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!
Ever since Beethoven raised the genre of symphony to the pinnacle of achievement in Western art music, there have been composers whose efforts to write symphonies have been left incomplete. Something about the task was just too daunting for them. But finished works have been made out of these pieces, one way or another, and the Russian National Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski played two of these works at Davies Symphony Hall last Thursday, on the San Francisco Symphony's Great Performers series.
At opposite sides of the Bay over the weekend, two productions of Giselle highlighted two ballerinas who are, in effect, at opposite ends of their careers. Nina Ananiashvili, artistic director of the State Ballet of Georgia and in her 40s, danced the title role Saturday night during the troupe's Cal Performances engagement at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall.
It is hard to imagine a musical repertory of more astonishing refinement than the one cultivated at the 15th-century Burgundian courts of Philip the Good and his successor, Charles the Bold. These courts were home to the most esteemed composers of the century, a roster that included among its many members Guillaume Dufay, Binchois, Hayne van Ghizeghem, Nicolas Grenon, Robert Morton, and Jean Molinet.
An enthusiastic crowd packed Berkeley’s MusicSources Friday night to witness the U.S. debut of French harpsichordist Benjamin Alard. The buzz in Berkeley was no surprise, reflective of the enthusiasm Alard has engendered since winning first prize at the 2004 Bruges harpsichord competition when he was only 19 years old. This Belgian competition is the world's most prestigious contest for early-music soloists, and many of its winners have gone on to important international careers.
The classics are invading Berkeley's venerable folk-music coffeehouse, the Freight and Salvage. It started with one harmless Monday night per month. But on Feb. 12, the Freight added a second classical show for leap month: Solo Bach Night.
Where will it all end? Folkies singing Kumbaya and labor hymns in plaid workshirts, top hats, and tails?
Although Yuja Wang's recital program Sunday at Herbst Theatre was not the longest I have heard, it was definitely one of the more technically demanding and emotionally intense. The 20-year-old virtuoso played three sonatas in a row: Liszt’s monumental B minor; Scriabin’s Sonata-Fantasia, Op. 19; and Bartók’s Sonata from 1926.
In the mid-1980s, when period-instrument bands began venturing out of the Baroque into music of first the late 18th and then the early 19th centuries, many had names at embarrassing variance with the sort of music they were playing. Some of them adopted different names depending on the repertoire on a given program, or reinvented themselves de novo under less period-specific monikers (the English Baroque Soloists renamed itself the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, for example). Some, like the Bay Area's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, simply shrugged off the mismatch.
As Bang on a Can approaches its 20th anniversary, the group's founders — composers Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe — can rightly rejoice that their creation has become a major presence in the new-music scene.
Dedicated to "commissioning, performing, creating, presenting, and recording contemporary music" (that's what the official bio says), the organization has expanded to encompass the annual Bang on a Can Marathon, People's Commissioning Fund, Bang on a Can All-Stars touring ensemble, the group's Summer Music Festival and Institute, various cross-disciplinary collaborations,
An ominous postcard greeted San Francisco Symphony subscribers a month ago. Upstart visiting conductor Ingo Metzmacher was abandoning all semblance of 19th-century comfort, and would drop an Antonín Dvořák symphony in favor of one by Dmitri Shostakovich, and thus forge, along with music by György Ligeti and Béla Bartók, a "triple threat" program consisting solely of works written after the beginning of World War II.