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!
Sometimes a creative artist produces a work that releases more energy and inspiration than it costs, and suggests paths to the future, as well. Mozart's Il rè pastore (The shepherd king) is a case in point. The 1775 serenata, or modestly sized serious opera, is filled with glorious music from beginning to end, particularly in the second act. It contains percursors to Mozart's penultimate opera, La clemenza di Tito (The clemency of Titus, 1791), and some of its ideas were recycled into Idomeneo (1781).
For those who can't (or won't) see the forest of an opera for the trees of performance minutiae, here's the word about the San Francisco Opera's new production of Wagner's Tannhäuser that opened on Tuesday night: Donald Runnicles' Opera Orchestra and Ian Robertson's Opera Chorus give a magnificent account of the music, which is among Wagner's most sweeping and bewitching.
The death of Jacques Offenbach before the 1881 premiere of Tales of Hoffmann left opera companies with a confusing mass of performance choices. In the end though, the textual decisions matter far less than whether a company succeeds musically with the piece. San Francisco Lyric Opera's new production, heard on Saturday at the second performance, succeeds wildly, with splendid singing and playing, effective stage direction, clever sets, and fine conducting.
"It is only the modern that ever becomes old-fashioned."
— Oscar Wilde
In a radio interview almost 30 years ago, the Bay Area composer Wayne Peterson spoke about a new piece of his for violin and piano, remarking that "problems of line, of melody, and the relationship of the piano counterpoint and so forth are concepts that are rather old-fashioned, I'm afraid."
Judging by the small audience in attendance, you probably weren't in Old First Church on Friday evening as mezzo-soprano Miriam Abramowitsch and pianist George Barth presented a program of early 20th-century art songs. If you were, you witnessed one of the major intellectual events of the season. Both as programming and performance, it made a number of idealistic demands on the artists as well as their audience.
Every so often, a Russian performing group rides through town and brings out what seems to be the entire Russian émigré community, filling one of the largest halls to capacity. Its program typically offers a serious or traditional first half followed by arrangements of favorite tunes from the war years or Soviet cinema. As the tunes grow more familiar, culminating in ever-popular bonbons such as Moscow Nights or Ochi Chornaya, the audience becomes ever more enthusiastic.
One of the downsides of living and listening in a place so attractive to visiting artists as the Bay Area is that even the best musicians who actually live here have a hard time attracting notice among the touring stars. It takes attention to lower-profile recital series, faculty recitals, and the like even to realize how good we have it.
In a celebration of its 30th anniversary, Chanticleer is singing a concert titled "My Spirit Sang All Day," all this week. The program starts in the Renaissance, where Chanticleer began 30 years ago, then skips to the 20th and 21st centuries. There was no Schubert this time, but still plenty of variety.
All the requisite glamour and excitement animated this year's opening night celebration at the San Francisco Opera. A superabundance of red and pink roses packed tightly into intricate patterns decorated both the foyer and the auditorium, which itself was festooned with rose-encrusted swags draped around the dress circle. Many opening-nighters honored the occasion with beautiful evening couture and nonchalantly appraised the finery of others in the preperformance promenade.
In an increasingly crowded field of Bay Area choral ensembles, the three-year-old Artists' Vocal Ensemble (AVE) manages to stand out from the pack. One of its distinctions is director Jonathan Dimmock's commitment to social justice, as demonstrated by his latest concert set, a benefit for the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance. Equally important, Dimmock assembled for this concert a roster of 13 high-caliber singers, who produced an extremely polished choral sound. His program of sacred music from masters of the late Renaissance, performed Friday at San Francisco's St.