Concert Review

Meredith Monk at YBCA

Meredith-monk-38-of-56* Notes * 
Composer and vocalist Meredith Monk (pictured left) and her ensemble are currently performing On Behalf of Nature at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The opening performance on Friday was mesmerizing. The six singers all move beautifully, and it is impressive that one of them, Allison Sniffen, plays keyboards, violin, and French horn. The other two instrumentalists, Bohdan Hilash (winds) and John Hollenbeck (percussion), are also clearly accomplished players, though their choreography was understandably less elaborate.

The vibrant, visceral work is an entire world filled with pre-verbal babbling that spans a great emotional range; humming, textural instrumentals; stark, simple movements; deconstructed costumes made from the each performers old clothing; and gorgeous lighting design.

Ellen Fisher did some wonderful spins in the middle of the piece, donning a costume with panels to accentuate the movement. Katie Geissinger and Allison Sniffen had a moving duet. The blue light that bathed the stage for part of the second half was striking, as was the last costume change which had all of the cast in white. I particularly liked the sound of bells and the very loud droning that seemed to shake the whole theater.

* Tattling * 
There was no intermission for this 75 minute performance, which was evidently difficult for some members of the audience.


Rachel Podger at PBO

Rachel_Podger_violin_credit_Jared_Sacks* Notes * 
Violinist Rachel Podger (pictured left, photograph by Jared Sacks) lead Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in Vivaldi concerti from La cetra, La stravaganza, and L'estro armonico recently. The performance at the SFJazz Center last Friday in San Francisco was fiery. Podger had the eleven violinists and three violists standing, and lead with warmth and intelligence. As one would expect, the cellists and theorbo player sat, the bassist stood, and Hanneke van Proosdij stood at her organ but sat at her harpsichord.

The soli were all quite clear, and it was also wonderful when the orchestra or the soloists played in unison. Podger had particularly nice rapport with Elizabeth Blumenstock in Concerto for 2 Violins Op. 3, No. 8 in A minor, RV 522 and with Carla Moore in Concerto for 2 Violins Op. 9, No. 9 in B-flat major, RV 580. David Tayler had a lovely solo in the first half of the program, and it was nice to hear the theorbo by itself for a change. Cellist Phoebe Carrai gave a ferocious performance, and was particularly strong in Concerto for 2 Violins and Violoncello Op. 3, No. 11 in D minor, RV 565. Ellie Nishi's viola playing in Concerto for 4 Violins and Violincello Op. 3, No. 10 in B minor was also quite strong.

The violinists deftly switched places between pieces, with minimal fuss or disruption. The encore was the Largo from La Stravaganza, Op.4, Concerto No. 12 in G major, RV 298.

* Tattling * 
A man across the aisle from me in Row G occasionally spoke loudly to his companion in the first half but settled down in the second.


ABS Performs Matthew Passion

440x440xBach-ChesterW-1024x1024.jpg.pagespeed.ic.AZdbkahVbB* Notes *
American Bach Soloists is currently performing sold-out St. Matthew Passion concerts around the Bay Area. Jeffrey Thomas conducted a fastidious performance in Berkeley last night. The orchestra played neatly. The soloists were not entirely even, and the choral singing often sounded most cohesive.

Tenor Derek Chester (pictured left) sounded lovely as the Evangelist. His voice carries well, and he though he did have a few squeaks here and there, he sang compellingly. William Sharp gave an elegant performance as Christ, and also sang "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein," the last baritone aria of the piece.

Hélène Brunet had an ABS debut as first soprano and sounded quite clear. Clara Rottsolk (Soprano II) has beautiful low notes. Agnes Vojtko (Alto I) also had a fine lucidity in her singing. As Alto II, countertenor Jay Carter was somewhat strained, but his "Können Tränen meiner Wangen" was effective.

Tenor Charles Blandy has a bright sound with some rough edges, and tenor Jon Lee Keenan a pretty, reed-like voice that is perhaps less resonant. Baritone Thomas Meglioranza (Basso I) was easier to hear than baritone Joshua Copeland (Basso II).

* Tattling *
The person in Row H Seat 114 during Part II had difficulty being quiet. Not only did she speak to the woman she came with but she hummed along with the American Bach Choir and was rather out of tune.

My puerile companion was amused that one of the witnesses was sung by the countertenor.


