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Category: Symphony

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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THE RIGHT ‘RITE’ WITH THE RIGHT MAESTRA

THE RIGHT ‘RITE’ WITH THE RIGHT MAESTRA

To hear the right Rite with the right conductor (Susanna Mälkki) would’ve been the right move over the weekend. Music that was despised a century ago is now embraced. One of the world’s foremost women conductors currently, doing arguably the most revolutionary work of all time: a formidable combination. So it wasn’t the original ballet this time, merely the sound of the huge orchestra, which may be ultimately superior. Or are we all anxious to watch in detail the Sacrifice…

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POSTMODERN IMPRESSIONS OF OLD FOLK SONGS

POSTMODERN IMPRESSIONS OF OLD FOLK SONGS

WALNUT CREEK, CA—For 30 years the California Symphony has served as a musical beacon for Contra Costa County, located nearly 30 miles east of San Francisco. And its programs are ambitious, often on the very limits of what can be comfortably carried out and absorbed. The May 7 season finale featured not only the elusive lush-romantic Bruckner, but also a world premiere by composer-in-residence Dan Visconti, 34, from Chicago. Visconti’s 25-minute cello concerto “Tangle Eye”—his third work written for this…

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Berlioz’s Requiem: A Rafter-Shaking Experience

Berlioz’s Requiem: A Rafter-Shaking Experience

One of the greatest assemblies of musicians and singers ever at Davies Hall came together this week for Hector Berlioz’ grand, grand Requiem mass of 1837, performed  with immense reverence.  It’s an Olympic-sized budget-breaker that shakes the rafters on an awe-inspiring scale, making all the other hundreds of requiems in the repertory seem like mere chamber music. The Frenchman Berlioz is duly credited with great orchestration skills, greatly broadening the known sonic spectrum a mere decade or so after Schubert…

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A RELUCTANT SYMPHONY, AND THAT FRESH VIOLIN SPIRIT

A RELUCTANT SYMPHONY, AND THAT FRESH VIOLIN SPIRIT

BOSTON, MA—If you doubted what a great unifying force in the world classical music can be, the recent Boston Symphony concert could be a restoring force. There was music by a Japanese composer commemorating a Russian film-maker, with a violin soloist from Germany and a music director from Latvia—before an American audience shouting loud, healthy Italian bravos. It’s s if a whole world of interaction and, perhaps, human harmony, was opening up before us. The BSO and its Symphony Hall…

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DUSTING OFF MAHLER’S FIRST, TENTH

DUSTING OFF MAHLER’S FIRST, TENTH

Drawing on the first and last, the San Francisco Symphony perused the bookend Mahler symphonies. It was alpha and omega, A and Z, inaugural and swan song—all in one evening. In the process, the SFS played the warhorse in the bunch, the Symphony No. 1, and made it seem fresh as a spring poppy, washing away all the usual starchiness. Credit the resourceful leadership of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, with countless nuances of dynamics and rubato (brief variants in…

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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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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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MUSIC GOING STRAIGHT TO THE HEART

MUSIC GOING STRAIGHT TO THE HEART

LOS ANGELES—A symphony concert by Dudamel & Co. is not an event; it is an experience. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel is transported to another world in conducting his Los Angeles Philharmonic. With a work like Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” (the suite), he is animated and as if in a psychedelic trance during the music, the whole score in memory, and faithfully giving visual cues to the players in unsurpassed efficiency. At the end, 10 seconds of rapt silence before he…

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MAHLER’S GORDIAN KNOT OF A CANTATA

MAHLER’S GORDIAN KNOT OF A CANTATA

SAN FRANCISCO—The young Gustav Mahler undertook painting a huge canvas in his cantata “Das klagende Lied,” a rich hour-long piece undertaken even though he’d never heard a note of his own orchestration. This weighty vocal-orchestral opus unfurls a somber fairy tale in German—not Grimm, but at least grim—that got an even greater production from the San Francisco Symphony, which added sets, costumes in a lavish but stillborn near-operatic staging. This flickering creation is an obsession of Music Director Michael Tilson…

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