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!
My Russian grandmother and the daughter she taught the songs she knew (my mother), both long since gone, would have been unable to keep from dancing in the aisles and cheering at Dmitri Hvorostovsky's Cal Performances concert at Zellerbach Hall Sunday afternoon.
To some, John Cage is a joy guide, a trickster, a brilliant confounder of established expectations. To others he is a constantly vexing presence: an incontrovertibly original iconoclast who changed the course of modern composition by giving artists permission to do any one of a number of things at any given time. Thanks (or no thanks, as the case may be) to Cage, artists now feel free to create vastly different-sounding performances from the same score — sometimes harmonious, sometimes impossibly jarring — and call the disparate results music.
A substantial crowd filled St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkeley on Friday for the opening of Volti's 29th season. The concert, titled "Adventures in Life, Love, and Longing," presented recent works (the oldest of which was written in 1987) by six living composers, many of whom were in attendance at the performance. Four works were premieres. The evening was a pleasant reminder that the Bay Area is rich in ensembles promoting new music, and that Volti takes its place as one of the most accomplished of these ensembles.
At one time, Italian music meant throbbing voices soaring unashamedly through ornate melodies, propelled by the pulsating oom-pah-pah of an orchestra masquerading as a massive guitar. In its latest concert, last Monday at the Green Room of San Francisco’s Veterans War Memorial, the Left Coast Ensemble took stock of recent Italian music. The results could not have been further from the distinctively tuneful opulence of Bellini and Verdi. Yet somehow the pulse is still thriving.
It makes a neat, string-quartet Rorschach test. You've just played all three Brahms quartets at a single sitting. Quick: What do you do for an encore? A conventionally minded, reasonably sane quartet would pick something light and attractive from around the same time — the finale of Dvořák’s "American" Quartet, say, or a transcription of one of the Brahms Hungarian Dances. A more offbeat one might go for something goofy from farther afield (the polka from Shostakovich's Age of Gold?), or something counterintuitively slow and sustained (Puccini's Crisantemi?
Edward Villella was new to the New York City Ballet when Igor Stravinsky and George Balanchine were in the studio with the dancers, making Agon. It was 1957. "Neither of them talked much to us — it wasn't what they did,” Villella said Sunday, after Miami City Ballet, where he's artistic director, ended its visit to Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall. “They just rolled up their sleeves, and the energy permeated the room. They had such a deep regard and respect for each other."
Mark-André Hamelin’s appearances have become a regular feature in San Francisco’s concert life. Moreover, it seems that the Canadian-born, Philadelphia-based pianist is building some continuity into his San Francisco concert series. Last year’s winning encore (four pieces from Debussy’s second book of Preludes) became the glorious second half of the program presented by San Francisco Performances last Tuesday at Herbst Theatre.
Gluck's masterpiece, Iphigénie en Tauride, is getting the production it deserves. Seen at the Seattle Opera on Friday, in the next to last performance of its run before going to the Metropolitan Opera next month (with Susan Graham, Placido Domingo, and Paul Groves), this was an exemplar of how to revive a masterwork with integrity.
When Philippe Jordan conducted the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra at the Proms in London last year, a critic wrote that Jordan and his ensemble could "whip up musical Viagra." With all that testosterone, the Swiss conductor seemed certainly capable of striding effortlessly to the summits of Richard Strauss' gargantuan Eine Alpensinfonie at Davies Symphony Hall Friday, and he did so admirably. Even more commendable, however, was his reinvigoration of a warhorse brought in from pasture after 15 years, Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture.