Each week, SFCV looks behind the scenes to give you a sneak peak of what's coming up on stages around the Bay Area...so you can learn about concerts before they happen.
This group of enthusiastic, well-drilled singers has, in Paul Flight, a director who shares their enthusiasm for unusual, inventive programming. But he has also gotten excellent results from his crew in the past, according to SFCV's reviewers.More about California Bach Society »
With tenor Thomas Cooley, one of the best early music tenors around today, Voices of Music scores heavily. He is partnered by Christopher LeCluyse, a highly-regarded, Austin-based singer who has been heard in the Bay Area at a few San Francisco Early Music Society events. Together they sing duets by Monteverdi and Heinrich Schütz, another of the heavy hitters in 17th-century composition.
Voices of Music is an idealistic group in many ways, as early music performance was in its pre-corporatized days. Tayler and van Proosdij take historical performance practice extremely seriously. They make it a point to play every concert, not just at the lower pitch we know was prevalent before the mid-19th century, but also in the dominant tuning system of the period ("mean tone" instead of today's "equal temperament"). Practically, this creates hurdles for the performers, since mean-tone tuning has two different-sized semitones. "I can't imagine doing it as a violinist," Tayler admits. "At least the lute has frets" (to help you place your fingers.)
The group's sense of adventure extends to rehearsal and performance — there are no leaders/ conductors. "Experienced musicians know when to contribute and when to be quiet," says Tayler. "People take risks when you encourage them to, and when you hire the best people you want [the audience] to hear their interpretation, their ideas.
Tayler and van Proosdij are committed to spreading the joy of early music. And with the advantage of affordable digital technology, the group is putting up their concerts and other music videos on their Web site, Vimeo, and YouTube. "By the middle of December, we'll have had one million online visitors," Tayler reports. Many of those people won't get to hear Voices of Music in the near future. But Bay Area denizens should not miss the opportunity.
More about Voices of Music »
Up first is the Vallejo Symphony Orchestra, celebrating the beginning of its 78th season with its opening program on Sept. 19. Under the direction of its acclaimed maestro, David Ramadanoff, it will be performing a variety of “German Fireworks,” playing pieces from Handel, Beethoven, and Brahms and featuring pianist Wonny Song. Ramadanoff, who came to this North Bay orchestra in 1983, has transformed what was a semiprofessional group into an outstanding professional orchestra that has won rave reviews for its handling of challenging works. As a bonus, ticket holders can arrive one hour before the performance to hear free concert appreciation lectures.
In the East Bay, the Fremont Symphony Orchestra and the Fremont Opera are joining forces to explore the “World of Opera” on Sept. 26, at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts at Ohlone College. Founded in 1964, this is also a fully professional orchestra under the direction of David Sloss. The program showcases operatic favorites, including selections from Carmen, Madama Butterfly, Marriage of Figaro, Pagliacci, and Rigoletto.More about Vallejo Symphony Orchestra »
“Most composers have created this intimate work,” he asserts, “whether it’s Beethoven or John Adams.” And it’s this wide-ranging diversity over shifts in personality and era that enhances the form’s enduring appeal. Further, its simplicity of a single instrument playing a single line allows the listener into the extremely personal world of the composer’s creative thoughts. That accessibility extends to both the musician and the listener. “You can follow one instrument and focus on one part, while hearing the other parts. It lets you understand the intimacy of playing music together,” adds Pelletey. “And it’s easy to talk with the musicians and say something about the music after the concert.”
Kathy Barr, the executive director of the Old First Concert Series, agrees that intimacy is key to the beauty of chamber music. “Everyone wants it,” she says. Barr is delighted to provide Old First’s warm ambience and acoustically alluring concert space to house this year’s Chamber Music Day. It fits in perfectly with Old First’s mission to promote emerging professionals who play chamber music. “Many of our musicians play for the Opera and Symphony,” she adds. “The series offers a chance for those musicians to play the music they want to play and to showcase their playing.”
