Michelle Dulak Thomson
Michelle Dulak Thomson is a violinist and violist who has written about music for Strings, Stagebill, Early Music America, and The New York Times.
Articles by this Author
As an accomplished violinist and pianist, the young Felix Mendelssohn took to piano-and-strings chamber music almost immediately. It’s not an accident that his first three published works are all quartets for piano and string trio.
The Danish violinist Nikolaj Znaider has a taste for challenges. Two years ago, in his San Francisco Performances debut recital, he gave a stunning performance of Arnold Schoenberg's late Phantasy. The Schoenberg Concerto, a monumentally tough nut, is in his repertoire; so is Carl Nielsen's notoriously difficult one.
The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra hasn't been just a Baroque orchestra for a very long time; Haydn, Mozart, and the early Romantics are bread and butter to its seasons now. Still ... Brahms? From a self-described Baroque orchestra? The Philharmonia launched their Brahms foray on Thursday night at San Francisco's Herbst Theatre, a double bill of the composer's First Serenade for full orchestra (in D major, Op. 11) and his Violin Concerto (Op. 77, also D Major), with Viktoria Mullova as soloist.
There is a rough protocol for establishing a name as a newish chamber ensemble. It involves, among other things, programming carefully so as to interest the people whose opinions might make your name, while not frightening the horses. That means, in general, picking up and prominently featuring a work by a currently favored composer (or, better yet, commissioning it yourself, if you can afford to do so). Meanwhile, you keep the remainder of the repertoire as mainstream as it can be without actually generating comment on the fact. This is a tricky balance.
A number of the audience members at David Aaron Carpenter’s Sunday afternoon recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (under the auspices of San Francisco Performances) didn’t seem entirely sure what they were getting into. Viola? All 20th-century? Is it all going to be atonal?
Yes, viola; yes, all 20th-century; no, hardly at all atonal.
The Cypress Quartet is probably best known for an enterprising commissioning program that by now has added a dozen or so substantial works to the string-quartet literature. It is heartening, then, to see the ensemble stake its claim to the heart of the literature that it didn’t engender itself.
Voices of Music is one of those rare ensembles built from the bottom up: Founders and Codirectors David Tayler (lutes) and Hanneke van Proosdij (harpsichord) make up the bones of a continuo team that supports anything from solo singers or instrumentalists to a small orchestra. On Saturday at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco, Tayler, van Proosdij, and cellist/gambist William Skeen were the backup band, as it were, to oboist Gonzalo Ruiz.
Eric Zivian and Tanya Tomkins have been playing together as a period-instrument cello/keyboard duo for some time, but the first that many Bay Area listeners likely heard of their partnership was as two thirds of the solo contingent in Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s performances of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto last fall. The only prior recording of the duo that I’ve happened upon was also of Beethoven: the sonatas Opp. 5/2 and 102/2, the “Bei Männern” Variations (WoO46), and the Op. 119 Bagatelles, downloadable from magnatune.com
The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble’s practice of commissioning companion pieces to established repertoire is such a marvelous idea that it’s strange not to see it emulated everywhere. Judging by composers’ program notes, the general concept is all over the place; composers are always, it seems, being asked to write companion works to this or that.