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!


Archive Review
February 19, 2008

The classics are invading Berkeley's venerable folk-music coffeehouse, the Freight and Salvage. It started with one harmless Monday night per month. But on Feb. 12, the Freight added a second classical show for leap month: Solo Bach Night.
Where will it all end? Folkies singing Kumbaya and labor hymns in plaid workshirts, top hats, and tails?

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Archive Review
February 12, 2008

Reputations are funny things. In the classical music world, technical virtuosity can lead to charges of superficiality or emotional coldness. Some listeners, especially opera fans of a particular ilk, prefer guts and heart to good intonation and steady tone. The great Jascha Heifetz had a reputation for playing with more technical perfection than musical soul; today, both Maurizio Pollini and the Emerson String Quartet have sometimes been labeled cold.

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Archive Review
February 12, 2008

Although Yuja Wang's recital program Sunday at Herbst Theatre was not the longest I have heard, it was definitely one of the more technically demanding and emotionally intense. The 20-year-old virtuoso played three sonatas in a row: Liszt’s monumental B minor; Scriabin’s Sonata-Fantasia, Op. 19; and Bartók’s Sonata from 1926.

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Archive Review
February 12, 2008

In the mid-1980s, when period-instrument bands began venturing out of the Baroque into music of first the late 18th and then the early 19th centuries, many had names at embarrassing variance with the sort of music they were playing. Some of them adopted different names depending on the repertoire on a given program, or reinvented themselves de novo under less period-specific monikers (the English Baroque Soloists renamed itself the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, for example). Some, like the Bay Area's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, simply shrugged off the mismatch.

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Archive Review
February 12, 2008

As Bang on a Can approaches its 20th anniversary, the group's founders — composers Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe — can rightly rejoice that their creation has become a major presence in the new-music scene.
Dedicated to "commissioning, performing, creating, presenting, and recording contemporary music" (that's what the official bio says), the organization has expanded to encompass the annual Bang on a Can Marathon, People's Commissioning Fund, Bang on a Can All-Stars touring ensemble, the group's Summer Music Festival and Institute, various cross-disciplinary collaborations,

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Archive Review
February 12, 2008

An ominous postcard greeted San Francisco Symphony subscribers a month ago. Upstart visiting conductor Ingo Metzmacher was abandoning all semblance of 19th-century comfort, and would drop an Antonín Dvořák symphony in favor of one by Dmitri Shostakovich, and thus forge, along with music by György Ligeti and Béla Bartók, a "triple threat" program consisting solely of works written after the beginning of World War II.

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Archive Review
February 12, 2008

There's concert programming as science, programming as art — and programming as pure, primal indulgence. I'm as fond of cleverly constructed, balanced, everything-relates-subtly-to-everything-else program design as the next girl, but the idea of hearing all the Brahms piano trios in an evening affects me at a gut level the way the prospect of a hot fudge sundae for supper affects the average 8-year-old. What can I say, except "Thank you, San Francisco Performances"?

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Archive Review
February 12, 2008

An encouragingly large and enthusiastic audience turned out Monday evening in Herbst Theatre for a serious, handsomely chosen program of new chamber music presented by the expanded Earplay ensemble. Mary Chun conducted most of the program's "Unorthodox Journey" evening, whose featured soloists were soprano Ji Young Yang, violist Ellen Ruth Rose, and clarinetist Peter Josheff.

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Archive Review
February 12, 2008

In an increasingly crowded field of Bay Area choral ensembles, certain groups have devised creative methods of garnering attention. The three-year-old San Francisco Renaissance Voices, still a new kid on the block, takes the novel step of re-creating historical performance environments for its concerts.

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Archive Review
February 5, 2008

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players performed its first concert of 2008 on Monday. Some last-minute changes to the program affected its theme, as the “Strongbox of American Music” was pried open to accommodate British and French composers who live in the U.S. But judging from the response, the audience didn’t mind the breach of security.

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