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!
I had to pinch myself. Nearly 200 schoolchildren at a string quartet concert listening to Bartók, and they're quieter than an equal number of old fogies like myself? Am I dreaming? Or did the Cypress String Quartet do mass hypnosis at the 19 schools it visited in the last three weeks before coming here to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts? But no child was sleeping, and the many I asked after the concert said they liked all three pieces on the program, two of which, the Bartók Sixth Quartet and a new work by Kurt Rohde, are hard nuts to crack.
Four composers were seated onstage Thursday at the outset of the Other Minds Festival in Kanbar Hall of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. German cellist, composer, and inventor Michael Bach was dressed in simple concert black. Next to him, in a spiffy pinstripe suit with matching shoes, white silk tie, folded breast pocket handkerchief, and silvery rings for each finger was the Scandinavian composer Åke Parmerud. Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith, an African-American trumpeter, with dreadlocks and graying beard, appeared in a rugged tan work jacket.
Charles Amirkhanian, artistic director, Other Minds Festival: "How important is it for you to write something that’s never been heard before?"
Keeril Makan, assistant professor of music, MIT: "Nothing’s been heard before."
To this reviewer, however, everything at the third and final concert of the 13th Other Minds Festival at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Saturday has been heard before, and was heard again and again, sometimes with pleasure, sometimes ad nauseam.
Minimalist procedures from the 1960s and
The Stravinsky Project, sponsored by Stanford Lively Arts and held at Dinkelspiel Auditorium and other campus venues, is a program designed by the noted music writer Joseph Horowitz, author of several books, including the recent Artists in Exile, a study of European refugees in America in the 1940s.
Two masterpieces graced Thursday's program of the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, aided and abetted by violinist Gil Shaham. Only two works were on offer, but that was enough to provoke the audience to standing ovations. And, for a change, those reactions were no exaggeration.
Davis Symphony Hall resounded with the sound of William Schuman's big, bravura Violin Concerto (1947-59), and, following intermission, Beethoven's even larger, bravura Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55, the "Eroica" (1802-1804).
In his poem "The Soup," U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic concocted a mordant, macabre "soup of the world." Cockroaches, dirty feet, Stalin's moustache, Hiroshima, and bloody sausages number among the incendiary images in the poem. Can you even dare imagine musical analogs for them?
With Easter just around the corner, the timing seems about right for a performance of a passion by J.S. Bach, one of the genre’s great masters. But while Bach’s St. Matthew Passion might spring immediately to mind, the San Francisco Bach Choir opted for the shorter, less grandiose Johannes-Passion.
It's hard to dislike the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra's stated mission of "bring[ing] the immediacy and intimacy of music for small orchestra and chamber ensemble to audiences of all ages." It's even harder to dislike its motto of "fresh, fun, first-class, and free" — talk that they walk by presenting professional-caliber concerts at an admission charge of $0. Listeners are simply invited to become paying members. The rewards include preferred seating, and the inherent satisfaction of underwriting a great operation.