Classical Music Reviews

Every week, our professional critics attend concerts throughout the Bay Area to let you know what went well...and occasionally what didn't. Let their insights enrich your musical experiences, and feel free to share your own views!


Opera REVIEW
 Opera Parallèle  Operatic Heaven From Hell
January 30, 2010

Ensemble Parallèle sold itself short by emphasizing that their two performances of Alban Berg’s nightmarish early-20th-century opera, Wozzeck, would fill the breach left since San Francisco Opera last performed the work in November, 1999. Heard and seen in the relative intimacy of Novellus Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the West Coast premiere of John Rea’s 21-musician chamber reorchestration needed no apologia. Ensemble Parallèle’s oft-devastating, 90-minute multimedia wow of a production was whole and complete unto itself.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  Effervescent “Pulcinella”
January 27, 2010

It’s been a decade since the San Francisco Symphony presented an entire festival devoted to the music of Igor Stravinsky, but music lovers with fond memories of the two-week extravaganza in June 1999 had to be somewhat assuaged by the orchestra’s program last week at Davies Symphony Hall. With two of the composer’s works — Pulcinella and Octet — on the program, Michael Tilson Thomas and the orchestra captured the spirit, if not the breadth, of that earlier celebration.

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Dance REVIEW
  San Francisco Ballet Dancers Lead <em>Swan Lake</em> Out of the Woods
January 27, 2010

No one enjoys breaking the news that San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s production of Swan Lake, unveiled last year, has serious flaws. After all, even a distantly faithful combination of the Tchaikovsky score and what has been handed down of the 1895 Ivanov/Petipa choreography is practically guaranteed to cast a spell on a general audience — who wants to kill that buzz? Fortunately, a singular ballerina in the dual role of Odette and Odile can make even seasoned ballet fans forget this staging’s shortcomings and walk out in a swoon.

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Recital REVIEW
   Rare Treat From Ma and Ax
January 26, 2010

Last Tuesday’s performance by Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax at Davies Symphony Hall was designed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of two of the most iconic Romantic era musicians, Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann.

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CD REVIEW
  John Adams: Nixon in China Barren Diplomacy Makes for Mesmerizing Music
January 26, 2010

Those of us fortunate enough to attend Opera Colorado’s 2008 production of John Adams’ engrossing opera Nixon in China were swept to our feet by its cumulative impact. Given that the performance of soloists and Colorado Symphony Orchestra, under the able hand of Marin Alsop, and the Opera Colorado Chorus under Douglas Kinney Frost, was witnessed by many hundreds of the music and arts critics and personnel who had descended on Denver for the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention, the artistic triumph was all the greater.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Contemporary Music Players  Plumbing Oceanic Depths
January 25, 2010

Even though atonal music has existed for a long time, the composer Helmut Lachenmann has observed that many listeners are still so accustomed to tonal music that tonality continues to govern their listening habits. Such listeners might regard tonality as an intrinsic or “natural” musical system, against which contemporary music sounds, by contrast, “unnatural.” But Monday in Herbst Theatre, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players performed a concert that associated contemporary music with nature.

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Recital REVIEW
 San Francisco Conservatory of Music  Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart
January 24, 2010

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?

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 Oakland East Bay Symphony  A Toast to Armenia
January 22, 2010

The Armenian proverb “We learn more from a clever rival than a stupid ally” was much in evidence in the second half of Friday’s Oakland East Bay Symphony concert. During that segment, the music of three little-known Armenian composers proved that derivative music can nevertheless be persuasive.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  Subtle Symphonic Surprises
January 21, 2010

Thursday’s program of the San Francisco Symphony, under Michael Tilson Thomas, offered something new in my concert experience. Noting that the two works on the first half of the program were rather glum, MTT said he wanted to open with something lighter. So he turned around and conducted what amounted to an encore: the sarcastic Polka from Shostakovich’s 1930 ballet The Age of Gold, Op. 22.

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CD REVIEW
 Cypress String Quartet Beethoven: Late String Quartets, Vol. I Stake in the Heart
January 19, 2010

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.

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