The maestro with the motionless baton brought his Chicago Symphony on tour to California with predictable old-line programs and polished performances. That maestro is the veteran Italian Riccardo Muti, 76, music director of this esteemed orchestra since 2010. He offers listeners a surprise: He stops all movement of his baton several times a night and lets the ensemble fend for itself for several seconds. It’s as if to say, do you see what an incredible group of players we have, continuing flawlessly without even getting a beat?
After a considerable 2016-17 absence given the birth of her triplets, Music Director Joana Carneiro was back on the podium this week looking as fit as a Guarneri fiddle. It’s a Bay Area first: There’s no record of any symphony conductor here ever having borne triplets and then returning to the podium. Her program at the Berkeley Symphony was unusual, with an avant-garde world premiere, an early Beethoven, and modern pieces requiring rounding up a quartet of saxophones.
The high-flying, versatile Smuin Ballet has put together a rousing evening to elevate the spirits. Somewhere on high, founder Michael Smuin must be smiling. The dancers run the stylistic gamut from modern ballet to Broadway show dance, as adept at one as the other. Credit Artistic Director Celia Fushille, herself a former dancer under Smuin, for shaping a prime ensemble, then assembling a program resplendent in prime-color contrasts. The most daring piece is Annabelle L. Ochoa’s mystical “Requiem for a…
The San Francisco Symphony pulled out all the stops this week. Naturally, because Berlioz was featured as composer. Often derided as an anachronism, Hector Berlioz (1803-1879) was in truth a figure far ahead of his time, a futurist in that he brought the romantic era in music to full fruition. He’d have been very happy in our environment here today, I believe, always wanting things to be bigger and better.
His Prolific Mentor’s Centennial Michael Tilson Thomas showed incredible composure leading a program of music by his longtime mentor, Leonard Bernstein, commemorating the latter’s 100th birthday. When many lesser conductors might have melted completely with the first bars, MTT kept at it, dry-eyed, even in pieces where he had shared duo-piano duties with Bernstein himself, just a couple of years before the latter’s death in 1990. Spanning five decades of Bernstein’s creative life, the works included two of his most…
Daniel Hope’s Right Shoulder Provides the Downbeat The return of violinist Daniel Hope is one of the happiest events of the 2017 Bay Area music scene. If there was any doubt about his musical eloquence, the English maestro led the ensemble in an inspired rendition of the Tchaikovsky “Serenade for Strings” in the Sept. 21 season opener for the New Century Chamber Orchestra. The serenade itself of course is one of the most inspired pieces ever to come out of Russia:…
The Chanticleer singers went out of their normal orbit with their “Heart of a Soldier” program which opened here Sept. 16. Best known for their sacred and early music, this time the dazzling dozen turned toward the uniformed services—not dwelling on the tragedies of wartime and carnage so much as on human elements like separation and courage, plus some inevitable, timeless rallying cries. The program is far more a reflection than a recruitment poster, with some Scriptural texts embedded as well.
Gala symphony-season openings have less to do with music than with entertainment, revelry, and a fashion show. But the infinitely gregarious cellist Yo-Yo Ma did his utmost to carry off the music at the San Francisco Symphony opener, illuminating with his unique persona not one but two works each running about 20 minutes, neither of them a true concerto. He deserved more than the half-minute ovations that turned off abruptly as the festive audience in formals reverted to selfies, animated conversation and exits toward the dance floor.
How long since a world-premiere opera got an instant standing ovation almost five minutes long? With several scenes en route evoking spontaneous applause? The Berkeley Ph.D. grad Mason Bates pulled it off July 22 with his first such effort, a bio-opera on “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.” In portraying the late iPhone creator, warts and all, it spotlighted his unique overdrive personality and headstrong brashness. Often his own worst enemy, the workaholic Jobs drove his coworkers and women in his life as hard as himself, with only his Buddhist teacher Kobun and his own wife Laurene injecting equilibrium into existentialism before the untimely illness and death.
Stellar, no-holds-barred singing by all five principals marks the powerful “Lucia di Lammermoor” currently at the Santa Fe Opera, with Brenda Rae in the title role. If in his most arresting drama the very Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti nudged the Walter Scott story away from Scotland, this production firmly transplanted it to Italy. Instead of kilts and bagpipe regalia, we get white-tie formals and gowns straight out of “La Traviata,” without so much as a Scottish moor or heath in the background (The minimal backdrop appears to be straight out of the US Steel factory).