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!
Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony is his longest work, and from Mahler, who was never brief, that's really saying something. It's six movements long and takes about an hour and three-quarters to perform. The Third requires a large orchestra, including eight French horns (who blast out the opening theme in unaccompanied unison) and four each of most of the other winds and brass.
As soon as soprano Elza van den Heever started to pour forth her large, stunning sound, a story about Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad came to mind. For Flagstad's first Metropolitan Opera audition, she was sent to a small rehearsal room whose proportions so cramped her vocal projection that no one sensed her ultimate potential.
Tastes in violin recitals have changed markedly over the years. At one time, the second half of a virtuoso's program generally consisted entirely of what we now think of as encore pieces. Nowadays, paradoxically, the only time you are likely to see a program like that is when the player is an "intellectual" musician making a historical point. The modern fashion leans more toward weighty, serious programs, often made up entirely of familiar sonatas, or at least of acknowledged masterpieces.
Listen to the Music
Israeli percussionist Chen Zimbalista is a throwback to the days when “entertainer” wasn’t a pejorative term. He radiates energy onstage, tells stories, indulges in audience participation, choreographs the beginnings and endings of pieces in true showman style, mines a wide variety of musical genres from around the globe, and exemplifies the old Italian art of sprezzatura, making nearly impossible technical challenges seem easy.
The first of two concerts by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Sunday in Davies Symphony Hall, required some program shuffling. The venerable Sir Neville Marriner was filling in for the indisposed pianist-conductor Murray Perahia. With the presence of 21-year-old pianist Yuja Wang, the combination of youth and experience made for a zesty evening of virtuosity.
The young ensemble Harmonie Universelle adopted the title of its San Francisco Early Music Society concert this weekend from a collection by Johann Pachelbel, "Musicalische Ergötzung," which translates into, roughly, "musical pleasures." Indeed, the program from the early German Baroque period offered a smorgasbord of delights, demonstrating how much variety can be discovered within a unified and closely knit repertoire.
All the composers on the concert hailed from the 17th century, a period in which famously fiery Italian soloists (such as Dario Castello and Marco Uccellini) exerted profound
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.