Chamber Music Day runs from 12:30 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, and features no fewer than 15 Bay Area ensembles. The concert divides the groups into three sets of five groups, and each set offers a selection from the variety of music offered; listeners can enter and leave as they choose, thereby constructing their own concerts as the mood suits them. Last year, this casual and family-friendly approach to listening gave the concert an unusually sociable feel — something closer to a gentle celebration that addressed the needs and desires of its audience. While children are welcome and encouraged, this year the church is also providing a place for restless children who may feel moved to provide their own music during concerts.
Among the 15 performances to be presented at Chamber Music Day, three Bay Area ensembles, emphasizing Latin music — Potaje, the Del Sol String Quartet, and Quinteto Latino — will offer nine works by seven contemporary composers from Cuba, Argentina, Mexico, and Spain. Next year, when the Day moves to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the conservatory’s chamber music program, the accent will be on music by French composers.
Each of the ensembles is connected to a presenter that regularly features the ensemble and that has an ongoing series. During each group’s 30-minute performance time, the presenter takes a few minutes to introduce the ensemble and describe their concert series, making the entire event a great opportunity for the audience to familiarize itself with the truly vast assortment of talented musicians that makes the Bay Area such an opulent reservoir of fine classical music.
Collaboration with other organizations has expanded Chamber Music Day events, so that in addition to the day itself Old First, which is celebrating its concert series’ 40th year, is presenting a symposium at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. The panel includes San Francisco Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman; violist Jodi Levitz of the Ives Quartet and professor of viola and chamber music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; and Adam Frey, the former executive director of San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. Barr moderates. This informative discussion will look at the ins and outs of chamber music, as well as cover its recent history.
Further, San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music is holding Chamber Music Night, on Sept. 25. Also at Old First Church, the event is designed to promote the event and the organization to donors, press, and presenters. Besides the shoulder rubbing and solicitations, the Ives Quartet will perform an 18-minute piece by local composer Don Baker. “It’s not a public event,” claims Pelletey, “but we’re not going to turn away anyone who wants to come.”
Last year, San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music instituted its first round of grants, dividing $75,000 to 23 Bay Area chamber music performers and composers. It’s all part of the organization’s efforts to build a closer, wider community. “It’s important for the community to grow,” affirms Pelletey. “I want to give people something; we need to give to the community.”
And give is exactly what they have done. Chamber Music Day is everything you could wish for in a concert — endearing and audacious, variegated and profound, intimate and accessible, free and freewheeling.More about Chamber Music Day: Live + Free »
The San Francisco Bach Choir opens its 2009-2010 concert season with an all-Handel program, comprising four of the composer’s 11 Chandos Anthems (“Let God Arise,” “The Lord Is My Light,” “I Will Magnify Thee, O God,” and “O Sing unto the Lord a New Song”), Oct. 17-18 at San Francisco’s Calvary Presbyterian Church. These multimovement, cantatalike pieces, composed in 1717-18 during Handel’s tenure as composer in residence for England’s Duke of Chandon, are “filled with sunshine,” according to Corey Jamason, S.F. Bach’s artistic director. Jamason views the anthems as “a marvelous, somewhat early, expression of Handel’s enormous gifts for bringing the vivacity of his operatic masterpieces to sacred music.” And because the anthems remain curiously underrepresented in live performance, these concerts offer a welcome opportunity for in-person encounters with some hidden treasures.
S.F. Bach’s program showcases the versatility of Handel’s talent while also keeping some practical exigencies in mind. Jamason says his selections are “well-balanced and display the range and variety of these magnificent pieces. They also all have only soprano and tenor singers, which in our performances are sung by two terrific soloists, Erica Schuller and Craig Lemming.” As a side benefit, the all-Handel program also fills some gaps in the choir’s own history. “S.F. Bach has not performed much Handel in the past,” Jamason notes. “As this is only my third season with the group, I am now able to fill in some gaps and address a broader repertoire.”
The California Bach Society, meanwhile, features Handel’s outstanding psalm setting Dixit Dominus as the climax of a program devoted to Italian vespers music, in three performances Oct. 16-18 in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Berkeley. With Vivaldi’s Domine adjuvandum me festina and Scarlatti’s Magnificat primo tono also on the bill, these vespers pieces let you to hear Handel and his contemporaries writing in the same general style, with their individual differences.
