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!
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.
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,
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.
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.
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"?
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.
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.
Grateful though we must be for the continual flow of new, exciting young ensembles to Bay Area concert halls, it's another and possibly greater pleasure when the most impressive of them drop in a second time. The Belcea Quartet, whose first visit here was two years ago, made a most welcome repeat appearance Thursday night.