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!
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).
You don't have to be a critical genius to figure out that Talise Trevigne, the star of San Francisco Lyric Opera's new production of Lucia di Lammermoor has a major-league voice and star quality to match. She lit a fire under Saturday's satisfying, if basic, performance at the Florence Gould Theater at the Legion of Honor. But hers was far from the only positive contribution of the evening. This is a well-tuned show, amply repaying its bargain-basement ticket price.
Seeing and hearing is believing, though evidence from these senses is sometimes hard to balance against a third kind of sense: the common kind. A pertinent example of this occurred Sunday afternoon in Davies Symphony Hall, when the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra mounted the stage to perform two major repertory pieces, against considerable odds. Its 25th anniversary program offered performances of music that many professional orchestras might well fear to tread, yet the instrumentalists pulled it off with real class.
The pastiche choral work has a less-than-illustrious history. To my knowledge, there are only a couple of good repertory pieces to come out of such an enterprise — the Libera me from Verdi’s Requiem (composed as part of a never-premiered composite Mass by many Italian composers to commemorate the death of Rossini in 1864), and Stravinsky’s Tower of Babel (part of a 1940s Hollywood fiasco in which a string of Hollywood composers wrote an oratorio on the story of the creation and Schoenberg wrote the depiction of chaos).
Last Friday marked the final concert of Oakland East Bay Symphony’s 2006-2007 season, but it also marked the beginning of its newest initiative, the "American Masterworks Series," which will continue in upcoming seasons. Choosing works that live up to this title is a trickier task than you might expect, as the Pulitzer Prize committee found out three years ago when it controversially expanded the scope of the music prize to include the more “popular” genres of jazz, Broadway, and film music. What should be included in "American" music?
On Sunday afternoon at Old First Church, composer Elinor Armer faced the risks inherent in any recital dedicated to a single composer's work. She must have come away from it with an enhanced sense of achievement, because the program's seven compositions were well-performed, enthusiastically received, and richly indicative of her talent and accomplishments. The concert was titled "Bestiary," referring to several of the pieces that were composed in homage to creatures real and imaginary.