Berkeley Symphony Orchestra

The Joffrey Ballet's Anna Karenina at Cal Performances

3cal-performances-the-joffrey-ballet-cheryl-mann* Notes *
The Joffrey Ballet's Anna Karenina was presented by Cal Performances last night at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley for the first of three performances. The 2019 ballet with music by Ilya Demutsky was played live by Berkeley Symphony and conducted by Scott Speck.

The music is eerie and busy, there is a lot going on with a full orchestra, piano, and vocalist Lindsay Metzger.

Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, the story is condensed into two acts and runs just shy of two hours. Possokhov uses the floor quiet a bit, but judiciously, the movements are beautifully fluid. The racehorse scene (Act I, Scene 4) was particularly impressive as far as utilizing the many dancers all together, as was Act II, Scene 5, in Betsy Tverskaya's salon (pictured, photograph by Cheryl Mann). I was very much amused by the use of different colored tutus in this latter scene. There was also a lot of using furniture in the dancing, there's a couch that is featured in the love scene between Anna and Vronsky, a bed in Act II's prologue when Anna has a fever and the subsequent scene, and lots of chairs for the Parliament scene.

The production made good use of lighting, projections, and props, it moved through the many scenes effectively without falling flat or feeling too overdone with meticulous details.

The dancers were strong. From the very beginning, Hyuma Kiyosawa is an exuberant Levin, and Yumi Kanazawa is a sweet Kitty. Dylan Gutierrez is a lanky, almost gangly Karenin, but didn't have any trouble doing lifts with both Anna Karenina and their son Seryozha (played by Jimmy Gershenson). Alberto Velazquez is convincing as Vronsky, his duets were particularly good. Best of all was Victoria Jaiani as Anna Karenina. Her extension is incredible, and her utter brokenness at Obiralovka Train Station was haunting. The staging of her death, with the railroad tracks and light of the train, was artful.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet, there was no talking or whispering, only a few rustles of programs or lozenge wrappers disturbed the music.

Stucky, Sibelius, & Stravinsky at Berkeley Symphony

Joana * Notes * 
Last night Berkeley Symphony played a program of Steven Stucky, Sibelius, and Stravinsky. The program was quite coherent, the pieces all hung together well, each having a certain ethereality. The orchestra shimmered under Joana Carneiro, though perhaps lacking precision, the musicians did produce a lovely, hazy sound. Stucky's Radical Light started off almost like white noise, and was generally inoffensive and rather pretty. Its relationship to Symphony No. 7 of Sibelius that followed was clear. Likewise, "Elegy" from August 4, 1964 was harmless enough, and not unattractive as a piece. Stravinsky's The Firebird Suite glittered as the finale of the performance.

* Tattling * 
There was very little whispering, at least at the sides of the orchestra level, where there also were not that many people.

Nagano conducts Berkeley Akademie

Kent-nagano * Notes * 
The Berkeley Akademie Ensemble gave a concert of Bach, Ives, and Beethoven last Sunday at the First Congregational Church. The evening began with a rather strange version of Bach's Concerto in the Italian style for solo harpsichord in F Major, BMV 971 arranged for chamber orchestra by Joachim F. W. Schneider. The first movement sounded crisp except for the bassoon. The horns also had some intonation issues, but the focus of the whole group was quite strong for the Presto. This was followed by the third symphony from Ives, "The Camp Meeting." The tempi were restrained but the playing was fiery. The violin solo in the first movement was particularly plaintive.

After the intermission we heard Beethoven's Septet in E-flat Major. The violinist tossed off notes with great ease in the Allegro con brio part of the first movement, but sounded more strident and brittle in the fourth movement. The horn was less than accurate at times, but had good moments in the second and fifth movements.

* Tattling * 
The bassist was enthusiastic, his movements were comical, and one must to take care not to look at him, lest an inappropriate giggle-fit should strike.

The audience was packed for Kent Nagano's last performance as conductor and artistic director of Berkeley Symphony. I was surrounded by very nice folks who offered me binoculars to view the performers up close, since we were in the last row.

Nagano did not conduct the last piece, and simply listened from the mezzanine. He thanked the audience at the end, and seemed rather humbled by the standing ovation.

Berkeley Symphony's 2009-2010 Season

October 15 2009:
John Adams, The Chairman Dances
Gabriela Lena Frank, Peregrinos (West Coast premiere)
Béla Bartók, Concerto for Orchestra

December 3 2009:
Steven Stucky, Radical Light
Jean Sibelius, Symphony No. 7
Steven Stucky, "Lament" from the oratorio August 4, 1964 (West Coast premiere)
Igor Stravinsky, The Firebird Suite (1919 version)

February 11 2010:
Paul Dresher, Cornucopia
Esa-Pekka Salonen, Five Images After Sappho
Beethoven, Symphony No. 3, "Eroica"

April 1 2010:
Jörg Widmann, Con brio (West Coast premiere)
Samuel Barber, Knoxville, Summer of 1915
Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 1

Official Site | 2009-2010 Season

Paul Haas Conducts Berkeley Symphony

  * Notes *
Paul Haas conducted Berkeley Symphony in a program of Penman, Barber, and Tchaikovsky last Thursday at Zellerbach Hall. The California premiere of Songs the Plants Taught Us by Joshua Penman was apropos for Berkeley, though it did veer into kitsch at times. The soloist for Barber's Violin Concerto, Op. 14, Danielle Belen Nesmith, was expressive and athletic. 