Paul Goodwin Conducts SFS

NewGoodwin_MannyEspinoza* Notes * 
Conductor Paul Goodwin (pictured left, photograph by Manny Espinoza) is leading the San Francisco Symphony in a rather traditional program of Bach and Mozart this weekend. Goodwin, however, is anything but staid. He has a clear point of view and the orchestra sounds powerful under his direction. Last night's concert began with a stately rendition of J.S. Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3. The trumpets were particularly vital and in tune.

These performances mark the San Francisco Symphony debut of soprano Lydia Teuscher, who sang two Mozart arias and Bach's Wedding Cantata. Her voice is bright and pretty. The tenor clarinets were lovely in "Al desio, di chi t'adora." The oboist sounded quite happy in the Bach, and the string soloists also played well. The bass player seemed to be having a lot of fun.

The evening ended with Mozart, a rousing Symphony No. 31, Paris.

* Tattling * 
There was some whispering noted in the orchestra. Someone seated around Row N Seat 5 left in the middle of the Wedding Cantata, climbing over other patrons while quietly apologizing.


ABS Performs Acis and Galatea

Nola_Richardson_3813* Notes *
This weekend American Bach Soloists is performing Händel's Acis and Galatea with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. During last night's Berkeley concert Jeffrey Thomas conducted a crisp, vibrant Acis and Galatea. All of the soloists sang with a fine lucidity and the chorus sounded decisive.

Nola Richardson (pictured left) had a lovely debut with ABS. Her Galatea is clear voiced and exact. Her Acis, Kyle Stegall, sounded pretty and light. Stegall's tenor contrasted nicely with Zachary Wilder's. The latter's sound is bright and his coloratura in "Consider, fond shepherd" was good. Bass Mischa Bouvier is an imposing Polyphemus. His trio with Richardson and Stegall was great.

The evening started with Bach. The violin soloist, Elizabeth Blumenstock, was not particularly precise but always quite lively. The recorders, played by Judith Linsenberg and Debra Nagy, sounded elegant, especially in the middle movement Andante.

* Tattling *
Parking by First Congregational was exceedingly difficult as there was a basketball game at nearby UC Berkeley.

The concert ended with an encore by the chorus and orchestra of "Happy We."


MTT Conducts L'Histoire du soldat

Mahler51213* Notes * 
This weekend Michael Tilson Thomas (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) is conducting seven members of the San Francisco Symphony in performances of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du soldat. The vivid piece is narrated by Elvis Costello, who does a fine job declaiming his lines. Nick Gabriel (The Soldier) is earnest and Malcolm McDowell (The Devil) certainly is charming. It is adorable when MTT himself speaks the lines of The King in Part II. The playing is incisive and spirited. Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik sounded particularly lovely, as did clarinetist Carey Bell.

The performance starts with John Adams conducting his 1982 piece Grand Pianola Music, which is being recorded for future release. Adams addresses the audience before commencing the piece, explaining the genesis of the piece and its influences. He also notes a tuba solo in Part I, which he called a "bovine moment."

The work, in fact, is startlingly beautiful. The pianists, Orli Shaham and Marc-André Hamelin play cohesively. The orchestra, which included woodwinds, brass, and percussion, sound grounded. Synergy Vocals is wonderfully ethereal, the three singers make for haunting sirens.

* Tattling * 
The audience on the orchestra level was very quiet for the John Adams. For the most part people were also quiet for the Stravinsky, but a woman in Row W Seat 102 was compelled to whisper to those adjacent to her as the ensemble played in Part II.


Steven Isserlis at PBO

Steven_Isserlis_credit_Satoshi_Aoyagi1* Notes * 
Cellist Steven Isserlis (pictured left, photograph by Satoshi Aoyagi) is playing with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in the Bay Area starting with a performance at the SFJazz Center last night in San Francisco. The program is bookended with symphonies by Haydn, the first one being No. 57 in D major, and the second No. 67 in F major. The hall is designed for amplified music, so period instruments can sound rather crackly. However, the sound system can compensate for this, and the second Haydn piece seemed warmer and more resonant than the first.

Nicholas McGegan conducted a jovial and sprightly performance. Symphony No. 57 was a happy way to open. The tuning of the violin duet in Symphony No. 67 sounded a bit strange to me. But the trio that follows of concertmaster Katherine Kyme, principal second violinist Anthony Martin, and principal cellist Tanya Tomkins was beautiful.

