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!
Long before composer Philip Glass' latest bevy of fans alighted on Planet Earth, scores of people filled Radio City Music Hall to witness the 1982 premiere of Godfrey Reggio's multiple award-winning film, Koyaanisqatsi. There, the brilliant mating of increasingly frenetic, hellish images with Glass' constantly accelerating, intentionally maddening repetitions provided a visceral experience of life out of balance.
The American Bach Soloists began, 20 years ago, as an ensemble formed by tenor and conductor Jeffrey Thomas specifically to perform the Bach choral/vocal works. If the group branched out rather rapidly in other directions (including, most famously, a Beethoven Ninth Symphony at the 1994 Berkeley Early Music Festival, recorded live and subsequently issued on CD), still it has tended not to stray far from home in more than one direction at once.
Il trovatore isn’t Verdi’s most popular or frequently performed work, but for many opera lovers (this reviewer included) it’s always been impossible to resist. With its distinctive tinta, vigorous orchestral score, and blend of seething passions — for love, revenge, and a dark assortment of cruel punishments — it’s easy to see why this opera often emerges as the Verdi aficionado’s melodrama of choice. In an ideal setting, it can burn with intensity like no other.
Five of the Bay Area's many inventive musical experimentalists were on display last Friday at the Royce Gallery in San Francisco, in the initial installment of Pamela Z's summer chamber music series called "room." This first of four concerts, to be given every other Friday through July and August, was titled "Batterie!" and featured performers who all made use of percussion in some way.
There are always questions when small opera companies take on large works. Will a pared-down ensemble achieve the same effects of a full orchestra? Will the singers manage roles written for bigger voices? Will it work? In Berkeley Opera’s case, the answer to these questions is usually a resounding yes. Saturday night’s performance of Puccini’s Tosca, the final opera in Berkeley’s season, proved to be no exception. It runs through July 20 at the Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley.
For his 50th birthday celebration Friday night, pianist Daniel Glover presented his Old First Church audience with a recital split right down the middle. His first half featured works of overly ripe Russian Romanticism, heavy on flashy piano writing but music of questionable worth. His second half, however, was devoted to dazzling performances of major, not hackneyed Liszt repertoire, plus one gentle encore.
Robert Schumann holds a special place in the repertoire of a young and talented pair of musicians, pianist Hillary Nordwell and violinist Monika Gruber, who call themselves the Eusebius Duo. Therein lies a tale: Schumann gave names to the two polar sides of his personality and used them when moonlighting as a critic or even when signing movements in his compositions, "Eusebius" being the introverted, and even depressive, side.
When it comes to programming, most July 4th concerts trumpet the opposite of what the holiday celebrates. These "Dependence Day" concerts are slaves to tradition, and always include one or more of a small number of pieces supposedly defining the genre.
Ernest Bloch has an important part in the history of music in San Francisco. The Swiss-born composer was director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music when he was commissioned in 1929 by Temple Emanu-El to write a major choral-orchestral work based on Reform Jewish liturgy. After several years of gestation, and then further delays and some performances elsewhere, Sacred Service (Avodath Hakodesh) finally received its local premiere in Emanu-El's sanctuary in March 1938.
Last weekend saw one of the most unusual events of the piano world, in San Francisco. This was the second Milton and Peggy Salkind International Piano Duo Festival. The three-day festival at the San Francisco Conservatory was packed with five programs devoted to unusual as well as standard works for two pianos, piano duos, and a variety of music for chamber combinations. Then too, there was the strangest looking piano I've ever seen: a double piano invented by Germany's distinguished Grotrian piano company.