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!
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.
It was a very San Francisco affair. This is, after all, an area where no urban sophisticate blinks an eye when a photo of three leather-clad, motorcycle-mounting Barbies graces the cover of The San Francisco Chronicle's Pink Section. We in the know can routinely combine acupuncture with surgery, homeopathy with Prozac, and adorn our altars with pictures of the Buddha alongside a menorah, crystals, and statues of St. Francis, the Virgin Mary, and Quan Yin.
The Midsummer Mozart Festival's first foray into opera, a production of The Abduction from the Seraglio at San Jose's California Theater, was highly successful in most respects. The singers ranged from capable to excellent, with one standout. The orchestra, under George Cleve, was in fine form, and the production, though billed as semistaged, was brilliantly directed and full of comic verve. The only big mistake came on the administrative/ managerial end.
War, violence, revenge, and parent-child relationships are evergreen subjects found at the heart of important operas from the earliest days of the form. Adriana Mater, the luminous, intimate, disturbing opera from composer Kaija Saariaho and librettist Amin Maalouf, treats these subjects with greater subtlety, complexity, and maturity than almost any other opera.
Santa Fe Opera is presenting its first Billy Budd this season. The company, which was founded just five years after Benjamin Britten premiered the first version of the opera in 1951, waited an inexplicable five decades to stage this haunting 20th-century masterpiece. Yet the new production by Paul Curran (seen Friday), which features superb music direction by Edo de Waart and a vibrant cast headed by Teddy Tahu Rhodes in the title role, makes it worth the wait.
The didactic imperative runs deep, if gentle, at [email protected]. Every season and indeed every program boasts a design, one calculated to make the audience hear anew, or differently, or both. But throw a roster of musicians of the [email protected] caliber together on programs, and the lessons you planned for your listeners might not be the only ones they learn.
The best thing about the Carmel Bach Festival, besides that it's in Carmel, is that, as Calvin used to say to Hobbes, "The days are just packed." Except that, unlike Calvin's day, one at the festival really is packed. In 11 hours in town last Thursday, I attended two concerts, a preconcert lecture, a Q & A session, and a vocal master class, leaving time for a two-hour dinner break. Walking briskly between venues four or five blocks apart is good exercise.
Last Thursday’s San Francisco Symphony’s Summer in the City concert in Davies Symphony Hall turned into a light, but charming array of basic French fare, as conductor James Gaffigan went from opera excerpts to Ravel’s bitter take on the Viennese Waltz. The largest piece, however, turned out to feature pianist Inon Barnatan playing Saint-Saëns’ most popular Concerto, his second.