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
Aiding and encouraging young careers is the noble cause behind the Irving M. Klein International String Competition, which held the finals of its 22nd competition Sunday afternoon at San Francisco State University. Three talented musicians each played a full virtuoso concerto, supported by the Marin Symphony under conductor Alasdair Neale. Considering the amount of sheer hard work that goes into building such musicianship, it amounted to a serious retort to the naysayers who claim that classical music is dead.
One of the most individual aspects of music in the Bay Area is the incredible number of choral organizations and the variety of repertoire they offer. As of Saturday evening in San Francisco's Trinity Episcopal Church, that pleasure was increased as Richard Sparks directed the premiere concert of Choralis. The choir of 17 experienced singers sang what amounted to a musical name card: a declaration of intent. The program opened with six short works: Javier Busto's setting of the Pater noster, sung in procession onto the altar platform.
Seeing and hearing is believing, though evidence from these senses is sometimes hard to balance against a third kind of sense: the common kind. A pertinent example of this occurred Sunday afternoon in Davies Symphony Hall, when the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra mounted the stage to perform two major repertory pieces, against considerable odds. Its 25th anniversary program offered performances of music that many professional orchestras might well fear to tread, yet the instrumentalists pulled it off with real class.
The Avedis Chamber Music Series at San Francisco's Legion of Honor has rarely drawn the kind of packed house it did on Friday evening, or more enthusiasm for the results. The occasion featured pianist Jon Nakamatsu with the Stanford Woodwind Quintet, who offered two light and popular French works embedded between a crossover Cuban work and a grand sextet by a forgotten Austro-German master. Paquito D'Rivera's Aries Tropicales (1994) opened the proceedings by the Stanford Quintet, followed by Francis Poulenc's zesty Sextet (1939) for piano and winds.
In a combination of community service and organizational preservation, on Sunday evening the San Francisco Academy Orchestra presented a concert in Calvary Presbyterian Church, to thunderous applause. Conductor Florin Parvulescu took on major repertoire with an orchestra made up of college students and recent graduates, infused with a few members of the San Francisco Symphony. The result was simply amazing.
No matter how often you've heard a piece of music, once it fails to surprise it's past its sell date. Perpetual surprises are what separates merely well-made and original music from masterpieces. The refreshing level of discovery on last week's San Francisco Symphony presentations of Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust, Op. 24, under guest conductor Charles Dutoit, beautifully achieved that. Berlioz' great choral-orchestral composition remained as fresh last week as if it had seen its premiere performance.
Last week’s San Francisco Symphony concert was an instance of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas’ brilliantly daring programming. It offered three austere works by Stravinsky plus one super beauty by Toru Takemitsu. Alongside the orchestra there was the Symphony Chorus and the world’s leading clarinetist, Richard Stoltzman, who played what amounts to Takemitsu’s clarinet concerto. I don’t believe the music could have been better performed, but Friday’s concert also suffered from a serious case of gab pollution.
Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas opened two weeks of his minifestival of Stravinsky-Plus-One last week in Davies Symphony Hall. The San Francisco Symphony programs of both last week and this week are essentially a survey of Stravinsky's wide interests, but with each program offering an important piece by one other composer. What makes such adventures so unusual is how well local audiences eat up such programming in big gulps, especially when the results are as exhilarating as they were at the Thursday matinee.
The historic love-hate relationship between England and France found a musical solution Friday in Old First Church, when artists affiliated with the San Francisco Opera presented a mixed program of almost entirely 20th-century vocal works as their "Basically British X" program. Among the four composers, two are giants (Ravel and Britten), another is a venerable master (Elgar), and one is an also-ran: Gerald Finzi, who is really not in their company.
Rarely do audiences anywhere get the chance to hear any full-scale choral-orchestral works other than the Messiah, which tyrannically monopolizes the Christmas season. So last Thursday’s performance of Mendelssohn’s masterful oratorio Elijah, with the inestimable strengths of conductor Herbert Blomstedt, formed the high point of at least my season. Blomstedt’s musicality and concern for details had the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus in flawless style. With him came an elegant roster of fully engaged soloists — especially baritone Alan Opie in the title role.