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!
Used to be that the mention of bluegrass conjured up thoughts of a throng of senior citizens sitting in folding armchairs listening to foot-stomping, string-twanging folk music. The mention of Bach conjured up a dark church and powdered wigs. But Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile's Bluegrass and Bach concert, presented by San Francisco Performances, was not your Grandpa's bluegrass, nor was it your Grandma's Bach. It was a unique creation full of casual wit and quirky charm.
Mark Morris has said that one of the things he finds puzzling about Romeo and Juliet ballets is that when the couple awakens after their night of nuptial passion, Juliet's still wearing toe shoes. When modern choreographers snipe at toe shoes, they're drawing distinctions between ballet's contrivances and modern dance's lack thereof. With Romeo and Juliet, On Motifs of Shakespeare — copresented last weekend by Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall — Morris clearly wanted to bring R&J down to earth.
Once a year or so, it's well to remember what we really owe the San Francisco Early Music Society. These aren't the early days of the early music movement, when “mainstream” presenters were leery of this faddish, old-instruments business, and it took the grassroots efforts of devotees to organize concerts by top-flight visiting “early musicians.” And the likes of Philharmonia Baroque, Chanticleer, Magnificat, and the American Bach Soloists are familiar institutions in their own right.
The California Theater looked sparkling and effervescent both inside and out on the opening night of Symphony Silicon Valley's 2008-2009 season. The program, "Dances at an Opening," featured three multimovement dance-inspired and dance-related works by Alberto Ginastera, Duke Ellington, and Sergei Prokofiev. The theater, with its Gothic facade and Jazz Age marquee and decor, provided a charmed contrast from the gray concrete of downtown San Jose.
In its three years of existence, the Escher String Quartet has built a reputation as a highly intellectual ensemble of mechanical perfection but one that, at its worst, plays aridly without genuine emotion. However accurate that portrait may be, the quartet indulged that reputation when selecting the program for its concert on Sunday at Le Petit Trianon, in the San Jose Chamber Music Society concert series. All four works feature a fugue, that famously intellectually arid compositional form, in their finales.
Saturday night's concert by San Francisco's full-range men's vocal ensemble Clerestory witnessed a rare occurrence in the world of concert music — a set of new works by local composers that were both the strongest pieces on the program and the best received by the audience. Usually, recitals of this kind try to dispense with such necessarily distasteful business of new music by getting the token new overture over quickly before attending to the meatier material at hand.
Spanish guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas, winner of the gold medal at the inaugural Christopher Parkening International Guitar Competition, gave an exhilarating San Francisco debut recital Saturday at the Veterans Building's Green Room. He stirred an enthusiastic audience with passionate Romantic interpretations, bravura technique, and an unusually wide dynamic range at the first concert of the Omni Foundation's Dynamite Guitars series.