’s vocal and instrumental works.
Music from three centuries was featured on last week's San Francisco Symphony programs in Davies Symphony Hall. But on Thursday even the inestimable Michael Tilson Thomas couldn't fully pull off his non sequitur program of Bach, Xenakis, and Schubert, highlighted by a bizarrely dressed harpsichord soloist, Elisabeth Chojnacka, for the Xenakis.
Splitting his program right down the middle, pianist William Wellborn devoted the first half of his Sunday afternoon recital in Old First Church to 18th-century masters and the second to 19th-century composers. In place of the all-Beethoven program that had been announced, Wellborn programmed his pieces to display contrasts. It made for some intriguing comparisons.
Every so often there's an ideal confluence of conductor, orchestra, and city that produces historic results. San Francisco is currently enjoying such a boon, as was evident at Thursday's all-Berlioz program in Davies Symphony Hall. It was a purely Michael Tilson Thomas performance all the way — which is to say, a marvel.
Avoiding the obvious, the California Bach Society offered a delightfully refreshing program of Christmas music Friday evening in St. Mark's Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Director-scholar Paul Flight chose a program largely devoted to the neglected Baroque master Marc-Antoine Charpentier, plus a few traditional French noëls and brief visits to the music of Hector Berlioz and Antoine Brumel. That, plus the excellence of performances, added up to one of the most delightful programs of Christmas music in my memory.
The dapper St. Petersburg Philharmonic was in town last week for two concerts in Davies Symphony Hall with a more intriguing break with the world's music than expected. Whereas Russian touring orchestras usually devote themselves to presenting music exclusively from their homeland, Conductor Yuri Temirkanov went for the larger view by including Austrian, German, and (in the encores) English music. Beside all that, he presented two monumental compositions of Prokofiev.
The great luxury of the San Francisco Symphony’s Chamber Music Series lies in the fact that having the entire orchestra to call upon affords multiple combinations per program. Sunday’s matinee in Davies Symphony Hall offered a prime example: There were musicians to accommodate a surprise program change, and to take part in two masterpieces all too rarely encountered in live performances.
Mix equal parts youthful joie de vivre with mature warmth and you have an idea of what the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra accomplished Sunday afternoon in Davies Symphony Hall. The ensemble's sheer warmth of timbre, under Conductor Benjamin Shwartz, highlighted a program of essentially lush Romanticism, from first note to last. The afternoon even included a literal encore: a repeat of its finale ginger. The program also included an important talent discovery in 14-year-old cellist Tessa Seymour.
The unlikely Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela seemed to be having an even better time in Davies Symphony Hall Sunday evening than the audience, even while it drove the audience into something approaching a hysteria of enthusiasm.
In 50 years of covering orchestral concerts on four continents, I have never encountered anything even close to such unlikely musical splendor. Of course, having Conductor Gustavo Dudamel, conductor designate of the Los Angles Philharmonic, on the podium added much to the general excitement.
Musicality, discipline, and good programming were much in evidence Friday evening as the San Francisco Girls Chorus presented "Music Fit for a Queen," consisting entirely of music from the British Isles, all sung from memory. The first half was devoted to rarely heard music, the second half to more familiar works. On top of that, Director Susan McMane added a little theatricality, taking advantage of Calvary Presbyterian Church's interior architecture.
It has taken a year and a half, but the Oakland Ballet Company was back on stage Saturday afternoon in the city's Paramount Theater, and looking sharp as a sunny autumn day. Founder Ronn Guidi was also back after a bout of illness for which he "retired" in 1999. All the proceedings obviously benefited from his return, not to mention the revival of Oakland's old audience hits.
One great performance, one disappointment, and one bore were offered on last week’s San Francisco Symphony program. At least, that’s how it came across on Thursday’s matinee opening in Davies Symphony Hall. Still in all, that made for a .500 batting average for the afternoon.
Judging by the small audience in attendance, you probably weren't in Old First Church on Friday evening as mezzo-soprano Miriam Abramowitsch and pianist George Barth presented a program of early 20th-century art songs. If you were, you witnessed one of the major intellectual events of the season. Both as programming and performance, it made a number of idealistic demands on the artists as well as their audience.
Before departing for their big European tour, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony offered their own bon-voyage sendoff Thursday night in Davis Symphony Hall. This was a sampler that will not be offered again anywhere. While performances were a tad uneven as to quality, the orchestra offered a few major surprises, not the least of which was soprano Lise Lindstrom, whose bloodthirsty performance of Strauss' Salome wowed the house.
Mozart's music and reputation were extremely well-served Friday evening in Herbst Theater as George Cleve conducted a beautifully built concert of the Midsummer Mozart Festival. The concert offered two well-known major masterpieces and two short but rarely encountered arias. To the program, which was dedicated to the late soprano Beverly Sills, Cleve and his soprano soloist added a special little surprise: an encore aria popularized in the States by Sills.
Three lesser-known works of Sergei Prokofiev were featured on Saturday's concert of the San Francisco Symphony's festival program in Davies Symphony Hall. After a lightweight icebreaker, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas launched into two of Prokofiev's largest, most demanding orchestral compositions, abetted by pianist Vladimir Feltsman. The final result drove the large audience into something close to frenzy, and with good cause. As a display of sheer virtuosity, there's little that could top it.