Cal Performances

Eric Owens at Cal Performances

Eric-owens_01_credit_dario-acosta* Notes * 
Cal Performances presented baritone Eric Owens (pictured left, photograph by Dario Acosta) in recital with pianist Warren Jones on Sunday. The first half of the performance consisted of German Lieder and the second half French chansons. Owens and Jones started with Wolf's Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Michelangelo, which were performed with sensitivity. The four Schumann songs that followed were all rather dark, especially Muttertraum. The three Schubert songs that rounded out the German section of the program seemed sinister. The French section of afternoon had a more dream-like quality, particularly the three songs by Debussy. Ravel's Chanson a boire had particular appeal. Owens was able to establish an immediate rapport with the audience, and though he was not always precise in his intonation, his winning musicality more than made up for this.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly quiet. The encores were Purcell's "Music for a While" and Robert Lowry's "Hanson Place." For some reason, I found the former somewhat surreal to hear from Owens, perhaps because the last four times I have heard this piece live it has been performed by counter-tenor.

Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela

Bolivars-dudamel-2012* Notes * 
Gustavo Dudamel and the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar (pictured left, photograph by Scott Grieder) played the first of two concerts at Cal Performances last night. The program the orchestra is touring right now is entitled "¡MUSICA! A Celebration of Music from Latin America," thus featuring, in this instance, Carlos Chávez, Julián Orbón, and Silvestre Revueltas. The orchestra is huge, so the intensity of the volume is likewise impactful. The orchestra members seemed earnest and serious in playing Chávez's Sinfonia india, the rhythms were all clear. Orbón's Tres versions sinfonicas was, in turns, jaunty, stately, and charming.

The orchestra had fun with the Revueltas that followed the intermission, La Noche de los Mayas, which sounded, as one would expect for a concert suite based on a film score, cinematic. The playing was vigorous and all the musicians seemed present in the moment.

The two delightful encores were La Conga del fuego nuevo by Arturo Márquez and "Mambo" from Bernstein's West Side Story. During the latter, the musicians spun around their instruments and even got up to dance.

* Tattling *
Most of the audience was quiet and attentive. There was some of talking between a few elderly people who must not realize how audible their conversations are to those with unimpaired hearing.

Philharmonia Orchestra's Wozzeck

Philharmonia-orchestra-peg-skorpinski* Notes * 
Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra (pictured left, photograph by Peg Skorpinski) stopped at Cal Performances this weekend as part of a US tour. Last night's program was a semi-staged version of Wozzeck. The lack of set and costumes allowed the music to take precedence, and the drama of this piece remained vivid and clear.

Joshua Ellicott (Andres) sang prettily, while Hubert Francis (the Drum-Major) was strong. Tijl Faveyts was a creepy doctor, his voice has a dryness that makes for a good contrast with the other low voices. He did have a tendency to blend in with the more highly orchestrated parts of the music. Peter Hoare's Captain is mocking and bright. 

Angela Denoke has a sound few rough or sharp edges, yet was able to faithfully portray Marie's anguish. Johan Reuter made for a sympathetic Wozzeck, piteous and crazed. His voice is warm.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking from long-time patrons in the orchestra section. An iPhone (Apple's personal assistant application) was heard when the Idiot sings "Lustig, lustig...aber es riecht." Someone's phone rang when Wozzeck sang about death in the last act.

Einstein on the Beach

Einstein-on-the-beach-cristina-caccone* Notes * 
Cal Performances presented the West Coast premiere of Einstein on the Beach (Act I Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Cristina Caccone) last night in Berkeley. This collaboration between director Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass, first performed on July 25, 1976 at the Festival d'Avignon, feels like a product of its time. This is noticeable in the cut of the costumes and certain aspects of the scenic design. Nonetheless, the monumental opera, which clocks in just under four and a half hours, has a timeless quality as well, and is rather mesmerizing.

There is never a dull moment, each second seems packed with some combination of tones, words, light, or movement. The surreal humor of the piece keeps the proceedings from dreary pretension. The endurance of all the performers is striking. The Philip Glass Ensemble and the chorus held together under the direction of Michael Riesman. The singing was hauntingly beautiful. Jennifer Koh likewise impressed as Einstein, her violin playing never flagged. The choreography, from Lucinda Childs, fits the music perfectly. The two dance scenes are a riveting visualization of the vocal and instrumental lines.

* Tattling * 
Though Wilson and Glass insist that the audience members may come and go as they please, it was difficult to decide where a good stopping point might be, and several people never left their seats. Somehow the lack of formal intermission made others feel that they could speak whenever they wished.

