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!
Audiences jumped to their feet for standing ovations after performances by the Philharmonia on both Sunday and Monday at Davies Symphony Hall, presented by the San Francisco Symphony. The venerable orchestra was in town for a set of concerts under Christoph von Dohnányi, the ensemble's principal conductor. Consistently rated as one of the top 10 orchestras of Europe, the Philharmonia delivered impeccable intonation, phrasing, dynamics, and virtuosity, just as it has done on countless recordings. But therein lay the problem.
Last December, Kent Nagano and Stuart Canin unveiled the Berkeley Akademie Ensemble, a project designed to cultivate "explorations of style" and "develop ensemble technical skills" (as the organization describes its goals). Thursday marked the Akademie's second concert, held in Berkeley's First Congregational Church.
Felicity reigned Thursday night at Herbst Theatre as San Francisco Performances presented a concert by two superb musicians, soprano Felicity Lott and pianist Graham Johnson. The program, German in the first half and mainly French in the second, grouped songs according to the lyrics: settings of particular poets. The German songs started with settings by Gustav Mahler of poetry by Rückert, and ended with poems by Goethe set by Hugo Wolf. In between, a group of songs by Robert Schumann used poems by both poets.
Another huge feather — Cyrano's famed plume, even — in Berkeley Opera's tiny cap, the double-bill of Béla Bartók's 1918 A Kékszakállú Herceg Vára (Bluebeard's Castle) and Maurice Ravel's 1925 L'Enfant et les sortilèges (The child and the magic spells) opened Saturday night at the Julia Morgan Theatre with a fabulous production and some kind of prestidigitation.
What is all the fuss about Mason Bates? The 31-year-old DJ cum classical and electronica composer, whose works have been championed by his teacher, John Corigliano, has received both a Rome Prize and an American Academy in Berlin Prize. Even before the San Francisco Symphony followed the lead of at least eight other orchestras and awarded him a commission for next season, the California Symphony, which has an enviable track record of championing young composers and artists who go on to major careers, had selected him as its 2007-2010 Young American Composer in Residence.
The San Francisco Opera premiere of Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince was a great success Friday night at Zellerbach Hall. Anyone who has seen the drawings in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella, Le Petit Prince, will immediately recognize it as the inspiration for Francesca Zambello’s whimsical production, jointly presentated by San Francisco Opera and Cal Performances, and conducted by Sara Jobin. The action takes place on a stage of gold and azure framed by a circular frontispiece out of which appear stars, lamps, baobabs, and water, just to name a few.
An entire program's worth of Haydn is not something the San Francisco Symphony is apt to serve up every year, so thanks are due up front to guest conductor Bernard Labadie for Friday night's generous helping. The program, which also featured the Symphony Chorus and an excellent quartet of vocal soloists, had a martial theme, bringing together the Missa in tempore belli (Mass in time of war) of 1796 and the “Military” Symphony (No. 100) of 1794, with Haydn's second, late setting of the Te Deum as opener.