HARBISON MORE AT HOME IN CHURCH THAN OPERA

HARBISON MORE AT HOME IN CHURCH THAN OPERA

BERKELEY—In a choral program of psalms, a varied and engaging world premiere by the neoclassical composer John Harbison, 78, took center stage in the current round of concerts by the male chorus Chanticleer. Harbison is fascinating, an East Coast composer who has written in all the genres with eagerness and inventiveness. What has always struck me is the emotion of the individual with the Almighty in his sacred works, as here, is much more effective than the emotion between humans…

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OAKLAND BALLET: PHOENIX RISING OUT OF THE ASHES

OAKLAND BALLET: PHOENIX RISING OUT OF THE ASHES

OAKLAND, CA—-Graham Lustig can pull rabbits out of the hat, or make silk purses from a pig’s ear, or merely make vibrant ballet evenings out of nearly nothing. Just call him somewhere between hyper-wizard and miracle worker. The case in point is his economically trimmed version of “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” mounted for the plucky, long-struggling Oakland Ballet performing in a spartan community-college theater before an audience of about 100. If that. Despite the troupe’s very limited resources and just 19…

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MULTI-DIMENSIONAL OPERA GOING FROM MISCHIEF TO MAYHEM

MULTI-DIMENSIONAL OPERA GOING FROM MISCHIEF TO MAYHEM

I guess I could accept a full-grown male baritone playing a child as long as the opera is full of surreal concepts, and/or fantastic, other-worldly Cocteau-esque settings. But this production of “Les Enfants Terribles” (The Holy Terrors) proved instead to be down-to-earth, lost in every-day realism and crime-blotter chaff. In the end, it failed Cocteau. Jean Cocteau had written the 1929 book, now converted into a 1996 Philip Glass chamber opera with narration, film and dance—performance dimensions going beyond Cocteau’s…

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A REFRESHING RUSH OF CHOREOGRAPHY

A REFRESHING RUSH OF CHOREOGRAPHY

The season finale for the local ballet troupe now called simply SMUIN is a knock-out show, featuring imaginative choreography from both East and West. Our hippie era was exuberantly revived in Trey McIntyre’s elaborately staged large-budget world premiere, “Be Here Now,” marking the 50th anniversary of the Bay Area’s Summer of Love, that one-time exuberance of beads-pot-fringes nirvana. The viable companion piece is Amy Seiwert’s “Broken Open”—-a local choreography competing distinctively on a national level. The stellar New Yorker McIntyre…

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MULTICULTURALIST HARRISON HONORED AT CENTENNIAL

MULTICULTURALIST HARRISON HONORED AT CENTENNIAL

Of all the Lou Harrison centennial tributes, the Other Minds Festival produced one to beat the band. In addition to the sheer variety of works & instruments offered, Other Minds also created palpable environment of good vibrations. This was attributable too to a large crowd resonating with affection and admiration for the inventive and congenial composer who had spent his final half century in the region spanning sites from Santa Cruz to Oakland. The May 20 all-Harrison concert at Mission…

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NADJA’S FAREWELL

NADJA’S FAREWELL

For a grand finale, the New Century Chamber Orchestra served up a savory mix of post-millennium musical canapes. Call it Nadja’s antipasto. Leaving after nine hyperactive years as leader, violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg dished up a night of excerpts from NCCO premieres logged during her tenure. And what could be more appropriate? Within its rather short seasons, the NCCO serves the Bay Area a rich menu of new works. And all indications are that whoever is appointed to succeed her as…

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WHY THE MANIA OVER THIS NEW-CONCEPT MUSICAL ‘HAMILTON?’

WHY THE MANIA OVER THIS NEW-CONCEPT MUSICAL ‘HAMILTON?’

Night After night, audiences are swept away by the sheer electricity of “Hamilton.” This new genre of tightly choreographed music-drama puts earlier musical in the shade, its nonstop inventiveness  enkindling the Orpheum Theater despite this historical account about long-dead Founding Fathers sprawling over nearly three hours, as long as most operas. Emerging recently after the show, patrons from ages 11 to elevated were jubilant and up-lifted, even though the heroic, head-strong title character has suffered a Hamlet-like demise in a…

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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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Return of a Gorgeous Cinderella at SF Ballet

Return of a Gorgeous Cinderella at SF Ballet

The story of Cinderella is so well known and so imprinted with pop culture inflections that finding an audience for any retelling of it in any medium requires a good deal of imagination and perhaps even daring. It is a matter of surpassing rather than affirming previous understanding of the story. Ballet is no exception. The Cinderella story was a ballet first in 1813 (Vienna), then in 1822 (London), again in 1893 (St. Petersburg), and then again in 1906 (London)….

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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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