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!

 San Francisco Opera  <em>Aida</em>: If Looks Were Everything
September 10, 2010

As one of the grandest of grand operas, it’s only fitting that Verdi’s Aida would open San Francisco Opera’s fall season. The 140 people assembled on the War Memorial Opera House stage for the Triumphal Scene may not have held a candle to the 2,000 supernumeraries enlisted by Col. Mapleson in Chicago in 1885, but when you add in all the women in the audience who used the opening as an excuse to wear huge pieces of Egyptian-styled jewelry, it was quite the show.

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  Orchestral Works by Gordon Getty Getty's Orchestral Pieces, Wistful to Rocking
September 7, 2010

Judging from their playing, which pours forth freely in one melodic stream after another, Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields must have relished their assignment. Their recent multichannel SACD sampler of orchestral music by Gordon Getty (b. 1933), released by Pentatone, is a joyful experience, overflowing with lovely, richly scored pieces.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  Bon Voyage: A Promise, Not Just a Wish
September 3, 2010

The Lucerne Music Festival, where Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are heading, is an orchestral showcase, in addition to its many spectacular chamber-music events. The month-long festival opened with Claudio Abbado and his Festival Orchestra and will close on Sept. 18 with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.

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 San Francisco Symphony Mahler: <em>Songs With Orchestra</em> San Francisco Symphony’s Mahler Series Shimmers to a Close
August 31, 2010

The great long arc of the San Francisco Symphony’s Mahler Project comes to a gentle, soft landing with Songs With Orchestra, the final CD of an unprecedented undertaking.

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  Rhys Chatham: A Crimson Grail Literally Surrounded by Sound
August 24, 2010

A Crimson Grail was premiered at the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur, after a commission by the city of Paris. Rhys Chatham’s piece consciously makes use of the architecture’s 15-second reverberation time. The musicians surround the audience, creating a live, surround-sound experience. The Paris-based Chatham wrote the piece for a variable number of electric guitarists and bassists (astonishingly, up to 400), plus a single percussionist. The Nonesuch recording captures the work’s Lincoln Center performance.

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 Merola Opera Program  Merola Finale: ‘Tonight We Sing’
August 21, 2010

Among my umpteen Merola Program closing concerts — all memorable in various ways — Saturday’s was one of the most enjoyable. Programmed, directed, and performed with care and effectiveness, this was what opera doesn’t always manage to be: delightful entertainment.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts  Estamos Ensemble: Improvise. Enjoy. Repeat.
August 19, 2010

A truly exciting new ensemble made its way to San Francisco Thursday for a local debut, and, hopefully, the first of many visits. The Estamos Ensemble, a collective of musicians from Mexico and the U.S., offered a potent program of chamber improvisation, with nine works, all of them premieres by Mexican and American composers.

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  So Percussion, Matmos: <em>Treasure State</em> Let the Sonic Games Begin
August 17, 2010

Ancient and modern music techniques collide in Treasure State, a collaboration between So Percussion and Matmos. True collaborations can be tricky; new musical concepts can sometimes seem more like medicine than entertainment. But, these guys seem to be having fun entertaining each other, and the feeling is infectious.

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  Imani Winds: Terra Incognita Imani Winds: Straight Across Borders
August 17, 2010

Imani Winds has me confused. Its latest CD, Terra Incognita, reflects its preference for new music that pushes boundaries. But while the jazz composers it has commissioned — Jason Moran, Wayne Shorter, and one of its favorites, Paquito D’Rivera — most definitely write new music that crosses the line between jazz and classical, the Imanis for the most part play it straight.

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Festival REVIEW
 Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music  Cabrillo Does Eternity at the Mission
August 15, 2010

Ah! The Cabrillo Festival finale: “To hear infinity in the Mission San Juan Bautista and eternity in 97 minutes” — such was the hope implied by its “in aeternam” moniker.

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