Even decades of piecemeal exploration by curious historical performers have not made German music of the generation or two before Bach exactly familiar ground for most listeners. The chamber ensemble La Monica’s most recent San Francisco Early Music Society program, titled “Out of the Depths,” assembled a varied but consistently interesting clutch of vocal and instrumental works.
The San Francisco Symphony’s Chamber Music Series, offered most Sunday afternoons, is a dependable bet. There, members of the Symphony emerge as individuals from orchestral submersion and can be heard doing what they most like to do, as best they can. The players, not the Symphony, program it, so there is little or no Russian music, no Mahler, but rather music of fresh interest — as was the case last Sunday in Davies Symphony Hall.
Cadenza is a well-known term in classical music, and now it’s also the name of a local orchestra. The 14-member string ensemble formerly known as the Santa Cruz Chamber Orchestra has changed its name in hopes of establishing a more distinctive moniker, and gave its first concert Saturday under the new name at Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz.
Wouldn’t it be nice if each composer on a program could have his own, ideal interpreter? Not so Friday night at the San Francisco Symphony concert, where hyperkinetic guest conductor Osmo Vänskä proved to be a godsend for John Adams, adequate in Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, and too much of a whirlwind for Antonín Dvořák. The Symphony players responded magnificently wherever Vänskä led them, even when misguided.
Apparently, no one has informed the San Francisco Girls Chorus that what they are doing is impossible, so they just do it — and very well, too. On Friday night their “Transcendent Voices” performance in Calvary Presbyterian Church — part of the ensemble’s 30th anniversary season — was a jaw dropper that made the heart soar in delight.
It was a night of opposites. For the first half of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s semi-annual Lieder Alive concert series in SFCM’s Concert Hall, we had tenor Eleazar Rodriguez, a 2009 Merola Opera participant who is compact of voice and frame. The second half belonged to soprano Heidi Melton, a former Merolina and second year San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow who is robust of voice and frame. Accompanying them both was John Parr, the tall, thin, far more experienced, Head of Music Staff at S.F. Opera who does a finer disappearing act than almost any accompanist around.
The introduction of a new player into a venerable chamber ensemble is always a touchy thing; you can never quite be sure what sort of entity will emerge at the end of the process, how much or how little it will resemble the group you once knew. That goes doubly for the leaders of string quartets. For better or worse, the first violinist has a disproportionately large role in forming a quartet’s collective character. When a leader of long standing is replaced, it’s almost in the nature of a personality transplant.
Michael Schade makes a strong case for singing nothing but Franz Schubert, as he did Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Hertz Hall, presented by Cal Performances. The German-born Canadian tenor combines his fluency in Schubert’s language with Mozart’s Italian sensibilities. His singing flows effortlessly from ringing, heroic declamation to exceedingly soft, intimate passages.