Cal Performances Fall Free for All 2012

Postcard Front - Final Cal Performances is holding a third Fall Free for All this Sunday, September 30th, from 11am to 6pm. Several student ensembles will be featured. Other participants include the Lily Cai Dance Company, the Cypress String Quartet, saxophonist George Brooks, Eth-Noh-Tec Storytelling, the Shotgun Players/Assassins, the Chitresh Das Dance Company, harpsichordist Davitt Moroney, Marcos Silva Brazilian Jazz, Kitka, storyteller Dianne Ferlatte, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, jazz and blues vocalist Pamela Rose, pianist Shai Wosner, shadow puppeteer Daniel Barash, and the Kronos Quartet.

Fall Free for All | Official Site

Cal Performances 2012-2013 Season

September 15-16 2012: National Circus of the People's Republic of China
September 18 2012: Laurie Anderson
September 27-28 2012: Théâtre de la Ville performs Rhinocéros
September 30 2012: Fall Free for All: Open House at Cal Performances
October 10-12 2012: Mariinsky Ballet & Orchestra performs Swan Lake
October 16 2012: Delfeayo Marsalis Octet performs Sweet Thunder
October 20 2012: Georgia's Ensemble Basiani
October 26-28 2012: Einstein on the Beach
November 3 2012: Dan Savage
November 3 2012: Calder Quartet
November 3 2012: Concert Köln
November 4 2012: Dell'Arte Company performs The Fish in My Head
November 7 2012: Chucho Valdés & Afro-Cuban Messengers
November 8 2012: Gloria Cheung, piano
November 9-11 2012: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
November 13 2012: Emanuel Ax, piano
November 15 2012: Fran Lebowitz
November 17 2012: Angélique Kidjo
November 23-25 2012: Mummenschanz
November 29-30 2012: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela
December 8 2012: Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performs Messiah
December 14-23 2012: Mark Morris Dance Group performs The Hard Nut
January 19 2013: Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour
January 24 2013: Yo-Yo Ma, cello and Kathryn Stott, piano
January 26-27 2013: Joffrey Ballet
January 27 2013: Nicolas Hodges, piano
February 1-2 2013: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
February 3 2013: Kodo
February 8 2013: Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca
February 10 2013: Eric Owens, bass-baritone and Warren Jones, piano
February 10 2013: Ira Glass
February 12 2013: Christian Tetzlaff, violin
February 15-17 2013: Circus Oz
February 17 2013: Leonidas Kavakos, violin
February 19 2013: Milos̆, guitar
February 24 2013: Oakland Folkharmonic
February 24 2013: Susanna Phillips, soprano
March 1-10 2013: The Secret Garden
March 2 2013: Voices of Afghanistan
March 3 2013: Brentano String Quartet
March 9 2013: Nathan Gunn, baritone and Julie Gunn, piano
March 10 2013: Jeffrey Kahane, piano $42
March 15 2013: Trisha Brown Dance Company
March 17 2013: Afiara String Quartet
March 17 2013: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
March 22-23 2013: Australian Chamber Orchestra
March 23 2013: The Tallis Scholars
March 24 2013: Mohammad Reza Shajarian, vocals
March 30 2013: Afropop Spectacular
April 7 2013: Davitt Moroney, harpsichord
April 10 2013: Paquito D'Rivera and the Assad Brothers
April 13 2013: Ray Kurzweil
April 13 2013: Trout Fishing in America
April 14 2013: Simon Trpčeski, piano
April 18 2013: Arlo Guthrie
April 23-28 2013: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
April 26-27 2013: Handel and Haydn Society
May 3-5 2013: Les 7 Doigts de la Main Circus
May 10-12 2013: Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
May 17 2013: San Francisco Opera Orchestra
June 11-13 2012: Ojai North!

Einstein on the Beach will be performed this October. Philharmonia Orchestra performs Wozzeck on Saturday, November 10. San Francisco Opera performs a new work by Nolan Gasser in March. Handel and Haydn Society performs Jephtha on Saturday, April 27 .

Official Site | Brochure

Ojai North! Programs 5-6

Leif-ove-andsnes-ojai-north-2012* Notes * 
Ojai North! at Cal Performances ended with two performances on Thursday. Program 5 began with two contemporary pieces, Hafliði Hallgrímsson's Poemi and Bent Sørensen's Piano Concerto No. 2. Both were played by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (Det Norske Kammerorkester), featuring violinist Terje Tønnesen in the first work, and Music Director of the Ojai Festival and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (pictured left, photograph by Felix Broede) in the second. Hallgrímsson's Poemi is evocative and tense. The musicians communicated clearly with each other and the playing was beautiful. The Sørensen had a little bit of everything: claves played by the whole orchestra, humming, rumbling, and brightness. The contrasts between the orchestra and pianist were carefully drawn, and the moments of similarity were also lovely.