The timing was off at times during Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36. The slow parts felt slack, though the pizzicato in the third movement Scherzo was quite violent. The piece ended well, certainly with fire.

* Tattling * 
People whispered during the music, yet gave a standing ovation to the performance.

William Eddins Conducts Berkeley Symphony

Eddins  * Notes * 
Last Thursday William Eddins conducted the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra in a program that included three short pieces written between the years 1910-1921 by French composers, an American premiere of contemporary music, and Martinů's first symphony. The evening began with the frilly Valse des dépêches by Germaine Tailleferre. The piece sounded suitable for an ice skating number, perhaps. Debussy's La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin scored for orchestra came next, it was quite dreamy and shimmery. Rounding off the French portion of the performance was Lili Boulanger's very pretty D'un matin de printemps.

The highlight of the evening was certainly the American premiere of Allan Gilliland's Dreaming of the Masters II - Rhapsody GEB, not least of all because Eddins was both the piano soloist and conductor. Eddins spoke a bit about the genesis of the piece and explained that the "GEB" of the title refers to Gershwin, Ellington, and Bernstein. What followed was a cheerful, likable synthesis of classical and jazz.

Berkeley Symphony ended with Martinů's Symphony No. 1. The work is rather lush and sweeping, having a rather cinematic sound. They played beautifully throughout, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season.

* Tattling * 
There was much coughing and talking during the performance. The audience clapped in between the first and second movements and the second and third movements of
the Martinů.

William Eddins referred to Ferde Grofé's 1942 orchestration of Rhapsody in Blue as the "wallowing-cow version that you are familiar with."

Hugh Wolff at Berkeley Symphony

Hughwolff* Notes *
Kent Nagano's 30th season as music director of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra will be his last, and the search for his replacement is on. Over this season and the next there will be a total of six guest conductors, one of which may emerge as the next music director. The first of these conductors is Hugh Wolff, who presented a program of Kernis' Overture of Feet and Meters, Osvaldo Golijov's Night of the Flying Horses, Shostakovich's From Jewish Folk Poetry, Op. 79, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92.

The Kernis work is influenced by Baroque dance suites, we were told the wry title refers to "dancing feet and shifting meters." Perhaps this is why the piece sounds a little like Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, both new and old at the same time. It had a cinematic feel, sometimes sweeping and other times very busy. I felt as if I should be seeing something with the music but wasn't.

Of the first half, I was most moved by Golijov. The soloist, Heidi Melton, sang well, she was not shrill and had seems to have gained more control of her voice. There was not a trace of strain or roughness, as when she sang Diane last summer at San Francisco Opera. The orchestra sounded lovely as well, the interplay of violas, second violins, celli, and winds was particularly beautiful.

Shostakovich's songs were presented in Yiddish rather than Russian, and this seemed to work just fine. Again, Melton sang well, though at times she overpowered Katharine Tier and Thomas Glenn. Tier's voice has a certain delicacy, she had one breath in the second song that was a bit too audible, but otherwise was good. I could hear Glenn much better in this than when I heard him last as Robert Wilson at Lyric Opera, but he was occasionally masked by the orchestra. He also seemed to be rushing during his first two songs, the fourth and sixth in the cycle. He does have a sweet voice, and sounded better for the rest of the performance.

The evening ended with a playful rendition of Beethoven's 7th, starting off with a rather stately slowness and finishing at a breakneck speed. The musicians played with suitable crispness, striking nice a balance in articulation.

This performance will be broadcast by KALW 91.7 FM on Sunday, April 27th at 4pm. Wolff will be conducting new music this Sunday evening at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley.

* Tattling *
Hugh Wolff broke his left leg and is still in a cast, so his antics getting around the stage were pretty entertaining. The pre-concert interview revealed that he is an affable and funny person. Apparently he does not compose, despite studying under Messiaen.

A trio of women behind me must have included some singers, for their speaking voices carried well. One told a hilarious story about Stephanie Blythe singing Messiah at NY Philharmonic last December. When she finished singing the B section of "He was despised," and went back to the A section, a man in the front row muttered "Jesus Christ" out of exasperation.

A couple brought their grade school child to the symphony, and he was not enjoying himself, he fidgeted constantly, and quietly whispered to his mum more than once. He was not distracting me, but he kicked the person in front of many times. Finally this person got fed up and angry admonished him during the fifth song of the Shostakovich.