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!
Not many musical works present a moral/political position with the power and persuasiveness of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. Advocating the composer's nearly lifelong commitment to pacifism, the work was given a stirring performance by the San Francisco Choral Society on Friday at Davies Symphony Hall. The large chorus shared the stage with a strong group of soloists and a well-rehearsed pick-up orchestra, as well as the Piedmont Boys and Girls Choir, all under the baton of Artistic Director Robert Geary.
In the world of fine cello soloists, Matt Haimovitz has to be a leading adventurer. There he was at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music Sunday night in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, performing a solo recital of prodigiously challenging pieces that many of his colleagues may never have heard of. And performing them with flair and passion as if this were core repertory.
Last week was “The Romantic Generation” week at [email protected], and by the Romantic generation they mean Middle European Romantics. The music on the main concert program, which I heard on Monday at St. Mark’s Church in Palo Alto, was by Johannes Brahms and the two greatest of his close associates, Robert Schumann and Antonín Dvořák, with a slight ringer in the form of a small contribution from Hugo Wolf.
Early Sunday morning, a visitor to Atherton's Menlo School might have seen a smallish crowd of eager-looking people congregating around the steps of Stent Family Hall. A number of these folks might further be seen to be carrying copies of a small, bright-red, hardbound volume. The hymnal of an esoteric sect? The Sayings of Chairman Mao? No, silly, the Boosey & Hawkes score of the complete Bartók string quartets.
[email protected]'s survey of music history arrived triumphantly at 20th Century Unlimited over the weekend. Program IV, "The Rise of Modernism," shone with rousing performances of Debussy, Stravinsky, Gruenberg, Ives, Britten, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. The sold-out house in St. Mark's Episcopal Church was hot not only in the wake of an unusual 90-degree day in Palo Alto, but also from the heat of creative juices flowing freely all evening long.
Some things in life are perfect and should never change. For me they are the first whiff of fall, the creamy bite of chocolate cake, the zing of a great wine — and watching the Lamplighters Music Theatre perform Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, especially as it was viewed Friday night at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.
Whatever work that Music Director Marin Alsop decides to program at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, you know it will at least be interesting and intellectually provocative. Whether it's beautiful or ultimately satisfying is more subjective, but I found Saturday's "Triple Play" concert fairly successful on those counts, as well. The musicians, under Alsop's confident direction, sounded articulately and passionately committed to the music.
Abstract, intimidating, unintelligible: These are words I often hear used to describe new music. People who use them might assume that every new-music festival is chock-full of serious, difficult sounds that can daunt even trained musicians, not to mention the musically uninitiated.
The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music opened Friday night with its familiar sense of community and relaxed warmth much in evidence. There is a homey feel to it, with the high school gym ambience of the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, the composer comments before each piece, and many audience members who have attended for decades.
You can hardly have more fun than by stumbling across quality music you didn't even know existed. Pianist Gary Graffman certainly provided a rich panoply of that Thursday in Palo Alto's St. Mark's Episcopal Church, via his recital titled "For the Left Hand." The event was presented as part of the important [email protected] Festival, to a packed and roaring audience. Their reactions were such that you might have thought you were at a rock concert.