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!
The German composer Hans Werner Henze, considered one of Europe's major composers of the '60s, '70s, and beyond, rarely gets a hearing in the U.S. One fan, however, will not take this neglect (is it simply old-hattedness?) lying down. Instead, the founder of the Worn Ensemble, Richard Worn, has organized all-Henze concerts to reenlighten the Bay Area as to the merits of this artist.
Hundreds of thousands, millions, perhaps billions of people around the globe, had just taken the seven-point Live Earth Pledge to do their part to avert global warming. But in Walnut Creek on Saturday night, at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, it was business as usual. With not a single recycling bin in sight, the only recycling effort was onstage, where Festival Opera opened its 2007 season with the perpetually popular Carmen.
In 1781, Joseph Haydn announced the appearance of a new set of string quartets, "composed in a new and special way, because I have written none in 10 years." The six quartets would appear as Opus 33, and would be Haydn's first authorized quartet publication in accordance with the terms of a contract he signed in 1779 with Prince Nicolaus Esterházy. With one of these works, No.
As the lights were going down in Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday night, I caught a line in the program book asking "What are we to make of Prokofiev ..." but had no chance to read further before the hall went dark. The question — after a childhood of mandatory Prokofiev in a Soviet-occupied country and a subsequent lifetime of listening to him by choice — didn't make sense. What is there to "make" of the composer of the ever-loving Romeo and Juliet, of the sparkling piano concertos, of great film scores?
Festivals should celebrate something that doesn't happen every day. The fourth and last program of the San Francisco Symphony's Prokofiev Festival was no exception to this ideal, with an unusual structure and repertoire adding spice to the expected high-quality performances and enthusiastic receptions that do happen most every day with this orchestra.
It is fitting that San Francisco Opera's new production of Iphigénie en Tauride (Iphigenia in Tauris) feels extremely contemporary. Indeed, Gluck's work, which premiered in 1779, would have sounded revolutionary in its time. Christoph Willibald Gluck set out to reform opera, starting in 1762 with Orfeo ed Euridice, in order to strip it of all the complexities and decorations that he felt were unnecessary.
Sergei Prokofiev is the modernist composer for people who don't like modernist composers. There's plenty of time to contemplate this phenomenon in the San Francisco Symphony's Prokofiev Festival that began last Thursday and runs through this weekend. An article by James M. Keller in the Symphony's program book documents his extraordinary popularity among 20th century composers in the symphonic repertoire, ahead even of Igor Stravinsky.
Three lesser-known works of Sergei Prokofiev were featured on Saturday's concert of the San Francisco Symphony's festival program in Davies Symphony Hall. After a lightweight icebreaker, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas launched into two of Prokofiev's largest, most demanding orchestral compositions, abetted by pianist Vladimir Feltsman. The final result drove the large audience into something close to frenzy, and with good cause. As a display of sheer virtuosity, there's little that could top it.
In what could be considered a case of premature delivery, Oakland Opera Theater attempted a first last week. Although the diminutive company has garnered an enviable reputation for staging intriguing multimedia productions of original or rarely performed contemporary works in the too-funky-for-comfort Oakland Metro Opera House, it has never before, to my knowledge, produced a short evening consisting entirely of snippets from works in progress.
The star in the San Francisco Opera's summer run of Der Rosenkavalier, which opened Saturday, is Richard Strauss' music; higher praise is difficult to come by. Under Donald Runnicles' direction, the orchestra played marvelously the complex, interwoven layers of music that constitute this nearly century-old score, which has lost none of its modernity and power.