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Michael Zwiebach

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.

Articles by this Author

Upcoming Concert
May 5, 2009

The last of the season’s San Francisco Performances-sponsored “Salons at the Rex” features the Cypress Quartet’s cellist, Jennifer Kloetzel, accompanied by Lara Downes on piano. The Salons are a wonderful, interactive musical experience.

They are short concerts, in an intimate setting ideal for chamber music. The atmosphere is informal and musicians may talk about the selections they perform, and sometimes about themselves as well.

Both Kloetzel and Downes share wide-ranging musical interests, so there may be some delightful surprises in store for the lucky audience.

More about San Francisco Performances »
Upcoming Concert
May 5, 2009
On Mother’s Day, as on most holidays, concertgoing opportunities will be limited, as presenters fear loss of their audience to other activities, such as the traditional Mother’s Day whitewater rafting trip, or the traditional Mother’s Day Spam-sandwich-dinner-cooked-by-your-5-year-old.

For those who would celebrate the holiday by taking mom to a concert there is an option courtesy of Chamber Music San Francisco. As part of its newly expanded activities, CMSF has asked prominent Bay Area early music musicians to present a program of Bach and Vivaldi. These heavy hitters (Judith Linsenberg and Kit Higginson on recorders; Kati Kyme, Cynthia Freivogel, Cynthia Roberts, David Daniel Bowes, Tanya Tomkins, Farley Pearce, strings; and Katherine Heater, harpsichord) may not be household names, but they’re all top-rank professionals playing on period instruments. And since most of them are members of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the American Bach Soloists, they play together a fair bit.

There’s a reason Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are among his best-loved pieces — they’re great entertainment as well as great music. All of these players have the early music knowledge to make the Brandenburgs dance (Nos. 4 and 5 are on the program). And Linsenberg has been putting virtuosic zing into Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Minor (RV 441) for some time. You can hear her on Fire Beneath My Fingers and a number of other CDs released by Musica Pacifica, the group she cofounded.

Kyme was an original member of both PBO and ABS, and has performed in orchestras worldwide, including the premiere performance of Shaker Loops at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, back in 1979. She’s also a member of the New Esterházy Quartet, which has just released another recording in its series of Haydn string quartets, The Fabulous Fifties.

Tomkins is as renowned a soloist as an orchestra member, and her performance of the Bach Cello Suites was a highlight of this past season. She’s also one of the more physically expressive players you’ll see, so she’s great to watch as well as hear.

The Frances Gould Theatre at the San Francisco Legion of Honor is the perfect place to go see a concert. You’re up close and the sound is better than in most of the auditoriums where you typically get to hear these players. And the musicians are exciting to watch, too, as anyone was has attended a Philharmonia Baroque or ABS concert can aver. So no matter how you’ve planned to fete Mom, a little live music can only make it better.

More about Chamber Music San Francisco »
Artist Spotlight
April 28, 2009

Cameron Carpenter is a rarity in the rarified world of classical organists. Flamboyant and virtuosic in performance, he has earned not only recognition among musicians, but also popularity as a soloist that overshadows all other exponents of the instrument. (Several of his YouTube videos have garnered over 100,000 plays.) Along the way he has purposefully trampled, questioned, or disregarded most of the received wisdom and shibboleths of the organ world.

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Upcoming Concert
April 21, 2009

Frederic Rzewski is still playing his 1975 masterwork, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, 36 variations on a Chilean song associated with the Unidad Popular coalition, which supported the Salvador Allende government.

Rzewski’s piece is virtuosic, imaginative, and accessible, and with the composer’s advocacy at the piano, it has become a staple of the modern piano repertory. At some point, Rzewski is sure to retire from playing, so take the opportunity to hear him at the Mondavi Center.

More about Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts »
Upcoming Concert
April 21, 2009
New chamber groups spring up all the time, usually without fanfare. But the new Eidolon String Quartet deserves attention because its founder is Franklyn D’Antonio, concertmaster of the Berkeley Symphony, and former member of the Chicago Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The second violinist, Noah Strick, is a recent graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory and the Oberlin Conservatory and is assistant concertmaster of the Berkeley Symphony. Clare Twohy, on viola, is also a recent SFCM graduate teaching at the Crowden School. Cellist Gianna Abandolo is on the faculty at UC Berkeley and Mills College. In their inaugural concert, the group plays music of local composers, including Twohy and Clark Suprynowicz, former composer in residence at the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. More about Eidolon Quartet »
Early Music/Baroque Review
April 18, 2009

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and their indefatigable music director, Nicholas McGegan, were in top form as they tore into Handel’s oratorio Athalia Saturday night. That means that a writer can only cast about for enough synonyms for the word wonderful.

