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!
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.
From a listener's perspective, one of the joys of pedagogically oriented programs like the Yehudi Menuhin Chamber Music Seminar and Festival is the opportunity it affords to hear both the faculty and the seminar participants in two roles — the former teaching as well as playing, the latter learning as well as performing. It is fascinating to see an ensemble rehearing and adjusting a performance at a teacher's instigation, and fascinating to see how that teacher applies his own advice in his own playing.
One of the most individual aspects of music in the Bay Area is the incredible number of choral organizations and the variety of repertoire they offer. As of Saturday evening in San Francisco's Trinity Episcopal Church, that pleasure was increased as Richard Sparks directed the premiere concert of Choralis. The choir of 17 experienced singers sang what amounted to a musical name card: a declaration of intent. The program opened with six short works: Javier Busto's setting of the Pater noster, sung in procession onto the altar platform.
Sometimes it's better not to know too much of what goes on behind the scenes in the making of a performance. History is replete with examples of acrimonious, not to say borderline murderous, artistic partnerships resulting in splendid performances (and, for that matter, of unfailingly genial partnerships that never managed to spark).