OBSCURE OLD VIENNESE SYMPHONY REVIVED

OBSCURE OLD VIENNESE SYMPHONY REVIVED

A skillful orchestrator, the Viennese composer Franz Schreker has vanished from the radar a century later, alas, now revived by the S.F. Symphony via his Chamber Symphony of 1916. Indeed, the only trace of him I’ve run across before on the West Coast was a 2010 Los Angeles Opera revival of his “Die Gezeichneten” (The Designated Ones). His nebulous, ear-tingling sounds, closer to Debussy or Charles Koechlin than to any  than any of his Germanic cohorts, produce remarkable, memorable effects…

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CONDUCTOR KAHANE RETURNS TO PIANO ROOTS

CONDUCTOR KAHANE RETURNS TO PIANO ROOTS

BERKELEY—I’ve been fascinated by the California pianist Jeffrey Kahane ever since the 1981 Van Cliburn Competition. He didn’t win it (gold went to André-Michel Schub). But media reports established that, in the opinion of various finalists, though Kahane was unlikely to get the gold medal, he was considered the best keyboard performer of the lot. A rare accolade among high-echelon pianists! Happily, Kahane bounced back two years later, winning the Rubinstein International Competition. Although a successful symphony conductor over the…

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SALOME JOINS HIGH SOCIETY

SALOME JOINS HIGH SOCIETY

The modern-day Salome arrives formally attired in red in a luxury limousine, and departs the same way, carting the severed head of John in the back seat. And along the way, she drinks controlled substances and staggers stupefied throughout. The is not reality TV, but rather the S.F. Ballet at the Opera House playing Arthur Pita’s sexually overcharged world premiere “Salome,” more than a century removed from the scandalous stage versions by Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss. Even though she…

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‘HEROINE-ISM’ SPOTLIGHTED IN MAJOR ADAMS WORK

‘HEROINE-ISM’ SPOTLIGHTED IN MAJOR ADAMS WORK

The essence of the “Scheherazade” tale is not sweeping romantic music, a la Rimsky-Korsakov; composer John Adams outlived that phase of his long ago. Here the essence is the gruesome fate of a heroine faced nightly with becoming murder-victim unless she is a master story-teller on every one of the 1,001 nights. So contends Adams, who introduced his bigger-than-life “Scheherazade.2” (2015) at the S.F. Symphony. This winter the SFS has offered multiple celebrations of his 70th birthday. Call it a…

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THE NIGHT THE GUNFIRE TOOK A REST

THE NIGHT THE GUNFIRE TOOK A REST

SAN JOSE—-A new kind of opera, in which groups of the military play as big a role as the individuals, made its moving West Coast premiere via “Silent Night” by Kevin Puts. While the singing by the 14-member Opera San Jose cast pushing their voices was uneven, the Feb. 11 opening night got a prolonged reception from the sell-out crowd. They witnessed a dramatization of a trench-warfare event that featured an operatic reenactment of the spontaneous Christmas-Eve 1914 cease-fire, with…

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TERROR IN THE ELEGANT ‘FRANKENSTEIN’ BALLET

TERROR IN THE ELEGANT ‘FRANKENSTEIN’ BALLET

You know there won’t be a happy ending if, in the very opening of a 10-scene ballet, the couple falls in love via a pas de deux. But still, there’s little clue to just how violent and tragic “Frankenstein” becomes during the three-hour span. This American premiere of “Frankenstein” brings to the S.F. Ballet an unusually lavish and elegant piece set in an English manor, with opulent 18th-century dress, and a bulging cast of some 41. The decline and fall…

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MUSIC FROM BRAKE DRUMS—–BUT WHICH ONES??

MUSIC FROM BRAKE DRUMS—–BUT WHICH ONES??

Treasure that 1936 Studebaker! Stash the old brake drums in the safe! Composer Lou Harrison, a lover of “found instruments” and new sound timbres, called for percussionists to strike resonant brake drums in pieces like “Canticle No. 3.” But not just any old brake drum. “The ’36 Studebaker had the best ones,” he told me in an interview over 20 years ago. “After that, the car factories all changed the metal (alloy), and the drums wouldn’t ring any more.” A…

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THE ‘QUARTER-STAGED’ ADAMS ORATORIO

THE ‘QUARTER-STAGED’ ADAMS ORATORIO

Those patrons streaming out at intermission missed the best part of John Adams’ massive and ambitious oratorio “The Gospel According to the Other Mary.” As in his earlier oratorio “El Niño,” this magnum opus links biblical narrative with modern-day people and issues via flashback and flashforward. Modern immigration, farm-workers’ rights and women’s activism enter into the scriptural accounts of Lazarus and Jesus, via the adroit texts compiled by librettist Peter Sellars, a frequent Adams collaborator. If this succès d’estime was…

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1917 RUSSIAN REVOLT: IN BALLET

1917 RUSSIAN REVOLT: IN BALLET

The San Francisco Ballet world premiere “Optimistic Tragedy” is a story ballet, but it can’t decide if it will tell a story or just put on a stunning exhibition of male dancers. Yuri Possokhov created a large-scale half-hour work with silent film (much of it from Eisenstein’s “Potemkin”) and videos of crashing surf to portray, not just the launch of the 1917 Russian Revolution in Odessa, but also revolutions in general. To achieve this, line after line of restive Russian…

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A PRICELESS SEGMENT AMIDST A NIGHT OF BALLET

A PRICELESS SEGMENT AMIDST A NIGHT OF BALLET

A jewel of a ballet segment emerged in the middle of a premiere, within the middle of a San Francisco Ballet program (No. 1). The new work is by the Czech choreographer Jiri Bubenicek, ”Fragile Vessels,” using the beloved Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto music. The slow movement I could see becoming a popular excerpt on its own, with just three dancers emerging from a tangle on the floor. The leading lady (the fast-rising principal Dores André) dances with one, then…

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