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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NEW CENTURY PLAYERS’ YOUTH MOVEMENT

NEW CENTURY PLAYERS’ YOUTH MOVEMENT

During its interregnum period, the crack New Century Chamber Orchestra  is inviting various contrasting guest leaders. The latest is Benjamin Beilman, a supremely gifted East Coast violinist, who was younger than any of the 19 players in the ensemble that he led on Nov. 9. Though a superb soloist, Beilman has neither the experience nor the knack of integrating into an ensemble and blending his sound seamlessly into the orchestra. Indeed, according to his detailed and impressive CV, he has…

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RUSSIANS SERVE US AN ULTRA-GENEROUS SYMPHONIC PROGRAM

RUSSIANS SERVE US AN ULTRA-GENEROUS SYMPHONIC PROGRAM

The renowned conductor Valery Gergiev returned to the Bay Area, a generation after his leadership  role in the San Francisco Opera’s brief heyday of Russian opera. This time, he was touring with the elite Mariinsky Orchestra of St. Petersburg. If you want him in opera, these days you have to fly to the Met in New York or beyond. The Mariinsky (formerly Kirov) Orchestra poured out its Russian soul Nov. 4 with an intriguing lesser-gems program of early 20th century composers…

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MEXICAN-AMERICAN AMITY IN OAKLAND

MEXICAN-AMERICAN AMITY IN OAKLAND

Four collaborating East Bay troupes furnished a pulse-quickening show in the Oakland Ballet’s latest “Dia de (los) Muertos” blowout before a large crowd whopping it up enthusiastically. The Mexican counterpart to the European Day of the Dead is a joyous feast of color and vivacity despite all the skulls and skeletons dancing about the Paramount stage (as well as others who were ticket-buyers, watching from the prime seats out front, with elaborate face paint). The performance pace was breath-taking, the…

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S.F. SYMPHONY TURNS TO YOUNGER FAST-RISING GUESTS

S.F. SYMPHONY TURNS TO YOUNGER FAST-RISING GUESTS

The fast-rising Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbanski comes across like a breath of fresh air on the symphonic front, even though he looks like a boyish prospect sent to do a man’s job. His airy conducting technique is full of whimsy and sensitivity. His fingers are as expressive as a mime, or some lead dancer in a Russian ballet. And when his arms fly up toward the sky, it reads like a bid for divine intervention to produce exuberant music that…

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SYMPHONY PORTRAYING AN ENTIRE LIFETIME

SYMPHONY PORTRAYING AN ENTIRE LIFETIME

OAKLAND—The enigmatic composer Dmitri Shostakovich left us a profound final symphony, in some ways showing as much versatility as the works of Mahler. The Oakland Symphony revived it in grand fashion at its opening concert Oct. 20. His Symphony No. 15 was supposedly a human’s life cycle, from birth to death. But my own theory is that it was somewhere between an autobiography and a valedictorian statement——-Shostakovich at his most candid and eloquent—at least, as much as was possible under…

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