It was interesting to note the opposite postures the two soloists took, Tønnesen seems flexible, and bends backward as he plays and constantly moves, while Andsnes hunches more or less in the same position. This of course has to do with their instruments as much as anything else.

The second half of Program 5 consisted of Berg's Four Songs Op. 2, sung by mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn with pianist Marc-André Hamelin and Leif Ove Andsnes playing Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53, "Waldstein." Stotijn's voice has a deep resonance, and her singing was sensitive and hypnotic. Andsnes played "Waldstein" with a grim determination. His style is dry, and for the Beethoven, seemed to lack a sense of breath.

After a break of thirty minutes, Program 6 began with Andsnes playing several György Kurtág pieces. Andsnes sounded precise and elegant. This was followed by a pretty rendition of Debussy's Danse sacrée et danse profane from the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, with Ida Aubert Bang as the harp soloist.

Stotijn and Hamelin returned to the stage with Cabaret Songs by William Bolcom. Stotijn's voice is perhaps not quite as well suited for this as the Berg earlier. The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra ended Ojai North! with Grieg's "Holberg" Suite. The musicians, having changed into summery street clothes, played with vigor. Everyone but the cellists stood and even danced during the Rigaudon. The exuberance of the playing was wonderful to see and hear.

* Tattling *
Someone's mobile phone rang during the Hallgrímsson. A service dog seated by Row G Seat 1 made several high pitched noises, and had to be taken outside in the middle of the Kurtág.

Ojai North! 2012

Inuksuit-rehearsal-ojai-2012Ojai North! at Cal Performances | Ojai Music Festival

Ojai North! began on Monday with a free performance of John Luther Adams' Inuksuit (rehearsal in Ojai pictured left, photograph by Timothy Norris). 6 different performances occur from Tuesday through Thursday this week. Performers include pianists Leif Ove Andsnes, Marc-André Hamelin, and Reinbert de Leeuw; mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn; and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra.

Luisotti & Peled with the SF Opera Orchestra

A--San-Francisco-Opera-Orchestra* Notes * 
Cal Performances hosted Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) on Sunday afternoon, their second this season in Berkeley. The concert began with Prokofiev's First Symphony, and the orchestra sounded best in the graceful, dancing third movement. The woodwinds were clear, as was the brass. The piece that followed, Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 1, featured soloist Amit Peled. Peled played with a beautiful, legato line. After intermission we heard Symphony in D Major by Cherubini. The playing was charming and joyous. It was lovely to see and hear this opera orchestra on stage, the camaraderie of the players and their love of music is apparent.

* Tattling *
There was very little noise from the audience. A man in Row A Seat 120 of the mezzanine looked at his phone at 3:30pm and left just a little afterward. Someone else on this level screamed an obscenity after the Moderato of the Haydn. It was unclear why.

Susan Graham at Cal Performances

Susan_Graham_Credit_Dario_Acosta * Notes * 
Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (pictured left, photograph by Dario Acosta) is in the midst of a recital tour through 8 North American cities, starting in Quebec and ending in Washington, DC. The recitals are accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau and program is thematic, "inspired by iconic female characters." Her Berkeley performance last night, presented by Cal Performances, was winsome. The evening began with Purcell's "Tell me, some pitying angel" (The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation). Graham's breathing was rather audible, but her singing was never breathy, and her high notes had a bell-like quality. In the Berlioz that came next, La mort d'Ophélie, her dynamics were clear, her singing smooth. Martineau's accomplished playing was supportive and never overwhemlming. Before the intermission we heard 6 songs based on Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, each from a different composer. One was able to compare Liszt's setting of "Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn" with Wolf's. Perhaps most beautiful was "Нет, только тот, кто знал" ("None but the Lonely Heart") by Tchaikovsky. The piece is set to Lev Aleksandrovich Mei's "Песнь Арфиста" ("Harpist's Song"), based on Goethe's "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt."

The second half of the show started again with a song in English, Joseph Horowitz's Lady Macbeth, with a text adapted from Shakespeare. Hearing the familiar words sung was chilling, and Graham delivered the words clearly. Poulenc's Fiançailles pour rire, 6 songs based on poems by Louise de Vilmorin, were similarly dark, but, at times, more humorous. The last three songs of the program were announced from the stage, the "spontaneous" part of the recital, as Graham explained. She went on to say that the first songs had been about good girls, and the second set about bad ones, "ladies of a questionable moral compass." She sang Messager's "J'ai deux amants," first asking the audience for a translation of the title, and noting it was "I have two lovers, not I have two almonds." Graham followed this with Cole Porter's "The Physician" from Nymph Errant, which was jaunty and rather funny. Even more amusing was the Ben Moore song written for Graham, "Sexy Lady," in which she pokes fun at her repertoire, including her many trouser roles. There was much merriment, and Martineau played the Mozart, Strauss, and Händel references with exuberance.

