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!
One of the Bay Area’s most remarkable musical partnerships marked its ending on Thursday night at Zellerbach Hall. After 30 years of shared artistic growth, the Berkeley Symphony offered its final concert with Kent Nagano at the helm as music director. With the rest of the orchestra’s season given over to guest conductors auditioning for the job, this was Nagano’s final bow in the role, though he’ll be back to lead the orchestra’s new Berkeley Akademie chamber concerts next spring.
On paper, last week's San Francisco Symphony program honoring Leonard Bernstein looked like a hopeless mishmash. But no, it turned out to be a triumphal success that had been brilliantly planned. Of course, that it was honoring "Bernstein I" and conducted by what amounts to "Bernstein II," Michael Tilson Thomas, didn't hurt. But who knew the man could sing and conduct at the same time?
If you had been in the audience for Saturday's Michael Tilson Thomas–led San Francisco Symphony concert, and had opened the printed program at random, more likely than not you would have hit the page of bios for the soloists in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which are just at the midpoint of the booklet. You might, on the other hand, have landed a few pages further on, with your eye lighting on the bolded phrase "abnormal thoughts and behavior." Part of the Ninth's program note? No, silly; that's the four-page bound-in pharmaceutical circular for Ambien© and AmbienCR©.
The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra opened its 28th season in an amorous frame of mind last weekend in Berkeley. Instead of one of the large-scale Handel oratorios that have traditionally launched the early music ensemble's seasons in past years, Music Director Nicholas McGegan conducted a double bill of beguiling 18th-century works composed for the stage, each depicting the pleasures (and folly) of love. The results were aptly seductive.
The New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO), with its inspired choice of Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg as its music director, has remade itself in such a way that its biggest problem is one that most musical organizations would be envious to have: too many syllables. The quality of performance is so high, the audience so engaged, the program so engaging within its class, and the charisma so omnipresent that now the only remaining barriers to national celebrity lie in the marketing arena.
Welcome to the Angela Gheorghiu Show! I make three costume changes, one of which leaves precious little to the imagination. To complete the spectacle, I present two radically different hairdos designed to set off my runway model figure and beautiful countenance. And for this special occasion, the entire San Francisco Opera Orchestra accompanies me, conducted by Marco Armiliato.
It was a hot and sticky night, and the gut strings weren't staying where they were supposed to. "With luck, there'll be more music than tuning on this concert," quipped violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock after an opening couple of minutes' struggle with her instrument's pegbox.
San Francisco Opera launched its 2008-2009 season on Friday with a comparative rarity, Verdi's great opera of reunion and reconciliation, Simon Boccanegra, using the revised version of 1881. This revival, led by outgoing Music Director Donald Runnicles, is blessed with a much better cast than that of the 2001 production.
A large, enthusiastic crowd greeted the season opener of the Conservatory Orchestra in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Saturday evening in the school's concert hall. Conductor Andrew Mogrelia built his program around new or relatively new music by two of the Conservatory's resident composer-teachers, Elinor Armer and Conrad Susa. Four highly varied orchestral experiences ensued, aided by no fewer than nine soloists.