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!
Programming contemporary works with standard repertoire seems tricky: The danger is that the new, unfamiliar piece might easily sound like commentary on the towering masterwork. (Imagine if a writer were forced to publish a novel as a foreword to Joyce’s Ulysses.)
The Takács Quartet favored the Bay Area with fairly regular visits even before our own Geraldine Walther became a member in 2005, but in these last two years we have, gratifyingly, heard a lot of them. Sunday's visit to Berkeley's Hertz Hall, courtesy as usual of the indispensable Cal Performances, was nonetheless a departure.
One thing’s for certain: Alarm Will Sound wants its audience to have a good time. Committed to what the group describes as "innovative performances of today’s music,” the former artists-in-residence at Dickinson College (Carlisle, Penn.) often indulge in a host of choreographed visual effects more associated with rock and pop ensembles than with classical music.
With Thanksgiving a hazy memory, the first few weekends of December arrive with a whiteout blizzard of Christmas concerts from choruses large and small, professional and amateur. The air is still and chill all of a sudden, and you can feel genuine euphoria about town as the sounds of familiar carols deck the halls — even Bing Crosby's White Christmas sounds novel and cheery. Several long weeks later, it will be another, less cheerful story.
One of the most satisfying experiences you can have at a concert consists of being forced to reexamine your own attitude toward a piece of music. I had just such an experience on Friday, at the San Francisco Symphony's performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony. Before heading into Davies Symphony Hall, I was convinced that I knew a great deal about this piece, from having performed it, studied it, read about it, and even taught it.
Avoiding the obvious, the California Bach Society offered a delightfully refreshing program of Christmas music Friday evening in St. Mark's Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Director-scholar Paul Flight chose a program largely devoted to the neglected Baroque master Marc-Antoine Charpentier, plus a few traditional French noëls and brief visits to the music of Hector Berlioz and Antoine Brumel. That, plus the excellence of performances, added up to one of the most delightful programs of Christmas music in my memory.
Concerts full of 20th-century music are not always appealing to audiences. And when concerts are unappealing, they risk being unappreciated, if not avoided. Similarly, if recital spaces as modest as local churches seem unappealing to world-class performers, then such performers might shun performing in them. Such recoiling is dangerous. It can threaten the very existence of concerts.
The Tallis Scholars, 10 singers this year, brought their beautifully matched voices to Grace Cathedral for Sunday's concert, titled "Poetry in Music for the Virgin Mary." At first glance, the choice of a Mass based on a motet text from the Song of Solomon might seem to have little to do with the Virgin Mary.
For a change, a Handel oratorio other than Messiah sounded seasonally sweet at UC Santa Cruz — with an added performance in San Francisco — this past weekend. Jephtha, the composer’s last major work, flowered into a satisfying evening in Nicole Paiement’s first production of the work since she studied it with acclaimed conductor John Elliot Gardiner years ago.