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Upcoming Concert
April 7, 2009

San Francisco Chamber Orchestra concerts are always lively affairs. Music Director Benjamin Simon conducts and emcees, and the whole atmosphere is less formal than your average orchestra concert. Still, the players are good and musical values are properly attended to.

Bach is featured on this weekend's program – the ever popular Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, with flutist Tod Brody taking us through the bravura passagework of the final dance, and the Wedding Cantata (BWV 210), with soprano soloist Anja Strauss, who has been frequently lauded by SFCV reviewers. Also scheduled is a piece by an award-winning, young composer, Michael Gilbertson, and the Schleptet in E-Flat by P.D.Q. Bach, the goofiest Bach of them all.

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Upcoming Concert
April 7, 2009

Few classical works are as recession-proof as Opera San José's next production, Georges Bizet's Carmen. Several of its melodies stand at the top of the 19th-century hit parade, while the sharply realistic ambience of its settings and the dramatic power of its story and characters have attracted a variety of directors and interpreters including, famously, Peter Brook, a giant of avant-garde theater.

Opera San José presents the work with their stable of young, highly accomplished singers, many of whom are new to the company this season, under the steady baton of Music Director David Rohrbaugh.

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Upcoming Concert
April 7, 2009

Put three-quarters of a string quartet (violin, viola, cello) together with a piano and you have a grouping that has inspired some of the greatest music of all time. The Rossetti Piano Quartet offer three marvelous examples in their concert for Music at Kohl Mansion.

Mozart's beautiful and spiritedly comic Eb-Major Quartet, K.493 shares some of the bravura and gracefulness of his opera The Marriage of Figaro, completed a month earlier, in 1786. Dvořák's guileless, melodic First Quartet, Op. 23 is an ideal partner to the Mozart. Gabriel Faurè's Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op.15 is full of Romantic emotion, but also is quite varied and has its own moments of delight. This is an excellent concert for chamber-music neophytes, but has enough variety for anyone.

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Upcoming Concert
March 24, 2009
A rare opportunity to hear one of the 20th century’s underplayed composers. Though Niccolò Castiglioni (1932-1996) isn’t often mentioned in histories of 20th-century music, his music seems more contemporary than many composers who are. He has a set of influential admirers, including the composer Thomas Ades, who programmed Castiglioni in his last solo recital in San Francisco, and Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who was Castiglioni’s composition student.

Much of Castiglioni’s music is rooted in a late Romantic sound-world, but his music spans a variety of 20th-century compositional techniques, sometimes juxtaposed with each other in the same piece. Pianist Alfonso Alberti has recorded all of the composer’s piano music (on the CD Cangianti published by Col Legno Records), and is an enthusiastic performer of contemporary music. His concert, presented by Old First Concerts, is sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco.

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Upcoming Concert
March 24, 2009
In the old days, when classical music was reserved for upper-crust audiences, a lot of music got one or two performances and then was put away in a library and forgotten. That’s why a group like Magnificat, Warren Stewart’s 17th-century music band, is so much fun to see. Often their performance of a piece is the only chance you’ll get to experience it live. This time around, they take on an obscure but lively serenata (like a mini-opera) composed by the once world-renowned Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725). In Venere, Amore, e Ragione (Venus, Cupid, and Reason), the love goddess chides her son for spending too much time around reasonable people, but Cupid shows her that the company he now keeps is much better. Given the high-polish performances Magnificat is known for, this show is worth leaving your palazzo to see. More »
Upcoming Concert
March 17, 2009
You often hear chamber music described as a conversation, but really it’s like a meeting of friends. Back in the old days, chamber music was one way to pass the time with friends, and also to indulge a love of music (since there were no radios or stereos to turn on).

Think about that as you listen to the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio in their concert for Chamber Music San Francisco. Here’s a group of world-renowned soloists, yet they have performed as a piano trio for 32 years now and show no signs of slowing down; if anything, their egoless connection to each other keeps growing. It helps, probably, that violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson are married to each other, but the connection comes through the music. “The day we take making music for granted or get complacent is the day I pack up my fiddle,” Laredo told an interviewer for The Strad magazine, during their 30th anniversary year. So far, if reviews can be believed, that hasn’t happened.

