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!
Before departing for their big European tour, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony offered their own bon-voyage sendoff Thursday night in Davis Symphony Hall. This was a sampler that will not be offered again anywhere. While performances were a tad uneven as to quality, the orchestra offered a few major surprises, not the least of which was soprano Lise Lindstrom, whose bloodthirsty performance of Strauss' Salome wowed the house.
Swarms of new and returning students clogged the streets around UC Berkeley Thursday evening. What to do: Attend a free opera or check out frat-house receptions? Considering the state of art music in the U.S. today, you can guess where they went. Nevertheless, about a hundred or so did show up for Our American Cousin in Hertz Hall. Their reward was the sad spectacle of fine musicians and singers performing a work fatally wounded by two decisions: to present excerpts rather than the entire opera, and to accompany singers with piano only.
The 50th year of the highly merited Merola Opera training program ended with a flourish of young hopefuls at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House on Saturday evening with a Grand Finale concert, assisted by members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. As a result, there was stardust in the eyes of many, and in the voices of a few.
Napa Valley's "Music in the Vineyards," now in its 13th season, produced an exciting and eclectic concert on Saturday afternoon in the small hall at the posh Silverado Cellars. Featuring mostly arcane but provocative repertoire, the event, titled "Carmen and Friends," was French to the core, though leagues removed from familiar Saint-Saëns, Ravel, and Debussy.
If every piece of architecture had its own inherent sound, the church of Mission San Juan Bautista would be heard for miles. The relatively high-ceilinged structure (long and narrow, made of wood and plaster, and primitively painted), whose interior was completed in 1817, creates a resounding acoustic like none other I've experienced.
Great performances are nearly a given at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, whether or not you find yourself loving the work being played, thanks to Music Director Marin Alsop and her fabulous orchestra. Happily, the program for Saturday's concert consisted of three first-class pieces that should all earn a place in the standard repertory.
In 1781, Joseph Haydn wrote to his publisher Artaria about recent performances of his Stabat Mater in Paris: "They were amazed to find me so exceptionally pleasing in vocal composition, but I am not amazed, and they have heard nothing yet; if only they could hear my short opera L'isola disabitata ... for I assure you that such work has not yet been heard in Paris, and perhaps not in Vienna either." Until now, this work had not even been heard in the Bay Area.
Can a simple story, deliberately lacking in operatic gestures, make a good play? Thornton Wilder's 1938 Our Town certainly did. It was a subtle, laid-back, and whimsical account of small-town America, more of an archetypal abstraction than practical reality. But can the same slow-moving, relaxed material be made into an opera, a genre whose essence is tension, conflict, and high emotions?
[email protected] concluded its festival last week with a program titled "Borrowed Cultures." Thursday night's concert in Stent Family Hall, at the Menlo School in Atherton, showed the program to be a potpourri like the previous main concerts this year. Nine musicians performed five works that variously incorporated folk ideas, blended classical and popular music, or set traditional texts.
Attending a concert at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music is a little like going to new-music camp: No one dresses formally, in the audience or the orchestra; the concerts take place in what looks like a disused gymnasium; and helpful counselors, er, composers tell you all about the music you're going to hear. In the case of "Raise the Roof," the second Cabrillo Festival program, heard on Saturday, the counselors weren't really necessary. Michael Daugherty's Raise the Roof and Ghost Ranch, played before the intermission, are as accessible as can be.