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!
It's one of the quirks of the music business that star players tend to get locked into playing and recording only the most familiar repertoire, at least early in stardom. Look at the trajectory of any young violinist signed by a major label (if, that is, you can find one). The new star's first order of business is getting the Mendelssohn and the Tchaikovsky and Tzigane and Symphonie espagnole and the like safely to bed; then — providing they’re still around, 10 years or so on — they can think about exploring less-played music, if so inclined.
As he neared the end of his life, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, a composer active in Paris from ca. 1670 to 1704, wrote:I am he who was born long ago and was widely known in this century, but now I am naked and nothing, dust in a tomb, at an end, and food for worms. … I was a musician, considered good by the good musicians, and ignorant by the ignorant ones. And since those who scorned me were more numerous than those who praised me, music brought me small honor and great burdens. And just as I at birth brought nothing into this world, thus when I died I took nothing away.
Music from three centuries was featured on last week's San Francisco Symphony programs in Davies Symphony Hall. But on Thursday even the inestimable Michael Tilson Thomas couldn't fully pull off his non sequitur program of Bach, Xenakis, and Schubert, highlighted by a bizarrely dressed harpsichord soloist, Elisabeth Chojnacka, for the Xenakis.
A conventional all-Russian program sidetracked the Marin Symphony’s “Salute to the Silver Screen” season theme Jan. 20, but few seemed to miss the cinematic connections. All evening the playing was first rank, and violinist Vadim Gluzman’s interpretation of the Tchaikovsky concerto provided plenty of pyrotechnical sizzle to excite an audience that not quite filled the Marin Veteran’s Auditorium. The Sunday symphony concerts are usually full, but perhaps a three-day weekend, cold temperatures, and television football combined to lower attendance.
“Intoxicated and With Fire” is the title of the third movement of Schumann’s Phantasiestücke for cello and piano, written five years before the composer’s attempted suicide and seven years before his death in an insane asylum. Listening to pianist Aleck Karis and cellist Charles Curtis’ Music at Meyer performance at the Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco on Monday night, however, you would never have guessed that the piece was composed by someone courting madness.
In an all-out effort to embrace modernity, China’s first Western-style opera, Farewell My Concubine, made its premiere this weekend at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. It marked the first time that a brand-new opera was presented in the United States by the China National Opera. Like me, the audience was consumed with great curiosity and anticipation about the new production, sung in Mandarin Chinese, which had premiered in China last October.