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!
Handel's Italian operas live through great singing, more so than many of their bel canto brethren. The subject matter and sensibility of their stories can seem foreign to us, and the arias are founded on emotions and metaphors that recur in every one of the operas.
The Thomashefskys are back. Michael Tilson Thomas' grandparents, stars of the New York theater scene from the 1880s until well into the 20th century, have been lovingly brought back to life in "The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater." Thomas is the host of this entertainment, and Friday night in Davies Symphony Hall he told their story, conducted the San Francisco Symphony and the audience, accompanied his grandmother on the piano, and even sang a rousing song himself.
On Friday evening, Old First Church featured the local debut of America’s newest chamber group devoted to promoting new music, New York’s Redshift quintet. The ensemble is especially idealistic in that it avoids big-name composers in favor of up-and-coming hopefuls. And this, while setting forth those intentions enthusiastically for every piece in sight: hook, line, and stinkers.
The New Century Chamber Orchestra's next season will see the orchestra with a regular music director again, in the person of the newly hired Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Still, the ensemble's two-year run of guest-directed concerts, a running adventure that has resulted in far more hits than misses, is ending on a high note.
On Sunday night, the ODC Dance Commons in San Francisco's Mission District was full of classical music's most coveted demographic — young people in their 20s and 30s. They had gathered to attend sfSoundSeries' latest installment of improvisation and new composition, including works by John Cage, Bruno Ruviaro, and Kaija Saariaho, with improvisations featuring guest saxophonist John Butcher.
For a new music fan, Southern California’s Ojai Festival is about as close to nirvana as it gets. For 62 years now, this little artsy town in the hills near Santa Barbara has been bringing contemporary music to the outdoor Libbey Bowl, an acoustic shell in a sylvan park setting as idyllic as the music can be challenging. Stravinsky, Copland, Boulez, MTT (many times) … a good number of the 20th century’s most acclaimed musical creators and interpreters have directed the four-day extravaganza.
On Friday night, the San Francisco Symphony offered up a unique program as part of its 6.5 series: a chance to observe three of the Symphony’s staff conductors — Benjamin Shwartz, Ragnar Bohlin, and James Gaffigan — conducting back to back. At the start of the evening, Shwartz, the orchestra’s resident conductor and director of the SFS Youth Orchestra, jokingly dubbed the program a “tag team” concert. But while there were many instances of high-level musicmaking over the course of the evening, the team was occasionally on different pages of the playbook.
I would have liked to see Davitt Moroney's reaction when it dawned on him precisely what that dusty box of partbooks in the Bibliothèque Nationale contained. As the picture gradually came into focus that this was Alessandro Striggio's long-lost 40- to 60-part Missa sopra "Ecco sì beato giorno," it could not have taken him long to realize that his find would soon generate a buzz in the international music world of unequaled magnitude.