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!
It is fitting that San Francisco Opera's new production of Iphigénie en Tauride (Iphigenia in Tauris) feels extremely contemporary. Indeed, Gluck's work, which premiered in 1779, would have sounded revolutionary in its time. Christoph Willibald Gluck set out to reform opera, starting in 1762 with Orfeo ed Euridice, in order to strip it of all the complexities and decorations that he felt were unnecessary.
Sergei Prokofiev is the modernist composer for people who don't like modernist composers. There's plenty of time to contemplate this phenomenon in the San Francisco Symphony's Prokofiev Festival that began last Thursday and runs through this weekend. An article by James M. Keller in the Symphony's program book documents his extraordinary popularity among 20th century composers in the symphonic repertoire, ahead even of Igor Stravinsky.
Three lesser-known works of Sergei Prokofiev were featured on Saturday's concert of the San Francisco Symphony's festival program in Davies Symphony Hall. After a lightweight icebreaker, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas launched into two of Prokofiev's largest, most demanding orchestral compositions, abetted by pianist Vladimir Feltsman. The final result drove the large audience into something close to frenzy, and with good cause. As a display of sheer virtuosity, there's little that could top it.
In what could be considered a case of premature delivery, Oakland Opera Theater attempted a first last week. Although the diminutive company has garnered an enviable reputation for staging intriguing multimedia productions of original or rarely performed contemporary works in the too-funky-for-comfort Oakland Metro Opera House, it has never before, to my knowledge, produced a short evening consisting entirely of snippets from works in progress.
The star in the San Francisco Opera's summer run of Der Rosenkavalier, which opened Saturday, is Richard Strauss' music; higher praise is difficult to come by. Under Donald Runnicles' direction, the orchestra played marvelously the complex, interwoven layers of music that constitute this nearly century-old score, which has lost none of its modernity and power.
After you’ve written a world-class masterpiece, what comes next? Thanks to the Berkeley Edge Festival, Cal Performances' third showcase for contemporary music, fans were given two concerts to evaluate the case of Frederic Rzewski (pronounced ZHEF-ski), who was born in Westfield, Mass., in 1938.
Most summer music festivals program only the tried and true. But not Cal Performances’ Berkeley Edge Festival, which offered three programs in its third biennial festival June 7-10, featuring two composers — Frederic Rzewski and Paul Dresher — in two venues on UC Berkeley’s night-jasmine-scented campus. Rzewski was represented at Hertz Hall on the June 8 concert I attended, and also on June 10, both of which Jeff Dunn covered for San Francisco Classical Voice (see his review in this issue).
An ensemble as well-established and famous as Chanticleer is likely to inspire imitators. Its sound, which was once unique, has spawned countless men's a cappella choral groups around the country. Friday evening's Clerestory concert, however, proved that this group is not an imitator of the Chanticleer style but rather a champion of it. The depth and beauty of Clerestory's final presentation of its inaugural season established the group as one to watch in years to come.
On Thursday night at Davies Hall, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony took a huge and potentially unwieldy work, Mahler's Symphony No. 7, and graced it with a heady and absorbing performance. Tilson Thomas’s interpretation wove together thoughtful pacing, a keen sense of the music’s multilayered foreground and background, an unerring sense of line, and an emotional and architectural understanding of the work to move the music continually forward.
Aiding and encouraging young careers is the noble cause behind the Irving M. Klein International String Competition, which held the finals of its 22nd competition Sunday afternoon at San Francisco State University. Three talented musicians each played a full virtuoso concerto, supported by the Marin Symphony under conductor Alasdair Neale. Considering the amount of sheer hard work that goes into building such musicianship, it amounted to a serious retort to the naysayers who claim that classical music is dead.