Jeff Dunn is a freelance critic with a B.A. in music and a Ph.D. in geologic education. A composer of piano and vocal music, he is a member of the National Association of Composers, USA, a former president of Composers, Inc., and has served on the Board of New Music Bay Area.
Articles by this Author
The British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams is beloved for his evocation of pastoral, folk-song-infused landscapes in works like The Lark Ascending. But also on the program is a totally different “VW,” the violent, take-no-prisoners maniac of the Symphony No. 4, a piece that grabs listeners by the throat and never lets go.More about San Francisco Symphony »
Noisy music with imaginary animals from both sides of the program threatened to cage the central Mozart concerto at Tuesday's Marin Symphony concert. But the songbird in the Mozart wound up soaring above the surrounding beasts, thanks to fine playing by principals Dan Levitan on harp and Monica Daniel-Barker on flute.More about Marin Symphony »
"We're part of a bigger thing," declared British composer Thomas Adès in a surprise visit to the stage of Davies Symphony Hall on Friday night. His 2005 violin concerto Concentric Paths, painstakingly and passionately interpreted by soloist Leila Josefowicz and San Francisco Symphony Associate Conductor James Gaffigan, proved just that.More about San Francisco Symphony »
It has been said that passion arouses the best and the beast in man. On Saturday, visiting conductor James Conlon’s passion for the music to Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District unchained the beast in the music, and let it terrorize listeners in Davies Symphony Hall.More about San Francisco Symphony »
The Other Minds Festival of New Music should rightly be proud of its track record of bringing many "other" ideas of composers from all corners of the globe to the musical table. However, an interesting idea for an ingredient is one thing; a decent musical meal, another. Although there were some distinguished exceptions, too few of the 14th festival's dishes I tasted offered enough calories, and some were overcooked.More about Other Minds »
Valentine's day is past, and the bloom is off the rose. Thirty years past my first deep acquaintance with Brahms and Dvořák, after repeatedly relishing in their many sublime creations, and enjoying flings with even the least of their compositions, my Don Juan for them is waning.
Until now.More »
“Things Fall From the Sky” was the theme of Monday’s concert, yet nary a clunker of a composition felled the good spirits of San Francisco Contemporary Music Players attendees. A refreshing eclecticism replaced SFCMP’s usual emphasis on neomodernist and spectralist genres. Instead, four of the five numbers displayed neotonal, jazz-inflected, or indescribably admixed styles to keep Herbst Theatre patrons entertained.More about San Francisco Contemporary Music Players »
The upcoming performance of two works by British composer Ralph (pronounced "Rafe") Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) has Marin Symphony musicians lavishing superlatives as if they were CEO bankers planning year-end parties during the housing boom.More »
If there is any man who wants you to participate in Thomas Jefferson's "true secret, the grand recipe for felicity," it must be Charles Amirkhanian, the executive and artistic director of the Other Minds Festival. That secret is "A mind always employed is always happy," and Amirkhanin keeps his noggin-occupier very busy in planning and inspiring his festival, and hopes many will partake of the grand recipe themselves by experiencing the program first-hand at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center March 5-7.More »
Two works on last Wednesday’s San Francisco Symphony program; two different conductors with the same name. Kurt Masur 1 nicely portrayed the manifold strengths of Sofia Gubaidulina’s composition The Light of the End, which he premiered with the Boston Symphony in 2003. Then Kurt Masur 2 came out after intermission and cruelly exposed all the flaws of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, yet few of the virtues.More about San Francisco Symphony »
You know a new group is serious about what it does when its concert program includes a mission statement, a vision statement, and five "beliefs." The "new-music repertory group" and acronym called CMASH (Chamber Music Art-Song Hybrid, pronounced "smash") hit the boards of the San Francisco Conservatory's recital hall Saturday with five song cycles and an Ave Maria by six composers, including Jake Heggie, the late John Thow, and four CMASH composers.More about San Francisco Conservatory of Music »
Images filled my head, thanks to the provocative content and sterling performances that characterized Friday's San Francisco Symphony concert. It began with Aaron Copland's extract of music for the 1940 film Our Town, based on Thornton Wilder's famous play about the timeless verities of small-town life in "Grover's Corners" (actually, Peterborough), New Hampshire. Writing in a spare, consonant, understated, and simplistic style more in the manner of Virgil Thomson than any of his other works, Copland crafted a score perfectly suited to the film's images.More »
Even in opera, where plots deal with the structure of destiny, it’s music, not words, that provides power.
— Marcel Marceau, 1987
A composer may write fabulous music, but a weak libretto can kill it as an opera.
— Jake Heggie, 2008
Every composer dreams of writing fabulous music to the perfect, dramatic libretto. Yet few, if any, operas written in the last 50 years have achieved the double whammy of having both great music and great theater.
Many times people have asked me, shaking their heads: “How can anyone like that [dissonant, earsplitting, academic, boring, pointless, random — pick your adjective] modern music?” But the fact is, incredible as it may seem to some traditional classical music fans, many people do, as evidenced by the crowd filling the risers to near capacity in the Yerba Center for the Arts Forum Monday evening.
The draw was a milestone of Modernism, Pierre Boulez' Le Marteau sans maître (The hammer without a master, 1955), which took up the second half of the program.
Halloween has long gone, but Berkeley Symphony music director candidate Paul Haas arrived wearing a disguise Thursday night at Zellerbach Auditorium: that of a competent, careful, and traditional wandsman with barely enough energy befitting his relative youth (37). Appearances suggested someone who would make no waves, do a good job with the three B's, dabble in some contemporary music here and there — and be utterly predictable.More »
On Thursday, guest conductor Fabio Luisi brought a program to the San Francisco Symphony season that challenged performers and listeners alike. First he conducted Richard Strauss' multifaceted tone poem Don Juan, demanding a tempo in the faster portions as high as this month's Investor Panic index. Could the orchestra hold on? Later came Ravel's Tzigane, which starts off with a fiendishly difficult "cadenza" that gobbles up more than half the work.More »