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Classical music has had a few notable sibling acts in its history. Wolfgang and Nannerl Mozart toured as duo pianists; violinist Yehudi and pianist Hephzibah Menuhin performed recitals together. The early death of composer Lili Boulanger profoundly influenced the life of her older sister, the great pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, who taught a staggering number of important 20th-century composers.
Piano recitals don't often come with a title, beyond the ubiquitous "Famous Pianist Plays Chopin and Brahms." Sarah Cahill took the name of her recital, and her commissioning project, from the lecture Martin Luther King Jr. gave on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize: "We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody, that is far superior to the discords of war."
The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra is in the second year of its search for a music director to succeed Kent Nagano, who has led the orchestra since 1978. Last Thursday, in Zellerbach Hall, the orchestra welcomed the fourth of six candidates, William Eddins, music director of the Edmonton Symphony, who conducted a lively, offbeat program with tremendous verve and obvious affection for the music. Besides imaginative programming, his special strengths include a marvelous feel for both rubato and orchestral color.
San Francisco Opera launched its 2008-2009 season on Friday with a comparative rarity, Verdi's great opera of reunion and reconciliation, Simon Boccanegra, using the revised version of 1881. This revival, led by outgoing Music Director Donald Runnicles, is blessed with a much better cast than that of the 2001 production.
War, violence, revenge, and parent-child relationships are evergreen subjects found at the heart of important operas from the earliest days of the form. Adriana Mater, the luminous, intimate, disturbing opera from composer Kaija Saariaho and librettist Amin Maalouf, treats these subjects with greater subtlety, complexity, and maturity than almost any other opera.
The last quarter-century has seen musical talent bursting out of Finland, a country of only 5.3 million that, owing to ample public funding of music education, has produced a steady stream of great conductors, performers, and composers. Among the prominent composers are Aulis Sallinen, Kaija Saariaho, Esa-Pekka Salonen (who also conducts), and Magnus Lindberg. This week, conductor Sakari Oramo — another Finn — brought to the San Francisco Symphony a program that included Lindberg's 2007 tone poem Seht die Sonne (Behold the sun).
Old First Concerts played host on Sunday to a varied and exhilarating program of chamber music by Stefano Scodanibbio, performed by sfSoundGroup and the composer himself. The concert, sponsored by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura of San Francisco, was part of Primavera Italiana: The Spring Festival of Italian New Music, now in its second year.
Once upon a time, a symphony-goer would regularly find concerts on an orchestra's schedule consisting of an overture, a concerto, and a popular warhorse or two, light programs notable more for their entertainment value than substance. Entertainment is a fine thing, and so are such programs, when they're brought off with sufficient dash and panache.
Appomattox, Philip Glass' much-anticipated new opera, rolled into San Francisco on October 5 as part of a wave of premieres by the composer, who celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year. While it’s a less musically interesting work than either his Eighth Symphony or Songs and Poems for Cello, the opera's subject matter and the excellence of Christopher Hampton's eminently singable libretto make Appomattox theatrically effective and deeply emotional for audience members who have any knowledge of the Civil War, its causes, and its results.
Philip Glass turned 70 this year, and the Bay Area is celebrating in style, with performances of two high-profile new works, Appomattox at San Francisco Opera and The Book of Longing, a collaboration with Leonard Cohen, at Stanford Lively Arts. Those works will travel, but last Friday, San Francisco Performances gave us a very special concert indeed, with Glass himself on piano, cellist Wendy Sutter, and percussionist Mick Rossi playing pieces drawn from various periods of the composer's long and prolific career.
The death of Jacques Offenbach before the 1881 premiere of Tales of Hoffmann left opera companies with a confusing mass of performance choices. In the end though, the textual decisions matter far less than whether a company succeeds musically with the piece. San Francisco Lyric Opera's new production, heard on Saturday at the second performance, succeeds wildly, with splendid singing and playing, effective stage direction, clever sets, and fine conducting.
Great performances are nearly a given at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, whether or not you find yourself loving the work being played, thanks to Music Director Marin Alsop and her fabulous orchestra. Happily, the program for Saturday's concert consisted of three first-class pieces that should all earn a place in the standard repertory.
Attending a concert at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music is a little like going to new-music camp: No one dresses formally, in the audience or the orchestra; the concerts take place in what looks like a disused gymnasium; and helpful counselors, er, composers tell you all about the music you're going to hear. In the case of "Raise the Roof," the second Cabrillo Festival program, heard on Saturday, the counselors weren't really necessary. Michael Daugherty's Raise the Roof and Ghost Ranch, played before the intermission, are as accessible as can be.
In a program note written for San Francisco Opera some years ago and republished in his book The Ultimate Art, David Littlejohn called Don Giovanni "The Impossible Opera." He went into some detail about the reasons the work is so difficult to stage effectively.