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!
Every year the music department of Mills College in Oakland presents a concert prominently featuring the music of Darius Milhaud, in celebration of the long and fruitful association between the college and the composer, who was in residence there for many years. On Friday, violinist Graeme Jennings and pianist Christopher Jones performed two early sonatas by Milhaud, concluding their program with pieces by Stravinsky and Carter, both of whom were among Milhaud's friends and admirers.
Appomattox, Philip Glass' much-anticipated new opera, rolled into San Francisco on October 5 as part of a wave of premieres by the composer, who celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year. While it’s a less musically interesting work than either his Eighth Symphony or Songs and Poems for Cello, the opera's subject matter and the excellence of Christopher Hampton's eminently singable libretto make Appomattox theatrically effective and deeply emotional for audience members who have any knowledge of the Civil War, its causes, and its results.
An all-Vivaldi program is a tricky proposition. The Four Seasons notwithstanding, the listening public is apt to regard an evening of Vivaldi concertos with a certain skepticism, as half-remembered jibes about "the same concerto written 500 times" float to the mental surface.
Oakland Opera Theater’s The Turn of the Screw is both a triumph of spirit and a stumbling of conception. The triumph, as Michael Zwiebach recounts in this week's feature, involved moving the entire company and adapting a production intended for one venue to another twice as large, all within the span of a few too-short weeks.
For the past year-plus, the New Century Chamber Orchestra has been auditioning prospective artistic directors to replace the departed Krista Bennion Feeney, the orchestra's leader from 1999 through 2006. The search is nearing its end — the winner is to be announced at the orchestra's "Evening Serenade" benefit performance Nov. 29 — and the orchestra's admirers are watching with some anticipation to see what direction the ensemble will take.
Philip Glass turned 70 this year, and the Bay Area is celebrating in style, with performances of two high-profile new works, Appomattox at San Francisco Opera and The Book of Longing, a collaboration with Leonard Cohen, at Stanford Lively Arts. Those works will travel, but last Friday, San Francisco Performances gave us a very special concert indeed, with Glass himself on piano, cellist Wendy Sutter, and percussionist Mick Rossi playing pieces drawn from various periods of the composer's long and prolific career.
I thought I knew Olga Borodina’s voice pretty well. But then I discovered myself seated in second row center of Zellerbach Hall. Sitting that close to the Russian mezzo, the glories of her instrument were nigh overwhelming.
Even as she was on the mend from the audible and visible affects of bronchitis, Borodina’s voice radiated magnificence. In the low- and midranges, it has an all-encompassing Earth Mother fullness and warmth that’s hard to resist. On high, it blazes with such power that, even from the second row, it can be heard reverberating throughout the hall.
Ensembles generally slumber through the Haydn quartets, which are often relegated to opening-number status and overshadowed by those giant works from Beethoven that so often follow them. Not so with the New Esterházy Quartet, a young ensemble devoted, as its name implies, to the works of Haydn. In its all-Haydn concerts, audiences can hear how the passage of time matured and transformed the composer’s style, yet upheld that spark of originality (or perhaps idiosyncrasy) for which Haydn has always been famous.
Virtuoso lutenists enjoyed privileged positions in Renaissance Europe. They were held in high esteem, were well-paid by princes and kings, and often had magical effects ascribed to their performances. Contemporary lutenists don’t enjoy the patronage of presidents, but Hopkinson Smith, one of the instrument’s finest performers, did give a magically beautiful recital of works by Renaissance composers Francesco da Milano and John Dowland on Sunday at Saint John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in San Francisco, in a concert presented by the San Francisco Early Music Society.
An institutional rarity, the Ives String Quartet is its own nonprofit corporation, and produces its own "Home Series" Bay Area season of concerts. Currently, these include three programs played twice, at St. Mark's Church in Palo Alto and at Le Petit Trianon Theatre in San Jose. The paid staff are the musicians themselves, answerable to a volunteer board of directors.