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!
With Easter just around the corner, the timing seems about right for a performance of a passion by J.S. Bach, one of the genre’s great masters. But while Bach’s St. Matthew Passion might spring immediately to mind, the San Francisco Bach Choir opted for the shorter, less grandiose Johannes-Passion.
Too often overshadowed by its more famous cousin, the St. John Passion deserves wider recognition for its dramatic storytelling and the passionate idioms of Bach’s musical writing.
It's hard to dislike the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra's stated mission of "bring[ing] the immediacy and intimacy of music for small orchestra and chamber ensemble to audiences of all ages." It's even harder to dislike its motto of "fresh, fun, first-class, and free" — talk that they walk by presenting professional-caliber concerts at an admission charge of $0. Listeners are simply invited to become paying members.More »
When Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld was first performed in Paris, in 1858, the famed critic Jules Noriac, of mighty Le Figaro, stammered with delight: "Unheard-of. Splendid. Outrageous. Graceful. Charming. Witty. Amusing. Successful.More »
Mention the California Bach Society, and you might get a similar reaction to the one I received when mentioning its latest concert to a colleague: “Ah, yes — you’ll enjoy their program. They're a good amateur group." My friend clearly meant her description as a compliment, but the word amateur carries such invective in our modern parlance that it seems misplaced for this group.More »
When does 180 miles equal light-years? When you hear Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony and Shostakovich’s Ninth on the same concert, and realize that the composers’ hometowns (Järvenpää and Leningrad) are that far apart from each other.
The symphonies are profound, and profoundly different.
Yundi Li presented a recital of tried and true audience favorites at Herbst Theatre on Sunday, under the auspices of San Francisco Performances. Some of them he has played here before. I went to the theater hoping to gain some insight into the artistic imagination of this acclaimed young artist. I left dazzled, puzzled, and wishing for more substance along with the pyrotechnics that these days seem to be the measure of all things pianistic.More »
Viewed against the more robust concert scenes in San Francisco, the East Bay, and the Peninsula, the classical-music pickings in Marin County can seem slender. But alongside the programs of the county's indigenous ensembles (the Marin Symphony and the American Bach Soloists chief among them), plus the regular visits of musicians from the rest of the Bay Area, the county proffers established concert series that approach the other counties' larger presenters in quality, if not in scale.
Mill Valley Chamber Music, based at the city's Mt.
Dawn Upshaw flew in with eighth blackbird to sing a concert Saturday night in Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. The eighth blackbird sextet and six equally remarkable players formed the Orquesta Los Pelegrinos, which joined Upshaw in a stunning performance of Osvaldo Golijov's Ayre.
The 11 songs comprising Ayre (air/song) form a rich stew of languages and musical styles. The texts, many from medieval Spain, are Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, Sardinian, and Ladino (the ancient language of the Sephardim — the Spanish Jews).
There is something both intimate and grand about Edward Elgar’s not-oft-performed oratorio The Dream of Gerontius. Perhaps, it’s the challenge of reconciling those dissimilarities that makes this work, written in 1899-1900, a rarity. Or maybe it’s the fact that there are plenty of tricky musical parts to navigate for chorus, orchestra, and soloists?
When performed well, however, Gerontius is certain to make a lasting impression.
In programming an American Bach Choir concert with the ambitious title "Vocal Visionaries," conductor Jeffrey Thomas set his sights high. Not only did he choose choral music that, in his opinion, displays the transcendent, visionary gifts of its composers, but he also strove to transport his audience with radiant vocalism.More »