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Chicago Meets Berkeley

Chicago Meets Berkeley

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?

GOOD THINGS COME IN THREES

GOOD THINGS COME IN THREES

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.

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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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.

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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