Isserlis joined the orchestra for what was listed in the program as Luigi Boccherini's Concerto for Violoncello No. 7 in G major, but was actually Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Concerto for Violoncello in A major. Isserlis gave a sparkling performance, his playing has long lines and a beautiful legato. After intermission, Isserlis informed us we had been subject to a "ghastly hoax" and explained that the Boccherini was to come, as they had already played the Bach. The Adagio was especially lovely. Isserlis played an encore that involved much switching from pizzicato to arco.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet and little electronic noise was noted.


Dutoit conducts Fauré's Requiem

Charles-Dutoit-4x6* Notes * 
At the moment, Charles Dutoit (pictured left) is conducting San Francisco Symphony in performances of Poulenc, Stravinsky, and Fauré. Poulenc's Gloria began the concert on Thursday. The orchestra sounded bright and the chorus was cohesive. The "Laudamus te" was particularly jaunty. The soloist, soprano Susanna Phillips, sounded gorgeous. The "Domine Deus" was clear and haunting.

The Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms, took a bit to set up, as the piece does not have high strings and also requires two pianos. The flute, oboe, and bassoon had a lovely moment.

After intermission we heard Fauré's Requiem. The soloists were both strong. Bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann has a rich, powerful voice. Susanna Phillips sounded rather sublime as well. The dynamics of the piece were evident, and the chorus' pianissimo was impressive.

* Tattling * 
There was only a brief exchange around me by one couple at one point during the last piece.


Vivaldi's Juditha triumphans at PBO

Van de Sant Portrait new* Notes * 
The 2013-2014 season of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra ended with Vivaldi's only surviving oratorio Juditha triumphans devicta Holofernis barbarie. The work features a few of the more unusual Baroque instruments. Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock played viola d'amore in "Quanto magis generosa" and clarinetist Eric Hoeprich played a chalumeau in "Veni, veni, me sequere fida." Both of these arias are for Juditha, and were sung beautifully by mezzo-soprano Cécile van de Sant (pictured left) at Sunday's concert in Berkeley. Her voice is rich and smoky, with great resonance. The orchestra was in fine form, as was the chorus. One was especially impressed at how the chorus was able to nuance the different roles it played.

The rest of the singing was more than competent. Soprano Dominique Labelle sang the role of Juditha's handmaid Abra. Mezzo-soprano Diana Moore sang Holofernes with authority, she did a particularly nice rendition of "Seda, o cara, dilecta speciosa." Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux sounded bright as Vagaus, the squire of Holofernes. Her parts with the chorus were wonderful and her coloratura in "Quamvis ferro, et ense gravis" was incredible.

* Tattling * 
I was sandwiched between subscribers that talked over me before the performance, but were kindly apologetic about doing so. They did keep fairly quiet during the music. Someone's mobile telephone in Row F quacked while Holofernes sang recitative.

I was under the impression this performance would be two hours or perhaps two and a half hours long, but with a run time of three, I sadly had to leave at intermission.


Philippe Jaroussky & VBO at GMC

Philippe_jaroussky__c_simon_fowler_licensed_to_virgin_classics* Notes * 
Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky (pictured left, photograph by Simon Fowler) is currently on tour with Orchestra Barocca di Venezia (VBO) and performed yesterday at Sonoma State University's Green Music Center. The program is entitled "A Legendary Battle: Farinelli & Porpora vs. Carestini & Händel" and includes instrumental works by both composers interspersed with eight arias written for castrasti. VBO seems to consist of a harpsichordist, eight violinists, two violists, two cellists, a bassist, a bassoonist, a lute player, two oboists, and two horns. The playing was best when the tempi were meant to be brisk and the volume loud. The quieter, slower Minuetto of Porpora's Overture from Il Germanico was slightly lax. The Largo e piano of Händel's Concerto Grosso in A Minor was unfocused compared to the Allegro movements that proceeded and followed it. Händel's Concerto Grosso in G Major has three Allegro movements, and certainly was the most charming of the instrumental selections.

Jaroussky sounded as sublime as ever. His voice has such an open ease to it. He sang Porpora's "Mira in cielo" from Arianna e Teseo and "Si pietoso il tuo labro" from Semiramide riconsciuta with haunting beauty. The two arias from Händel's Alcina, "Mi lusinga il dolce affeto" and "Stà nell'Ircana pietrosa tana" also came off well. The different colorings of the word "cacciator" in the latter alone were impressive. Likewise, after intermission Jaroussky did splendidly with Händel's "Agitato da fiere tempeste" from Oreste and "Scherza infida" from Ariodante. The concert ended with two arias from Porpora's Polifemo and the encore was Geminiano Giacomelli's "Sposa, non mi conosci."

