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!
After you’ve written a world-class masterpiece, what comes next? Thanks to the Berkeley Edge Festival, Cal Performances' third showcase for contemporary music, fans were given two concerts to evaluate the case of Frederic Rzewski (pronounced ZHEF-ski), who was born in Westfield, Mass., in 1938.
Most summer music festivals program only the tried and true. But not Cal Performances’ Berkeley Edge Festival, which offered three programs in its third biennial festival June 7-10, featuring two composers — Frederic Rzewski and Paul Dresher — in two venues on UC Berkeley’s night-jasmine-scented campus. Rzewski was represented at Hertz Hall on the June 8 concert I attended, and also on June 10, both of which Jeff Dunn covered for San Francisco Classical Voice (see his review in this issue).
An ensemble as well-established and famous as Chanticleer is likely to inspire imitators. Its sound, which was once unique, has spawned countless men's a cappella choral groups around the country. Friday evening's Clerestory concert, however, proved that this group is not an imitator of the Chanticleer style but rather a champion of it. The depth and beauty of Clerestory's final presentation of its inaugural season established the group as one to watch in years to come.
On Thursday night at Davies Hall, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony took a huge and potentially unwieldy work, Mahler's Symphony No. 7, and graced it with a heady and absorbing performance. Tilson Thomas’s interpretation wove together thoughtful pacing, a keen sense of the music’s multilayered foreground and background, an unerring sense of line, and an emotional and architectural understanding of the work to move the music continually forward.
Aiding and encouraging young careers is the noble cause behind the Irving M. Klein International String Competition, which held the finals of its 22nd competition Sunday afternoon at San Francisco State University. Three talented musicians each played a full virtuoso concerto, supported by the Marin Symphony under conductor Alasdair Neale. Considering the amount of sheer hard work that goes into building such musicianship, it amounted to a serious retort to the naysayers who claim that classical music is dead.
The Cantabile Chorale has a new sound. Some aspects of this hold great promise, while other aspects suggest areas that could do with some ironing out. Friday night's concert at St. Gregory Nyssa in San Francisco, titled "Bach, Beatles, and Beyond," demonstrated this ably.
Not many orchestras are as much the creation of their music directors as is the Redwood Symphony. Eric Kujawsky founded this community orchestra in 1985, shapes the ensemble and its repertoire, conducts most of the performances, and gives his own preconcert lectures. He's an enthusiast for 20th-century composers and film music, and doesn't shy away from letting the audience know that he's also a fan of Aerosmith and The Who. The Symphony's great strength is its intrepid explorations in repertoire, which are often quite courageous for a community group.
The New Century Chamber Orchestra’s concertmaster-conductor search has brought forward some of the classical music world’s top violinists as candidates to lead the ensemble. The search has also highlighted the concertmaster’s role. Is he/she a conductor? A soloist? A member of the first violin section? A chamber musician? These are the questions the organization will have to weigh as it chooses its next leader. Meanwhile, the 2007-2008 lineup of guest conductors includes more great names, such as Nadja Salerno-Sonenberg and Margaret Batjer.
In a program note written for San Francisco Opera some years ago and republished in his book The Ultimate Art, David Littlejohn called Don Giovanni "The Impossible Opera." He went into some detail about the reasons the work is so difficult to stage effectively.
Ah, it's that time again. Spring is in the air, school's almost out, and summer music festivals beckon legions of young musicians. The Yehudi Menuhin Chamber Music Seminar and Festival, which the Alexander Quartet launched five years ago at San Francisco State University, is, when measured against the big weeks-long summer programs, a sort of summer-music-festival concentrate — that is, a welter of coachings, master classes, and performances crammed into a few days.