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
February 5, 2008

For the 11th Basically British program Friday evening in Old First Church, the series’ founder, John Parr, chose to honor the memory of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Parr is head of the San Francisco Opera’s music staff, so he invited the young tenor Thomas Glenn, recently of the company’s Adler Fellowship program, to sing. He gathered five string players from the SFO orchestra, some of them veterans of the series, served as pianist himself, and presented a fascinating evening of the great composer’s vocal and instrumental works.

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Archive Review
February 5, 2008

The Berkeley Symphony's Zellerbach Hall season opened last Thursday with Kent Nagano, departing music director, at the helm for his only performance with the full orchestra this year. Nagano's commitment this season is limited to this performance and work with the new Berkeley Akademie chamber/training ensemble, and much of this season’s interest will be in seeing what a series of auditioning guest conductors can do with the orchestra.

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Archive Review
February 5, 2008

Once upon a time, a symphony-goer would regularly find concerts on an orchestra's schedule consisting of an overture, a concerto, and a popular warhorse or two, light programs notable more for their entertainment value than substance. Entertainment is a fine thing, and so are such programs, when they're brought off with sufficient dash and panache.

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Archive Review
February 5, 2008

Chamber Music is alive and well in Mill Valley — even on Super Bowl Sunday. Even during the Super Bowl. Improbable as this may seem, a near-capacity audience eschewed the day’s customary revelries in favor of a highly polished and at times wildly exhilarating performance by the superb Zephyros Winds.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

The Dutch language is closely related to Low German, but for at least the past two centuries the Netherlands' cultural relations have been as close with France as with any other country. (Vincent van Gogh, after all, went to France to paint.) So it's quite appropriate that the first of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's programs at Davies Symphony Hall, performed on Sunday, should consist of French music. And as the Concertgebouw Orchestra is the greatest and most renowned of Dutch ensembles, it chose to play what are perhaps the two greatest and most renowned of French symphonies.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

Predictably, the two versions of Merce Cunningham's eyeSpace seen on consecutive nights of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's engagement at Stanford University last weekend, presented by Stanford Lively Arts, looked so different from each other as to be separate creations. What was less predictable was the difference in their affect, their effect. One of the things, it seems, about Cunningham dance is that for all its still-fresh unorthodoxy — this, after 54 years of the company's existence — it has things to teach us about how we see all dance, all art.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

For tasteful, technically assured virtuosity and highly expressive musicality, you won’t find many toppers to Valentin Surif’s piano recital on Friday evening in San Francisco’s Old First Church. That plus excellent programming made for a special evening for those of us who braved the awful weather to hear him.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

“Was he hitting all the notes?” I asked the highly respected Bay Area pianist who was assiduously following Messiaen’s score in the seat in front of me at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall.
“Hitting all the notes?” he replied with more than a touch of incredulity. “I’m too busy trying to figure out the rhythms!”

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

Early music aficionados across the Bay Area would have been wise to circle American Bach Soloists' January performance of J.S. Bach's Weihnachts-Oratorio (Christmas oratorio) on their calendars. This impressive work, a collection of six cantatas historically designated for performance between Christmas and Epiphany, isn't often mounted outside the month of December.

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Archive Review
January 29, 2008

What do a Stalin-era Russian composer and a contemporary British rock band have in common? That was the intriguing question posed by Christopher O’Riley in a piano recital last Wednesday at Stanford’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium in Palo Alto. Part of the Stanford Lively Arts series, the program consisted solely of preludes and fugues from the Op. 87 cycle by Shostakovich, and O’Riley’s solo piano arrangements of songs by Radiohead.

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