So many and illustrious are the touring string quartets that pass through the Bay Area in any given season that it can be difficult to remember the ones that are here all year round. And so hard is it these days to find a browsable selection of classical CDs in a record store that you might be pardoned for thinking that the only one making recordings regularly is the Kronos Quartet.
In fact, the Bay Area is home to at least a half dozen other quartets of considerable distinction, and no fewer than five of them have released new recordings in the last year.
In the spirit of the season, following are a select handful of DVDs, those little boxes of superior performances and visual delights. Some are new and some have stood the test of time, but all are repeatedly watchable, going on giving long after the holiday ribbons have been tossed.Beverly Sills: Made in America
One of opera’s most popular singers, Sills had a career that was a long time in the making. As this endearing tribute shows, much of her life paralleled the evolution of popular American entertainment.More "A Stocking Full of DVDs" »
In the Western musical tradition, December is the time for the “holiday concert,” full of impressive, noisy praise, the sing-along Messiah, and dozens of choral offerings featuring carols and the more generic “holiday music.” Nowhere in the generalized musical prescription that fuels our annual shopping and eating binge does it say “gentle, 17th-century, Lutheran, devotional work.”
Sure, the Bay Area has recently seen a couple of performances of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Christmas Mass and other substantial fare, but few organizations, with the notable exception
Balancing the comfortable and familiar with the new and challenging — that’s the toughest task of any ambitious arts administrator. When Jennifer Bilfield took over as artistic and executive director of Stanford Lively Arts a year ago, she needed to maintain the existing audience for one of the West Coast’s premier arts programs, now almost 40 years old, while providing the kind of intellectually stimulating programming the Stanford University community craved.
So far, she seems to be finding that balance.
The San Francisco Symphony’s Thanksgiving week program is a singularly joyous and virtuosic array. Under the baton of guest conductor Leonard Slatkin, the three performances open with Haydn’s folksy yet concertolike Symphony No. 67 in F Major, followed by Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto, featuring Garrick Ohlsson.
But then comes the big highlight, marking the 150th anniversary of Sir Edward Elgar's birth: his popular Variations on an Original Theme, Op.
Is there a body of acknowledged masterpieces more unevenly explored than the Haydn string quartets? It's taken as a given that they're "great music" (the later ones, at least), but what fraction are actually played with any regularity, and how many people know the neglected ones even well enough to judge whether they ought to be neglected?
As something of a Haydn partisan, I find it tempting to put the relative unfamiliarity of most of the quartets down to inexplicable and unjust player (or listener) prejudice. This, though, is unfair.
Last summer, the Cabrillo Festival gave the West Coast premiere of Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 8. Glass has been famous since the mid-1970s, but he didn’t write his first symphony until 1992. His symphony project moved along fairly quickly after that, and by 2005, he'd reached number eight. (See SFCV’s review.)
Is there a conspiracy here? After enjoying the mellifluous playing of the Talich String Quartet at the opening concert of Music at Kohl’s silver anniversary season, it’s hard to believe that people aren’t beating down the doors of Burlingame’s Kohl Mansion to get in.More "Music at Kohl: A Season of Silver" »
Neurologist Oliver Sacks, who wrote The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, is an M.D. and plays a Bechstein. His newest book, Musicophilia, will be published this month by Random House.
The impact of music on the human brain, Sacks writes, cannot be overstated. It's as important as language. "I'm impressed that a huge amount of the brain is involved in aspects of music,” he said recently from New York. “Keeping time to the music is a purely human thing. No animal can do this.