While the Chandos Anthems find Handel adapting himself to an English liturgical environment, Dixit Dominus was composed by a young composer for a sophisticated Italian audience. “One gets the sense,” Flight explains, that this ‘oltremontani’ [person from beyond the Alps] composer was striving to outdo his Italian rivals in hope of securing lasting employment. The work has enough rhythmic energy, contrapuntal complexity, and pathos necessary to win over any cardinal, city official, or congregant.” But then Handel's music never had trouble connecting with audiences.More »
Trio Con Brio Copenhagen — consisting of Korean sisters Soo-Jin Hong, violin, and Soo-Kyung Hong, cello, and Danish pianist Jens Elvekjaer — was founded in Vienna a decade ago. After winning the prestigious ARD-Munich Competition and later the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson International Trio Award in 2005, it quickly established its reputation as “rising stars” among audiences and critics alike by touring internationally.
Bay Area new-music fans might have caught its performance of Norwegian composer Bent Sørensen’s Phantasmagoria at the Other Minds Festival last year, which SFCV reviewed as “hard to describe, though the effect was magical — and the highlight of the festival.” Trio Con Brio will recap this piece on its concert, as well as play traditional jewels by Beethoven and Smetana.
Beethoven’s Trio No. 5 in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1, called the “Ghost,” is one of his most famous works for that configuration of instruments, dating from his “middle period” and composed in Heiligenstadt, Vienna. The Smetana Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 15 was the first of several pieces to be inspired by the tragic loss of the composer’s 4-year-old daughter in 1855; like some of his other compositions, it contains stylistic elements of both Schumann and Liszt, and runs the emotional gamut from anguish, to joy, and finally to a feeling of closure.
An ensemble that’s perhaps slightly more well-known to American audiences is the Eroica Trio, one of the first all-female ensembles to attain recognition as being in the top-tier; its members are Erika Nickrenz, piano; Susie Park, violin; and Sara Sant’Ambrogio, cello. Formed almost a decade earlier than Con Brio, it captured the prestigious Naumburg Award in 1991, followed by its Carnegie Hall debut in 1997. The trio plays from a extremely wide repertoire, as witnessed by its eight recordings on EMI of everything from Baroque to its newest album available in mid-October, An American Journey, and has earned Grammy nominations for several of them.
Aside from the marketing machine that has capitalized on their good looks, placing them in magazines such as Elle, Glamour, and Vanity Fair, this trio has earned some serious concert hall “cred” for its raw energy and expressive playing. It will give listeners the early Beethoven Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 1, No. 3, first performed in 1793 in the house of Prince Lichnowsky. The Brahms Trio in B Major, Op. 8 is an early work of that composer, as well, and was almost destroyed by him, thrown into the fire, as were other fledgling pieces that did not meet his stiff requirements. It was, instead, one of his first pieces to be published in 1854. Over 30 years later he revised the work at the suggestion of his publisher Simrock, devising a new version that’s the one mostly played today. The finale movement from Joan Tower’s trio For Daniel (2004) adds a more contemporary twist to the program.
The Morrison Artists Series annually presents six free chamber music concerts on the campus of S.F. State, including one in December by the university’s own quartet in residence, the Alexander String Quartet. The Eroica Trio is “coming home,” having enjoyed its West Coast debut on the series in 1990. They and the Trio Con Brio Copenhagen are taking the torch from the older generation, capitalizing on the energy of youth and the maturity of their years together to help reinvent the future of chamber music.More about Music at Kohl »
Founded by Turtle Island Quartet founding member Irene Sazar, the Real Vocal String Quartet dares to improvise, play clubs, and embrace world music.
If you're plugged into the younger part of the classical scene, this concert will be right up your alley.
If you're not, leave your expectations at the door and prepare to be wildly entertained.More »
A case in point is Thomas Schultz, Sunday's piano recitalist at Old First Church. A Stanford University professor of piano, Schultz is also an active concertizer who has premiered a number of works by famous contemporary composers.
His recital previews two big works he'll be taking to Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in October: Franz Schubert's glorious final piano sonata (in B-Flat, D. 960) and Johannes Brahms intricate, bravura Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel. I don't know what New Yorkers will pay for this concert, but at Old First it will cost you all of $12.More about Old First Concerts »