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!
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.
When Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld was first performed in Paris, in 1858, the famed critic Jules Noriac, of mighty Le Figaro, stammered with delight: "Unheard-of. Splendid. Outrageous. Graceful. Charming. Witty. Amusing. Successful. Perfect ..."
Viewed against the more robust concert scenes in San Francisco, the East Bay, and the Peninsula, the classical-music pickings in Marin County can seem slender. But alongside the programs of the county's indigenous ensembles (the Marin Symphony and the American Bach Soloists chief among them), plus the regular visits of musicians from the rest of the Bay Area, the county proffers established concert series that approach the other counties' larger presenters in quality, if not in scale.
Dawn Upshaw flew in with eighth blackbird to sing a concert Saturday night in Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. The eighth blackbird sextet and six equally remarkable players formed the Orquesta Los Pelegrinos, which joined Upshaw in a stunning performance of Osvaldo Golijov's Ayre.
There is something both intimate and grand about Edward Elgar’s not-oft-performed oratorio The Dream of Gerontius. Perhaps, it’s the challenge of reconciling those dissimilarities that makes this work, written in 1899-1900, a rarity. Or maybe it’s the fact that there are plenty of tricky musical parts to navigate for chorus, orchestra, and soloists?
In programming an American Bach Choir concert with the ambitious title "Vocal Visionaries," conductor Jeffrey Thomas set his sights high. Not only did he choose choral music that, in his opinion, displays the transcendent, visionary gifts of its composers, but he also strove to transport his audience with radiant vocalism. That's a tall order, especially when the music is as challenging as the chosen works, by Tomás Luis de Victoria, Richard Strauss, Eric Whitacre, and Sven-David Sandström.
What a perfect day. On Saturday I had the pleasure of listening to the Miró Quartet at the Florence Gould Theater of San Francisco's Legion of Honor. All my regrets about missing part of a beautifully sunny afternoon were dispelled by the performance of this first-rate ensemble. Two favorite works by Mozart and Beethoven joined a lesser-known excursion from Toru Takemitsu to form a well-balanced program.