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!
Stanford's Dinkelspiel Auditorium is not a large hall, but the St. Lawrence String Quartet played there on Sunday afternoon with a sense of intimacy worthy of a far smaller venue. Not that it couldn't be heard, or anything like that. The nearly full audience hung on every note. But the quartet proved that there are other ways to provide an exciting and moving chamber music concert than by letting all the stops out.
The Marin Symphony launched its 55th season with a nearly impossible task — keep a full house at the Marin Civic Center concentrating on the music from the stage during a simultaneous screening of the famous film The Battleship Potemkin. But it worked on Tuesday, thanks to generous portions of at least four Shostakovich symphonies that sustained the silent movie masterpiece by Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein.
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.