The three encores were "Connais-tu le pays" by Thomas, "The Boy from..." by Sondheim, and "À Chloris" by Hahn. Graham made the most of the tongue twisting place names in the Sondheim, whether fictional or otherwise.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly quiet, some light murmuring was noted, but no electronic noise. The woman in Row L Seat 11 whispered a few times to her companion in Seat 13. After intermission they moved over toward the center. A man in Row K, who happened to be in front of this couple after they switched seats, put on his sweater during the last encore. This incited the woman to complain fiercely (but at least quietly and only for a moment), as he was blocking her view.

Davitt Moroney play Bach's French Suites, BWV 812-817

French-suites-johann-schneider* Notes * 
Cal Performances presented a recital of Bach's French Suites played by Davitt Moroney yesterday afternoon. There were three harpsichords on stage: one from UC Berkeley's music department, one belonging to Davitt Moroney himself, and one lent by Peter and Cynthia Hibbert of Palo Alto. All three were made by John Phillips from 1995 to 2010, based on historical models. It was interesting to compare the three instruments, each so different. Moroney played Suites No. 1 and 5 on the third harpsichord, based on a instrument made by Johann Heinrich Gräbner from Dresden in 1722; Suites No. 2 and 4 on the first, modeled after Andreas Ruckers (Antwerp, 1646) but enlarged by François-Étienne Blanchet in 1756, and reworked by Pascal Taskin in 1780; and Suites No. 3 and 6 on his own instrument, based on a harpsichord by Nicolas Dumont from Paris in 1707.

The Gräbner harpsichord was cleanest, Moroney's playing came off as elegant and refined. His playing is restrained and not terribly expressive. Personally, I have an irrational affection for this Ruckers-Taskin, as it was likely the first harpsichord I ever heard in person. The instrument has more of a rich muddiness, not entirely appropriate for the French Suites, perhaps, but not unpleasant. The Dumont right in the middle of the stage had a sound that was more subtle than the Ruckers-Taskin but not as neat as the Gräbner.

Moroney spoke quite charmingly between the pieces. His favorite movement is the Allemande of Suite No. 4. Mine may have been the Sarabande of Suite No. 3. I enjoyed Moroney's dry playing, though I occasionally wished for just a bit more capering.

* Tattling * 
Many of the attendees read the score during the performance. There was only slight whispering and no electronic noise.

Philippe Jaroussky & Apollo's Fire at Cal Performances

PhilippeJaroussky_01* Notes * 
Apollo's Fire, lead by harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell, performed in Berkeley yesterday afternoon as part of a North American tour with countertenor Philippe Jaroussky (pictured left). The Cleveland-based early music ensemble is aptly named, and the musicians certainly do play with fiery passion under Sorrell's direction. The intonation was imperfect, but it was heartening to hear how much energy was brought to the music. The program began with Vivaldi's Allegro from the Concerto Grosso in D major, arranged here by Sorrell. The ensemble went right into Händel's "Agitato da fiere tempeste" from Oreste as Jaroussky walked onto the stage. This was followed by "Ho perso il caro ben" from Il Parnasso in Festa, also by Händel. Jaroussky's voice is otherworldly, being very flexible and having such an ease to it. The violin concerto (Vivaldi's Op. 8, No. 5) interspersed between the first two Händel arias and the second two was rather more strained. One was struck by how violent the attacks were in this piece. The following arias were from Imeneo and Ariodante. Jaroussky sang both "Se potessero i sospir miei" and "Con l'ali di constanza" seamlessly. His breath control is astounding, and it is odd indeed that such an ethereal, gorgeous sound is produced by a rather awkward, skinny fellow.

The second half of the concert started with Händel's Prelude in A major, for solo harpsichord and his Chaconne from Terpsichore (Il pastor fido). This was followed by three Vivaldi arias: "Se mai senti spirati sul volto" from Catone in Utica, "Vedrò con mio diletto" from Giustino, and "Frà le procelle" from Tito Manlio. Vivaldi's Concerto Grosso "La Follia" gave Jaroussky a break between the first and second arias, and also showed off the ensemble's playing to best effect. Jaroussky sang the Vivaldi splendidly. The three encores were an aria by Porpora, "Venti, turbini" from Händel's Rinaldo, and "Ombra mai fu" from Händel's Serse.

