MENLO PARK: BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE BACH

MENLO PARK: BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE BACH

Talk about depth. The chamber-music festival Music@Menlo showed off four different lead violinists in baroque concertos, each one better than the previous, and on the under-40 side too. If alone, any one of them could be the star of this bucolic festival running through Aug. 5, though none of them (yet) command wide-spread name recognition, at least on the West Coast. Unlike the past 14 seasons, when the pianists often had the upper hand, this year’s spotlight is on all-strings,…

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BERLIOZ STRIVING TO RECAST THE SYMPHONY

BERLIOZ STRIVING TO RECAST THE SYMPHONY

Hector Berlioz is two different composers, whether thinking symphonically or operatically. As he had proven in his early “Symphonie Fantastique,” he could be brilliant and concise to the max, creating what many would call the greatest French symphony of them all. But when he wrote his “Roméo et Juliette” hybrid work, he was thinking much more operatically, drawing out his statements into overly generous lengths. There are glints of great beauty and finesse, but also a lot of bloated segments…

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BEETHOVEN’S LIFE, AT PIANO OR NARRATED, IS A PENINSULA SUCCESS STORY

BEETHOVEN’S LIFE, AT PIANO OR NARRATED, IS A PENINSULA SUCCESS STORY

The versatile pianist-actor Hershey Felder, who won praise for his performances as Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin and other musical giants, has moved into deeper waters with his hugely successful account of the composer Ludwig van Beethoven, now in an extended run at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Felder is a remarkable performer – a fine musician whose pianism elevates this bit of theater to a lofty plane as he entertains us with his impersonations of the…

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SYMPHONY COUNTDOWNS: MODERNS, NOVELTIES, GLITZ

SYMPHONY COUNTDOWNS: MODERNS, NOVELTIES, GLITZ

Stemming from a family of top vaudeville performers, symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas would inevitably strike his show-business colors eventually. After two decades’ serious-minded leadership of the San Francisco Symphony, he brought forth an astonishing orchestral concert of American Moderns augmented with colored lights, hot dancers, jazz ensemble, projections, spatial (but not spacey) musicians’ placement, video and singers in glitzy spangled outfits. Did your recent symphony program list both a stage director and choreographer like Michael’s, perchance? This main-stage program…

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WEDDING IN INDIA: A ROUSING NEW MUSICAL

WEDDING IN INDIA: A ROUSING NEW MUSICAL

Mira Nair’s highly entertaining play/musical “Monsoon Wedding” at the Berkeley Rep is spot on, based on two weddings attended in New Delhi. “Monsoon Wedding” is based on her award winning movie of the same name. For Nair, the theater is her real métier—her first love, what  she knows best. She had studied theater at Harvard as an undergraduate and went on to act in several renowned avant guard troupes. This play is a splendid and extravagant display of the preparation…

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‘DON GIOVANNI,’ DEFTLY SUNG AND ACTED BY NEWCOMERS

‘DON GIOVANNI,’ DEFTLY SUNG AND ACTED BY NEWCOMERS

Despite all the unfamiliar names and unknowns in the cast, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” is getting sparkling performances at the S.F. Opera, among the most inspiring encountered in our regular SFO visits since 1960. The greatest difference with earlier times is in the acting and stage direction. Circa 1949 rehearsing the title role here, Met star Ezio Pinza called to the stage director, “Canto cui?” (Do I sing here?). Whereupon he planted his feet firmly and launched into his aria. We…

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THE RIGHT ‘RITE’ WITH THE RIGHT MAESTRA

THE RIGHT ‘RITE’ WITH THE RIGHT MAESTRA

To hear the right Rite with the right conductor (Susanna Mälkki) would’ve been the right move over the weekend. Music that was despised a century ago is now embraced. One of the world’s foremost women conductors currently, doing arguably the most revolutionary work of all time: a formidable combination. So it wasn’t the original ballet this time, merely the sound of the huge orchestra, which may be ultimately superior. Or are we all anxious to watch in detail the Sacrifice…

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HARBISON MORE AT HOME IN CHURCH THAN OPERA

HARBISON MORE AT HOME IN CHURCH THAN OPERA

BERKELEY—In a choral program of psalms, a varied and engaging world premiere by the neoclassical composer John Harbison, 78, took center stage in the current round of concerts by the male chorus Chanticleer. Harbison is fascinating, an East Coast composer who has written in all the genres with eagerness and inventiveness. What has always struck me is the emotion of the individual with the Almighty in his sacred works, as here, is much more effective than the emotion between humans…

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OAKLAND BALLET: PHOENIX RISING OUT OF THE ASHES

OAKLAND BALLET: PHOENIX RISING OUT OF THE ASHES

OAKLAND, CA—-Graham Lustig can pull rabbits out of the hat, or make silk purses from a pig’s ear, or merely make vibrant ballet evenings out of nearly nothing. Just call him somewhere between hyper-wizard and miracle worker. The case in point is his economically trimmed version of “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” mounted for the plucky, long-struggling Oakland Ballet performing in a spartan community-college theater before an audience of about 100. If that. Despite the troupe’s very limited resources and just 19…

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MULTI-DIMENSIONAL OPERA GOING FROM MISCHIEF TO MAYHEM

MULTI-DIMENSIONAL OPERA GOING FROM MISCHIEF TO MAYHEM

I guess I could accept a full-grown male baritone playing a child as long as the opera is full of surreal concepts, and/or fantastic, other-worldly Cocteau-esque settings. But this production of “Les Enfants Terribles” (The Holy Terrors) proved instead to be down-to-earth, lost in every-day realism and crime-blotter chaff. In the end, it failed Cocteau. Jean Cocteau had written the 1929 book, now converted into a 1996 Philip Glass chamber opera with narration, film and dance—performance dimensions going beyond Cocteau’s…

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