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!
Paul Galbraith, whose Sunday recital at the Florence Gould Theater was sponsored by Chamber Music San Francisco, is a unique figure in the classical guitar world. Winner of the Segovia International Guitar Competition and the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award in 1981 at age 17, he began giving concerts throughout Europe regularly. An unusually thoughtful young man, he subsequently withdrew from concertizing for several years to rethink his relationship to the guitar, technique, interpretation, and music itself.
If eclecticism is your thing, San Francisco's Mission Dance Theater was the place to be on Sunday for the first annual Switchboard Music Festival. Billed as "eight hours of nonstop, genre-defying music by the Bay Area's most innovative artists," it was founded to bring together people who are "creating new sounds that defy description."
It has been an exciting two weeks on the podium at the San Francisco Symphony. Two of the world's most talked-about young conductors — Gustavo Dudamel and Alan Gilbert — came to town back-to-back to guest conduct the orchestra. I had the pleasure of observing both Dudamel's Rachmaninov and Stravinsky last week (see review) and Gilbert's program of Stucky, Mozart, and Nielsen on Saturday.
The composer Ned Rorem once said that he didn't particularly enjoy going to organ recitals, because the live acoustics in churches prevented him from properly hearing the music. He thought that other organists, who are used to hearing through the acoustical fog, mostly made up the audiences for these recitals. Whatever the accuracy of those statements, Ian Tracey's long association with Liverpool Cathedral and its cavernous acoustics served him well in his recital Sunday at Grace Cathedral.
What repertoire staple could get Symphony Silicon Valley to give four performances instead of its usual two or three? Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, of course. And as soon as Scott Bearden stood up to deliver his opening solo in the fourth movement, “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!” on Saturday evening, it was clear why San Jose’s California Theatre was full. He sang with as much power and clarity of articulation as the finest bass-baritone in the world. It was a truly thrilling moment in a generally exciting evening.
Thunder and lightning flashed from the piano in Herbst Theatre last Tuesday night as Canadian virtuoso Louis Lortie presented a sort-of-Liszt program, under the auspices of San Francisco Performances. Actually, most of the evening was built around Franz Liszt's great admiration for Wagner. Transcriptions abounded, because of some last-minute programming shuffling.
Cleopatra, in the person of Isabel Bayrakdarian, stormed into the First Congregational Church of Berkeley Saturday night, in the company of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Opera found its way to Germany in the early 18th century, and Cleopatra was a favorite character, sharing the stage with one or the other of her famous lovers, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
Great music has a way of repeating itself, especially in recital. Just three months ago, SFCV carried my review of a Cal Performances recital by baritone Mariusz Kwiecien that included Ravel's final song cycle, Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, and Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe. I noted at the time that, since 2001, no fewer than 10 other baritones, two tenors, and two lyric sopranos had performed the latter work in the Bay Area.