THE DEATH OF THE STORY-BALLET TRADITION?

THE DEATH OF THE STORY-BALLET TRADITION?

 The modern-day move away from the great tradition of story ballets continues. In the S,F, Ballet program (No. 2) that opened Feb. 13, the inviting options to go the story route, even in an American classic, were crushed in favor of modern-day abstractions. Abstract ballets are indeed appealing—but do they embody the only story worth telling in ballets created today?  “The Chairman Dances—Quartet for Two,” based on John Adams music actually written for an opera, veered off into another direction,…

Read More Read More

LIGHTS, IBSEN, ACTION AT S.F. BALLET

LIGHTS, IBSEN, ACTION AT S.F. BALLET

         Every time that “Ibsen’s House” is brought out at the ballet, which is not nearly often enough, it’s a stunner of a modern dance drama.           Created a decade ago by Val Caniparoli, it features five couples playing out the tensions in a male-dominated society when the wife too yearns for a role, for latitude, even for freedom. It’s a social revolution that leaves you riveted with its electricity, even if you’re unfamiliar with Henrik Ibsen’s century-old plays like…

Read More Read More

IMMORTAL SEAFARER, DOOMED TO ETERNITY AT SEA

IMMORTAL SEAFARER, DOOMED TO ETERNITY AT SEA

SAN JOSE—Bounce up out of that easy chair and catch a rare “The Flying Dutchman,” for which Opera San Jose imported singers from as far away as Berlin. You might need a seat belt, because these are big-league (and big volume) Wagnerian voices, in a small 1,200-seat theater (about a quarter the size of NYC’s Met)—a rare treat for listeners, one that few companies can afford. In his fantasy operas Richard Wagner had the knack of creating bigger-than-life characters in…

Read More Read More

BISS’ IRON-MAN FEAT: SIX CONCERTOS IN THREE DAYS

BISS’ IRON-MAN FEAT: SIX CONCERTOS IN THREE DAYS

BERKELEY, CA—-The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has been a thriving outfit for some 59 years despite two burdens that most orchestras work hard to avoid, fearing unpalatable ticket sales: Lack of a conductor/music director, and the title  word “chamber” in place of “symphony.” Further playing down any star power, the group dons black no-necktie outfits, and it has two violinists alternating in the concertmaster’s seat. The saving grace comes on two fronts: an excellent ensemble, containing close to one-half women,…

Read More Read More

A GALA YEAR FOR PODIUM SUBSTITUTIONS

A GALA YEAR FOR PODIUM SUBSTITUTIONS

BERKELEY, CA—The music director’s pregnancy again brings guests to the local symphony podium—a declaration that you probably never once heard back in the 20th century. But we’re in another era. And Berkeley Symphony’s Joana Carneiro, who last year had triplets, is expecting again and forced to cancel, all of it making her among the most prolific conductors in all music history. This is a double positive, both for her and others, giving up-and-coming conductors too often mired in the “assistant”…

Read More Read More

MIXED-MEDIA CHAMBER MUSIC

MIXED-MEDIA CHAMBER MUSIC

BERKELEY, CA—-Readings and live music, a format once avidly pursued in various cities, is making a comeback. In the past month, local concerts have featured small musical ensembles with a live interview of Meredith Monk, or a discussion about Philip Glass, or simply readings of poetry and prose. We’ll see if it develops into a broader trend. That pairing is the meat-and-potatoes of the five-year-old Circadian String Quartet, an inventive  local group focusing on music “with folkloric or cultural significance.”…

Read More Read More

RARE RUSSIAN FAIRY TALE OPERA INVADES THE BAY AREA

RARE RUSSIAN FAIRY TALE OPERA INVADES THE BAY AREA

ALAMEDA, CA—In the S.F. East Bay, the tranquil community of Alameda is the home of a new opera troupe, presenting an ambitious double bill of Rimsky-Korsakov, half of it representing an important staging of a neglected work. Using the ballroom of an Elks Lodge and making do with a modest budget, the Island City Opera gave what was termed the US premiere of the one-act fantasy “Kashchey the Immortal” (1902), named after the evil wizard also encountered in the subsequent…

Read More Read More

CELEBRATING LOU AT 101

CELEBRATING LOU AT 101

The happiest composer I ever met was the prolific Lou Harrison, whose centennial celebrations, like his large output of music,  couldn’t all be squeezed into 2017. The Harrison joy persisted up to Jan. 24 with a small-ensemble concert of amazing variety at the inviting and sold-out Strand Theatre. In the end, doing even an intimate all-Harrison concert  comes down to finding exotica like “junk-yard” instruments, gamelans and even genuine Studebaker brake drums to provide the ever broader sonic array needed…

Read More Read More

BROAD RANGE OF AN ORCHESTRA – St. Louis’ Rich Rep, and Student Co-Plays Too

BROAD RANGE OF AN ORCHESTRA – St. Louis’ Rich Rep, and Student Co-Plays Too

Going a big step beyond, the visiting St. Louis Symphony gives its concert, then spends a day interacting with music students to foster the inspiration for the future. This rare interaction made for a double-barreled impact at the University of California here, some 70 miles east of San Francisco. As if it were needed, the orchestra and its leader David Robertson showed their  mettle in unfamiliar 20th-century repertory created by precocious composers not even 30 years old. There’s a certain…

Read More Read More

RISING FROM THE ASHES – A Santa Rosa Symphonic Renaissance

RISING FROM THE ASHES – A Santa Rosa Symphonic Renaissance

A brave guest conductor indeed, the visitor who introduces Bartok with a 12-minute illustrated lecture. But the English conductor Graeme Jenkins got away with it and had the Santa Rosa Symphony crowd firmly in his corner for a modern masterpiece, Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra” (1943). Along the way, putting away his baton, he had led articulate readings of Haydn and Mozart. The evening as a whole was rousing—far more an experience than a concert. Clearly the night’s focus Jan. 13…

Read More Read More