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!


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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Chamber Music REVIEW
  San Francisco Chamber Music Series From the “Simple” to the Sublime
January 17, 2010

The San Francisco Symphony Chamber Music concert on Sunday marked George Benjamin’s third and last appearance as the Phyllis C. Wattis Composer in Residence. He was represented on the program by two works, Viola, Viola; and Piano Figures. Both are superb additions to their respective repertories. (See SFCV’s recent feature on the composer.)

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Voices of Music  The Baroque Oboe, in Spades
January 16, 2010

Voices of Music is one of those rare ensembles built from the bottom up: Founders and Codirectors David Tayler (lutes) and Hanneke van Proosdij (harpsichord) make up the bones of a continuo team that supports anything from solo singers or instrumentalists to a small orchestra. On Saturday at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco, Tayler, van Proosdij, and cellist/gambist William Skeen were the backup band, as it were, to oboist Gonzalo Ruiz.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra REVIEW
 San Francisco Symphony  Ringed by the Imaginative George Benjamin
January 14, 2010

It’s always fascinating to hear where composers are coming from, as well as where they’re going. This week’s San Francisco Symphony program offered an intriguing case in point: As part of George Benjamin’s current residency with the orchestra, the English composer appeared on the podium to conduct two of his own works — one early and one recent — as well as music by two of his primary influences, Messiaen and Ravel.

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Recital REVIEW
 San Francisco Performances  Nathan Gunn, Out of the Comfort Zone
January 12, 2010

The exceptionally fine baritone Nathan Gunn was at Herbst Theatre last Tuesday, where he tackled Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin (The fair maid of the mill) in a recital for San Francisco Performances. If Gunn, who was accompanied by his wife, Julie Gunn, failed to score an interpretive touchdown, perhaps it’s because he was unsure where the goalposts were.

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Chamber Music REVIEW
 Del Sol String Quartet  World Tour, For Strings
January 11, 2010

Music composed before 1900 still pays the bills for many chamber groups, but our most adventurous ensembles, following the example of pioneers such as the Kronos Quartet, are increasingly likely to build their programs around works from the 20th and 21st centuries. The Del Sol String Quartet proved the point in a wide-ranging program Monday on the Music at Meyer series.

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