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!
Last December, Kent Nagano and Stuart Canin unveiled the Berkeley Akademie Ensemble, a project designed to cultivate "explorations of style" and "develop ensemble technical skills" (as the organization describes its goals). Thursday marked the Akademie's second concert, held in Berkeley's First Congregational Church.
Felicity reigned Thursday night at Herbst Theatre as San Francisco Performances presented a concert by two superb musicians, soprano Felicity Lott and pianist Graham Johnson. The program, German in the first half and mainly French in the second, grouped songs according to the lyrics: settings of particular poets. The German songs started with settings by Gustav Mahler of poetry by Rückert, and ended with poems by Goethe set by Hugo Wolf. In between, a group of songs by Robert Schumann used poems by both poets.
Another huge feather — Cyrano's famed plume, even — in Berkeley Opera's tiny cap, the double-bill of Béla Bartók's 1918 A Kékszakállú Herceg Vára (Bluebeard's Castle) and Maurice Ravel's 1925 L'Enfant et les sortilèges (The child and the magic spells) opened Saturday night at the Julia Morgan Theatre with a fabulous production and some kind of prestidigitation.
What is all the fuss about Mason Bates? The 31-year-old DJ cum classical and electronica composer, whose works have been championed by his teacher, John Corigliano, has received both a Rome Prize and an American Academy in Berlin Prize. Even before the San Francisco Symphony followed the lead of at least eight other orchestras and awarded him a commission for next season, the California Symphony, which has an enviable track record of championing young composers and artists who go on to major careers, had selected him as its 2007-2010 Young American Composer in Residence.
The San Francisco Opera premiere of Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince was a great success Friday night at Zellerbach Hall. Anyone who has seen the drawings in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella, Le Petit Prince, will immediately recognize it as the inspiration for Francesca Zambello’s whimsical production, jointly presentated by San Francisco Opera and Cal Performances, and conducted by Sara Jobin. The action takes place on a stage of gold and azure framed by a circular frontispiece out of which appear stars, lamps, baobabs, and water, just to name a few.
An entire program's worth of Haydn is not something the San Francisco Symphony is apt to serve up every year, so thanks are due up front to guest conductor Bernard Labadie for Friday night's generous helping. The program, which also featured the Symphony Chorus and an excellent quartet of vocal soloists, had a martial theme, bringing together the Missa in tempore belli (Mass in time of war) of 1796 and the “Military” Symphony (No. 100) of 1794, with Haydn's second, late setting of the Te Deum as opener.
Yo-Yo Ma’s and his Silk Road Project have come up with a new CD featuring a host of young performers supported by the Chicago Symphony. Titled Traditions and Transformations, the disc includes two standard works, Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo and Prokofiev rambunctious Scythian Suite, Op. 20, plus two first recordings, Byambasuren Sharav’s Legend of Herlen (2000), and Lou Harrison’s final work, his Pipa Concerto (1997). It’s quite a spread.
The audience quickly found itself in the dark last Wednesday at Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium. Percussionist Evelyn Glennie and guitarist Fred Frith walked on stage moments after the house descended into pitch-black, leaving only the sharp geometry of Glennie’s percussion instruments — which took up two thirds of the stage — and Frith’s two guitars and amplifiers to dance motionlessly against the effervescence of the backdrop. The music began without a word from either performer, despite the assurance in the program that everything would be announced from the stage.