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Author: Paul Hertelendy

BIGGER THAN LIFE, AND FANTASTIQUE

BIGGER THAN LIFE, AND FANTASTIQUE

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.

MTT Pays Cool Tribute to Bernstein

MTT Pays Cool Tribute to Bernstein

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…

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VIOLINIST-LEADER BRINGS NEW SPIRIT TO NEW CENTURY

VIOLINIST-LEADER BRINGS NEW SPIRIT TO NEW CENTURY

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:…

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THE HUMAN SIDE OF THE MILITARY LIFE

THE HUMAN SIDE OF THE MILITARY LIFE

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.

THE YO-YO SHOW AT THE SYMPHONY-YO

THE YO-YO SHOW AT THE SYMPHONY-YO

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.

JOBS, THE SMART-PHONE GUY, GOES OPERATIC

JOBS, THE SMART-PHONE GUY, GOES OPERATIC

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.

SCOTLAND TURNED ITALIAN IN ‘LUCIA’

SCOTLAND TURNED ITALIAN IN ‘LUCIA’

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).

EXOTIC BIRD, QUEEN, FABLE: RUSSIAN TRIFECTA

EXOTIC BIRD, QUEEN, FABLE: RUSSIAN TRIFECTA

The Russian opera-fantasy “The Golden Cockerel” brings the glorious music of Eastern exoticism by Rimsky-Korsakov onto the stage here, with voluptuous courtly costumes fitting the 1907 era when it debuted. But, saddled with a puerile libretto in Russian, not even the brilliant stage direction by Paul Curran could save this farcical tale about an impotent, buffoonish ruler more obsessed with personal comfort than the well-being of his people. The intent was clearly to satirize the real Tsar then, and perhaps even ruling luminaries of our time in this revival.

MENLO PARK: BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE BACH

MENLO PARK: BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE BACH

Talk about depth. The chamber-music festival Music@Menlo showed off four different lead violinists in baroque concertos, each one better than the previous, and on the under-40 side too. If alone, any one of them could be the star of this bucolic festival running through Aug. 5, though none of them (yet) command wide-spread name recognition, at least on the West Coast. Unlike the past 14 seasons, when the pianists often had the upper hand, this year’s spotlight is on all-strings,…

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BERLIOZ STRIVING TO RECAST THE SYMPHONY

BERLIOZ STRIVING TO RECAST THE SYMPHONY

Hector Berlioz is two different composers, whether thinking symphonically or operatically. As he had proven in his early “Symphonie Fantastique,” he could be brilliant and concise to the max, creating what many would call the greatest French symphony of them all. But when he wrote his “Roméo et Juliette” hybrid work, he was thinking much more operatically, drawing out his statements into overly generous lengths. There are glints of great beauty and finesse, but also a lot of bloated segments…

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