BROAD RANGE OF AN ORCHESTRA

BROAD RANGE OF AN ORCHESTRA

 St. Louis’ Rich Rep, and Student Co-Plays Too              DAVIS, CA—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…

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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…

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A SMORGASBORD WITH GERMANIC ORIGINS

A SMORGASBORD WITH GERMANIC ORIGINS

It was the Manny-and-Michael Show, on a high musical plane, tackling a sharply contrasting set of works at the San Francisco Symphony. You love picaresque puckishness? Richard Strauss’ “Til Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” and you’re welcome. You yearn to discover the unknown crannies of Mozart? You had his Piano Concerto No. 14, written in his 20s. How about a generous dose of operatic drama? The “Leonore Overture No. 3” of Beethoven, arguably the most skillful quarter-hour condensation of an opera ever….

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THE NOBODIES’ GREAT GIFT TO EVERYBODY

THE NOBODIES’ GREAT GIFT TO EVERYBODY

On the cusp of 2018, we are knocking on one of the amazing achievements by a pair of village nobodies 200 years ago. And it’s only thanks to them that we now have an unquestioned masterpiece circulating around the world—“Silent Night,” reigning as arguably the most treasured carol of them all. The message that the creators send us is that, however modest our means or skill or prowess, we can rise above our level to produce something incredible, even if…

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Handel’s ‘Joseph,’ Bride, and Brothers

Handel’s ‘Joseph,’ Bride, and Brothers

“Don’t grab the frog!” Invaluable advice for any string players joining a period-instruments ensemble like Philharmonia Baroque, who hopefully knows better than to hunt bullfrogs down in the water-soaked reeds. No, young people, it’s all about the handle of the violin bow (called the frog), which you leave untouched, grasping the bow further up, as in the days of Bach, thereby getting a mellower, less metallic and more supple sound. That was one of many lessons in hearing the PBO…

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LIVING WOMEN, DEAD MEN (DE)COMPOSING

LIVING WOMEN, DEAD MEN (DE)COMPOSING

The Berkeley Symphony was focusing on women’s music, as both living composers and the guest conductor were from the distaff side. Little wonder: The two dead male composers, a cheery lot,  were immersed on themes of death looking back on two of the grand showmen of early music, Paganini and Liszt. Not to be outdone, piano soloist Cedric Tao put on a show of his own in two works Dec. 7, as if intent on bringing back pianist-composer Liszt from…

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ALMA, 12, IN STRIKING U.S. DEBUT – Just Don’t Call Her the ‘New Mozart’

ALMA, 12, IN STRIKING U.S. DEBUT – Just Don’t Call Her the ‘New Mozart’

The latest 12-year-old Wunderkind and international sensation turned out to be a bubbly composer and a very mature violinist, setting off San Jose’s two-week-long siege of Alma-mania being watched all over the country. The slender-as-a-sylph English girl Alma Deutscher, five feet tall if that, has the stage presence of a Hollywood veteran. She smiles and sways throughout her performance as though standing before her bedroom mirror, totally uninhibited. She clearly loved every minute of music-making before a sell-out crowd, involving…

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NEW OPERA VIEWS UNDERBELLY OF GOLD RUSH – John Adams’ Moving Premiere, Warts and All

NEW OPERA VIEWS UNDERBELLY OF GOLD RUSH – John Adams’ Moving Premiere, Warts and All

In this his fourth opera, composer John Adams reminds me of a football game that is 0-0 at the half, but ends up in a furious 42-41 score. Given major revisions for act one, this could become the resounding opera of our times. Adams’ brutally candid historical opera premiere  retells the California Gold Rush miners’ days, this time with accounts of hardship, poverty, mob violence, lynchings  and  racial prejudice. Whether or not he truly struck gold here, once again he…

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IVES’ FOURTH: WAY AHEAD OF ITS TIME

IVES’ FOURTH: WAY AHEAD OF ITS TIME

The epic Fourth Symphony of Charles Ives is an overwhelming anthology of Americana in a hodge-podge mix with European roots as seen from the distant future. You like dissonances? Charles Ives loved them. The work is unique, bigger than life, with impinging musics, like collisions of galaxies. It’s an element that this musical visionary loved, dating back to his hearing two marching bands intersecting with rival selections on a city street. Always pushing the envelope. Moment to moment in this…

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UNFAMILIAR TWISTS IN CHAMBER MUSIC – Crack Tetzlaffs in Belated Berkeley Debut

UNFAMILIAR TWISTS IN CHAMBER MUSIC – Crack Tetzlaffs in Belated Berkeley Debut

The brother-sister act Plus Two known as the Tetzlaff Quartet played gorgeous music. Sometimes like a well-oiled sports car, the sound purrs at you seductively or inflames you, leaving  the sell-out crowd wishing for more. First violinist Christian Tetzlaff is a legend both as recitalist and concerto soloist, but here he was in a third guise leading a chamber music group in Austrian standards. It was a study in contrasts: Three tall women, poised and disciplined, anchored by sister Tanja…

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