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!
The Berkeley Symphony's Zellerbach Hall season opened last Thursday with Kent Nagano, departing music director, at the helm for his only performance with the full orchestra this year. Nagano's commitment this season is limited to this performance and work with the new Berkeley Akademie chamber/training ensemble, and much of this season’s interest will be in seeing what a series of auditioning guest conductors can do with the orchestra.
Once upon a time, a symphony-goer would regularly find concerts on an orchestra's schedule consisting of an overture, a concerto, and a popular warhorse or two, light programs notable more for their entertainment value than substance. Entertainment is a fine thing, and so are such programs, when they're brought off with sufficient dash and panache.
Predictably, the two versions of Merce Cunningham's eyeSpace seen on consecutive nights of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's engagement at Stanford University last weekend, presented by Stanford Lively Arts, looked so different from each other as to be separate creations. What was less predictable was the difference in their affect, their effect. One of the things, it seems, about Cunningham dance is that for all its still-fresh unorthodoxy — this, after 54 years of the company's existence — it has things to teach us about how we see all dance, all art.
The Dutch language is closely related to Low German, but for at least the past two centuries the Netherlands' cultural relations have been as close with France as with any other country. (Vincent van Gogh, after all, went to France to paint.) So it's quite appropriate that the first of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's programs at Davies Symphony Hall, performed on Sunday, should consist of French music. And as the Concertgebouw Orchestra is the greatest and most renowned of Dutch ensembles, it chose to play what are perhaps the two greatest and most renowned of French symphonies.
“Was he hitting all the notes?” I asked the highly respected Bay Area pianist who was assiduously following Messiaen’s score in the seat in front of me at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall.
“Hitting all the notes?” he replied with more than a touch of incredulity. “I’m too busy trying to figure out the rhythms!”
Early music aficionados across the Bay Area would have been wise to circle American Bach Soloists' January performance of J.S. Bach's Weihnachts-Oratorio (Christmas oratorio) on their calendars. This impressive work, a collection of six cantatas historically designated for performance between Christmas and Epiphany, isn't often mounted outside the month of December.
What do a Stalin-era Russian composer and a contemporary British rock band have in common? That was the intriguing question posed by Christopher O’Riley in a piano recital last Wednesday at Stanford’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium in Palo Alto. Part of the Stanford Lively Arts series, the program consisted solely of preludes and fugues from the Op. 87 cycle by Shostakovich, and O’Riley’s solo piano arrangements of songs by Radiohead.
A fairly standard lineup: Wagner, Bach, Mendelssohn, and a new work having its first West Coast performance. A predictable response: moderate applause for the Wagner, a loyal standing ovation for the concertmaster soloist in the Bach, an enthusiastic reception for the Mendelssohn — and a tepid "So what?" for the new piece. And a systemic shame: The new work, a great work, a work that should have a chance to sneak up and possess its listeners, is left in the dust due to insufficient exposure.