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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SHOSTAKOVICH, BERNSTEIN SURPRISES

SHOSTAKOVICH, BERNSTEIN SURPRISES

SAN JOSE, CA—The San Jose Chamber Orchestra has evolved over the years and appears to benefit from the transition. Formerly an almost-all-women ensemble playing only recent music, it now has a 50-50 gender balance and longer season while playing a predominantly 20th century repertory of better-known works written by concert pianists. It drew a good-sized audience at the Trianon Theatre Jan. 8. While the grand piano still overwhelms the otherwise bright and laudable hall acoustics, the theater (formerly Le Petit…

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THE SPIRIT SINGS AT CHANTICLEER

THE SPIRIT SINGS AT CHANTICLEER

Nothing charges up your Christmas spirit more successfully than Chanticleer’s Christmas concerts. Heard it before? No matter. Most of the sacred repertory is new annually, spanning a millennium or more. Text languages? Nothing special—just eight of ’em a night this year. Revolutionary 16th-century composers helped save the day for us, more than once. This time one motet featured the Englishman William Byrd, who adroitly continued writing sacred music and—-somehow——avoiding execution in the bloody Reformation battles going on outside his door….

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POETIC, BUT NOT REALLY POE-ETIC

POETIC, BUT NOT REALLY POE-ETIC

ROHNERT PARK, CA—To catch important musical works, it can take an hour’s drive out of an arts capital to reach them. Credit the Santa Rosa Symphony and amalgamated choruses for bringing out that very eloquent but little-known choral symphony of Sergei Rachmaninoff, “The Bells,” given in the concerts of Dec. 3-5 here. The composer called it his number one achievement. Coming from his palette in 1913, the 35-minute piece contains some of Rachmaninoff’s most skillful musical effects. If you only know…

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MEZZO MASTERS BAROQUE OPERA, GERMAN LIEDER 

MEZZO MASTERS BAROQUE OPERA, GERMAN LIEDER 

Is this the complete baroque opera mezzo we’ve been awaiting, carrying forward the long line of Horne, Hunt, Bartoli? BERKELEY— Joyce DiDonato has it all, the consummate artist, the seamless Kansan singer who is radically revising the recital medium in her latest concept “In War & Peace: Harmony through Music.” Her new concept, already booked into a 20-city international tour, involves a semi-staged performance of scenelets, equipped with mobile projections, elaborate lights, costumes, even a dancer. As well as a…

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BERLINERS GO VIENNESE IN SAN FRANCISCO

BERLINERS GO VIENNESE IN SAN FRANCISCO

Both sides of the Berlin maestro Simon Rattle were evident and resplendent in the tour concert given on Thanksgiving eve: The formalist/modernist in the Second Vienna School, and the sensual interpreter of Brahms’ Second Symphony—two realms of music many miles apart, though all heavily weighted to Austria. The impact was quite overwhelming, with wild audience huzzahs at each conclusion. Half the program went over to Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, a thicket of often rebellious, impenetrable music that rewrote almost everything…

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SHAKE AND WAKE THE PATRONS (The L.A. Philharmonic)

SHAKE AND WAKE THE PATRONS (The L.A. Philharmonic)

On Halloween (Oct. 31) the Los Angeles Philharmonic knocked the socks off almost every one at Davies Hall with Tchaikovsky’s familiar Symphony No. 4, playing it like a true virtuoso orchestra and sounding like a European ensemble. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel’s melding with this group is total. And, in today’s era of strict tempos, he stretches tempi in heart-warming ritards and rubatos that were commonplace till about a century ago. He has pillowy-soft descents from brassy heights into wind-and-string valleys….

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ETERNAL LIFE IS NOT UTOPIA

ETERNAL LIFE IS NOT UTOPIA

Can you shape a viable opera scenario out of law suits and legal offices? Janacek’s answer was yes, if you thrust into the middle of the muddle a whirlwind femme fatale powering the drama and driving all the men mad as well. Janacek’s improbable 1926 opera “The Makropulos Case” ties in an intriguing fable: Because of a longevity potion, the seemingly youthful lady is now 337 years old, remembering intimate details about relationships and documents established by people long since…

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A DYNAMO OF A CELLIST

A DYNAMO OF A CELLIST

Alisa Weilerstein Shares Stage with Heras-Casado Stemming from a distinguished musical family, Alisa Weilerstein seems determined to be the dynamo of the younger performing generation. Last week back east she squeezed two recitals into one, playing all six unaccompanied Bach suites for cello in one intensive three-hour swoop, a feat that could leave both audience and performer in a sweat-drenched tingle. With the San Francisco Symphony in a more subdued mode, she played the Schumann cello Concerto in A Minor…

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