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!
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.
Making her debut with Opera San José last Sunday afternoon, Khori Dastoor dominated the stage in the coloratura title role of Lucia di Lammermoor, blazing through her shrewdly conceived mad scene with theatrical abandon and scenery-chewing panache. If Dastoor joined the company to gain stage experience — the stated mission of OSJ — then her colleagues can expect to learn even more from her.
Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is a big musical — large in passion and in production values. It originally opened in 1979 at one of Broadway's biggest theaters, in Harold Prince's hugely operatic production, and went on to be performed by opera companies as well as in theaters around the world. Come Christmas, it will be a big, expensive movie, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.
The San Francisco Lyric Chorus and its director, Robert Gurney, have a history of presenting programs both ambitious and unusual, so Saturday night's concert at San Francisco's Trinity Episcopal Church was unexpected only in specifics, not in quality. The 17th-century English first half might seem an unlikely pendant to the rarely performed, massive late-19th-century Mass setting following it, but both, in their fashions, were celebrations of the joy of making music.
From Oakland, drive 40 miles south on 880, that overcrowded, dangerous highway, paved like hell, and not with good intentions. Then, 10 miles north of San Jose, hang a left on Auto Mall Parkway, in search of Ohlone College. You are now in Fremont, formerly rural, now a mixed industrial-residential city of 200,000, with the largest number of expatriate Afghanistanis in the U.S. But Fremont’s latest distinction is that it is home to America's newest opera company.