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!
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.
[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.
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?
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.
If posting the phrase "World Premiere" on a concert program seems to lend a certain aura to the proceedings, imagine how aurific a program must be that consists solely of premieres, three "world" and one "U.S." Such was the promise of the first concert of the Cabrillo Music Festival of Contemporary Music on Friday, whose music turned out to please listeners mightily, despite the varying quality of the offerings.
In a concert Friday night at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, the [email protected] festival featured the world-class artists for which it is known, playing music both familiar and strange. Although a theme like this evening's, “Death and Transfiguration,” might at first glance appear to promise a wallow in melancholy (even lacking as the program did the obvious choice of Richard Strauss' famous meditation on the subject), the intelligent selection of pieces ensured variety and light amid the gloom.
The good ship Pinafore sailed into Walnut Creek Thursday, mooring at the Lesher Center. She was manned by the Lamplighters, arguably the best Gilbert and Sullivan crew in the world.
H.M.S. Pinafore is a delightful spoof on the subjects of class, rank, and bureaucracy. The Lamplighters make the most of Gilbert's clever lyrics and dialogue, inserting occasional contemporary references ad libitum. And in this production all the singing of Sullivan's delectable music was definitely above average.
If thoughts of nonprofessional community choruses make you cringe, rest assured: The San Francisco Choral Society is something else. This 200-person chorus, in which people pay for the opportunity to sing in such venues as this concert's Davies Symphony Hall, may not perform on the exalted level of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, but it is nonetheless capable of making beautiful music.
Choral directors who tackle Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responses do so at their own peril. Andrew Megill went out on that limb to introduce himself to the Carmel Bach Festival, and, no doubt, to put his colleagues everywhere on notice that he’s prepared to play for high stakes.
In a program titled "From Darkness to Light," Megill, the festival’s new associate conductor, directed his youthful 24-voice Festival Chorale three times at Carmel Mission, and once in memory of the late Sandor Salgo at Stanford Memorial Church, between mid-July and August 1.