Professionals of all stripes like to play chamber music because it is so much about interaction. Some people get really good at it. Chamber musicians are the kind of people who can read people’s emotional cues, the inflections in a voice, a body’s posture. You can watch Kalichstein, Laredo, and Robinson react to each other — both to what they hear and to what they see in each other’s countenance.

Not surprisingly, each of them is also an excellent teacher. Joseph Kalichstein has taught piano at Juilliard for many years, where he now has an endowed chair in chamber music. Jaime Laredo holds an endowed chair in violin at Indiana University, where Robinson also teaches. Their master classes are highly esteemed.

These experienced friends have also gotten to know their repertory well over the course of three decades, so that the music emanates from them easily and naturally. In their San Francisco program, they bring together the dark intensity of Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 (1944), written in the midst of World War II and dedicated to a recently deceased friend, and the lyrical, often playful “Archduke” Trio, Op. 97, by Beethoven, one of a number of works dedicated to his longtime student and staunch supporter/patron, the Archduke Rudolph of the Austrian royal family. The Shostakovich requires virtuosity and steely determination. The Beethoven is more genial and spontaneous, requiring a whiff of aristocratic, classical style.

The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio has recorded both pieces, but, like many good musicians, they’re always tinkering with and often changing their approach to music they know. As Kalichstein says, when asked about the group’s longevity, “We just keep trying to get it right.” That seems like an odd statement from a group that so often gets it right.

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Feature Article
January 20, 2009

The American Bach Soloists, a charter member of the Bay Area’s thriving early music community, turns 20 this season. Through the years its core membership has been remarkably stable, so you understand why Artistic Director Jeffrey Thomas refers to it as a kind of extended family.It's also an unusual chamber ensemble in that many of its greatest successes have come in performing larger works, such as J.S.

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Feature Article
January 13, 2009

It's rare that an interesting new opera simply appears, without the fanfare of commissions and publicity surrounding the premiere. Yet composer Allen Shearer's second opera, The Dawn Makers, is poised to do just that, when it debuts at San Francisco's Herbst Theatre on Feb. 4, conducted by J. Karla Lemon, directed by Brian Staufenbiel, and produced by Composers, Inc.

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Feature Article
December 24, 2008

The Bay Area music community and the world lost an important voice and a respected, beloved teacher on Sunday, when composer Jorge Liderman died in an apparent suicide after being hit by a BART train at the El Cerrito Plaza station. He had recently taken a leave of absence from the music department at UC Berkeley in order to treat his depression. The news of his death came as a grievous shock to the wide circle of people who knew him and called him friend.

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Feature Article
September 16, 2008

If you're a dead white male composer, you probably envy Leonard Bernstein. It used to be that full-career retrospectives were reserved for major anniversaries, but New York City's cultural institutions stage one every 10 years in Bernstein's honor. In 1998, the Lincoln Center Festival produced one. This fall, in honor of the 90th anniversary of the musician's birth, and the 50th of his appointment as music director of the New York Philharmonic, the orchestra and Carnegie Hall are collaborating on another traversal of Bernstein's compositional achievement.

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Archive Review
September 2, 2008

Composer Elinor Armer brims with excitement about creating music. "There's a kind of energy that I feel when I'm playing music or writing it. I feel exhilarated and happy and 'God, is this fun.'" Armer, who retired from teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music a few years ago, is co-honoree in a special concert by the Conservatory Orchestra this week. The concert features the premiere of her Piano Concerto, as well as another recent work, The Call of the West.

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Archive Review
August 5, 2008

Not many musical works present a moral/political position with the power and persuasiveness of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. Advocating the composer's nearly lifelong commitment to pacifism, the work was given a stirring performance by the San Francisco Choral Society on Friday at Davies Symphony Hall. The large chorus shared the stage with a strong group of soloists and a well-rehearsed pick-up orchestra, as well as the Piedmont Boys and Girls Choir, all under the baton of Artistic Director Robert Geary.

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Archive Review
June 17, 2008

Handel's Italian operas live through great singing, more so than many of their bel canto brethren. The subject matter and sensibility of their stories can seem foreign to us, and the arias are founded on emotions and metaphors that recur in every one of the operas.

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Feature Article
May 27, 2008

Every year, as May turns to June, arts communities recognize the rites of summer with festival concert series. In common with people around the globe, the good burghers of the Bay Area don sunhats and pack picnic baskets as if we were the inhabitants of Richard Wagner’s Nuremburg, descending into the meadow beyond the town walls to celebrate art with the mastersingers.

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