* Tattling * 
The audience was, for the most part, quiet and attentive. Unfortunately, someone's watch alarm rang many times during two of the Vivaldi arias, and a cellular phone rang as well.

MMDG's Dido and Aeneas

MMDG_Dido&Aeneas_08_Credit_BeatrizSchiller  * Notes * 
The Mark Morris Dance Group (pictured left, photograph by Beatriz Schiller) opened the new season at Cal Performances with Dido and Aeneas yesterday evening. The audience seemed completely rapt by the experience, and I have never attended a Baroque opera with so little fidgeting or noise. Morris fills all the music with choreography, so there is not a moment in which audience members feel comfortable speaking, especially since the work is only an hour long without an intermission. The dancing is unsentimental and not overly pretty. Limbs were thrown about at angles, and looked rather different on each of the 12 dancers. There were times when the choreography was much more like miming than dancing, and Morris is not shy of being crude. Humor was infused into many of the scenes, especially when dealing with witches or sailors. The dancers characterized their different roles clearly.

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra started off less crisply than usual under Mark Morris himself, but did often sound lovely. There was a slight squeaky quality to the dance at the end of Scene 2. The chorus also sounded fine. Since all of the singing was from the pit, most of the soloists sounded a bit like they were singing from the bottom of a well. Soprano Yulia Van Doren (Belinda, First Witch) sang prettily, and soprano Céline Ricci (Second Woman, Second Witch) was distinct from her. Brian Thorsett sounded bright though not hefty as the Sailor. Philip Cutlip (Aeneas) sang with warmth and lightness. Stephanie Blythe gave a vivid performance as both Dido and the Sorceress. Her voice has both volume and gravity.

* Tattling * 
The audience members around me were almost completely silent and no electronic noise was noted.

Les Violons du Roy featuring Alexander Weimann

LesViolonsDuRoy_01_&BernardLabadie_Credit_LucDelisle  * Notes * 
Les Violons du Roy and Bernard Labadie (pictured left, photo by Luc Delisle) had a second performance at Berkeley's Cal Performances yesterday. This one featured the ensemble's harpsichordist, Alexander Weimann. The entire program consisted of pieces by J.S. Bach. Again, Labadie got a lot of airiness out of the players, the playing was together and smooth. There were times when the contrast between the modern instruments and the harpsichord was obvious and even jarring. Weimann did well in the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, sounding crisp and dry. Both Allegri were taken very fast, and the strings were rather loud in the final one. The Orchestral Suite No. in C major was spirited, but lacked a certain dance-like quality. Labadie did take time to introduce Contrapunctus XIV from the Art of Fugue, and his love of Bach was clear.

* Tattling * 
The mezzanine level of Zellerbach Hall was nearly empty. The only disturbance I heard was my own fault, as I dropped my program in the middle of the harpsichord concerto.

Les Violons du Roy with Ian Bostridge

IanBostridge_05_Credit_SimonFowler  * Notes * 
Tenor Ian Bostridge (pictured left, photo by Simon Fowler) performed with Les Violons du Roy at Cal Performances yesterday in Berkeley. The performance was odd but certainly of interest. For one thing, the string players of Les Violons du Roy use Baroque bows on modern instruments. The effect was bizarre, given that the bowing technique did not strike me as particularly historically informed. The playing under Bernard Labadie was fairly legato, with clear dynamic contrasts, and a nice airiness. The brisk tempi of Geminiani's Concerto Grosso No. 12 in D minor was particularly dumbfounding.

Many of the pieces Bostridge sang were those that Händel wrote for three particular tenors: Francesco Borosini, Annibale Pio Fabri, and John Beard. His voice is light and pretty. Singing with the ensemble, some of his lower notes did not resonate as nicely has his high ones did. Bostridge showed very little strain in his singing, only a few notes of Vivaldi's "La tiranna" from Arsilda, Regina di Ponto were less than effortless. Bostridge is a somewhat awkward fellow, but this is disarming at times, as when he explained how he considered "From Celestial Seats Descending" the "sexiest music Händel ever wrote." Bostridge and Les Violons du Roy gave two encores, the first from Conti's Don Chisciotte in Sierra Morena, and the second from Boyce's Solomon.

* Tattling * 
Sadly, the orchestra level of Zellerbach Hall was only half full. I was seated in front of the wife of a prominent person at Cal Performances, who had the unfortunate habit of tapping her toes to some of the music. She was always on beat, but after intermission I took it upon myself to move up two rows, where I would not be directly in front of anyone.