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!


Archive Review
October 7, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
September 30, 2008

Chanticleer celebrates several musical milestones this fall. The men's chorus' opening program of the season, titled "Wondrous Free," honors the 250th anniversary of America's earliest surviving secular composition, Frances Hopkinson's My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free. The concert program, heard last Thursday, was a marvelous gambol through five centuries of the repertoire Chanticleer so frequently champions, choral music of the Americas.

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Archive Review
September 30, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
September 30, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
September 30, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
September 30, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
September 30, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
September 30, 2008

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.

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Archive Review
September 30, 2008

If you only know Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die tote Stadt (The dead city) from its unforgettably haunting duet, "Gluck, das mir verblieb" (Joy, sent from above), prepare to be stunned. That gorgeous melody, sometimes referred to as "Marietta's lied," is one of the few moments of lyrical repose in an otherwise astoundingly lush, powerhouse score in which protagonists and orchestra vie for first place in both volume and impact.

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Archive Review
September 23, 2008

Schola Cantorum San Francisco, having lost its founding director John Renke to retirement, is fortunate to have in Paul Flight an able successor. Friday night's concert in St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkeley, well programmed and beautifully sung, featured English music from the time of Henry VIII. Said Henry, he of the many wives, turns out to have been not only a strong patron of the arts — especially music — but an able musician and composer himself.

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