* Tattling * 
The audience members were, for the most part, quiet. No electronic noises were noted. The woman in the third row from the stage, Seat 9, insisted on talking to both her neighbors, one of whom was her daughter. She did stop vocalizing after being hushed twice, but also had the sniffles and may have fallen asleep. She and her daughter did have the good sense to leave after the interval.


ABS performs Magnificat

Bach-magnificat* Notes *
Last weekend American Bach Soloists performed a program consisting entirely of works by Johann Sebastian Bach. Last Sunday's San Francisco concert began with the very cheery and sycophantic "Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!" The ensemble, conducted by ABS Music Director Jeffrey Thomas, played neatly. The tenor, Guy Cutting, was slightly blustery, while soprano Clara Rottsolk sounded quite clear. Countertenor Eric Jurenas has a somewhat manic edge to his voice, but was much easier to hear than baritone William Sharp, who would occasionally blend in with the orchestra. The chorus was lovely.

The Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor that followed featured flautist Sandra Miller, who played beautifully and was well-supported by the rest of the musicians. After intermission we heard the cantata "Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir" and were invited to join in for the chorale. The evening ended with Magnificat. The playing was tidy. The soloists sounded wonderful together, the alto and tenor duet with Jurenas and Cutting was particularly nice, as was the trio with sopranos and alto.

* Tattling *
The audience was silent and attentive. I was impressed by how well the chorale went.


Boyce's Solomon at PBO

Van_doren* Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra continued its 2013-2014 season with a set of performances entitled "Solomon in London." The San Francisco performance was again held at the SFJAZZ Center as Herbst Theatre undergoes a retrofit. The new venue lends the orchestra a more incisive sound, but Nicholas McGegan still gets his musicians to play with cheer and bounciness.

The concert started with William Croft's Burial Service, and McGegan dedicated this piece to Nelson Mandela, rather than Stanley's Concerto for Strings in B Minor, Op. 2, No. 2, which came later in the evening.

The main attraction of the concert was William Boyce's Solomon. The piece certainly has some amusing lines, and PBO played with vim. Soprano Yulia Van Doren (pictured above) and tenor Thomas Cooley seemed to have fun singing together. They clearly listened to each other. Van Doren sounded strong but had a bird-like quality as well. Cooley's high notes ring out but his lower ones do get a bit lost.

* Tattling * 
I was scolded for refused to take a disposable plastic bag for my umbrella and had to explain that the umbrella was going into my backpack straightaway, as I am, at the moment, the last person who wants to slip and fall.


Luisotti Conducts Verdi's Requiem

Luisotti-baton* Notes * 
Last night Nicola Luisotti conducted Verdi's Messa da Requiem at the War Memorial Opera House with the combined orchestras and choruses of Real Teatro di San Carlo and San Francisco Opera. The volume was occasionally deafening, especially the repeated part when the chorus sings "Dies irae" and the trumpets play. The piece felt a bit chaotic, but there were lovely moments, as with the bassoons.

The soloists had to sing with a lot of power to be heard. Vitalij Kowaljow sounded grave and authoritative. Michael Fabiano was strong and bright. Margaret Mezzacappa's voice could have been richer, she sounds rather soprano-like in this work. Leah Crocetto sounded celestial and well-supported, and sang beautifully with the chorus in the "Libera me."

* Tattling * 
The War Memorial was completely full; the stage, seats, and standing room areas seemed at capacity. The mayor of San Francisco, Edwin Lee, gave a halting speech before the performance, while Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris gave a more fluid one, translated by the Consul General of Italy, San Francisco, Mauro Battocchi. Someone in one of the choruses took a flash photograph of the scene.

The audience on the orchestra level was rather silent and still. The ushers, who had no place to sit, felt it was appropriate to talk to each other during the music.


Pergolesi's Stabat Mater at PBO

Carolyn_Sampson_cr_Marco_Borggreve* Notes * 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra's 2013-2014 season opened with a set of performances entitled "Pergolesi in Naples." The San Francisco performance was held at the SFJAZZ Center, which has an intimate feel and a dry, crackly acoustic. Maestro Nicholas McGegan described Pergolesi's Sinfonia from L'Olimpiade as having "vim and spritz," the Händel duets and arias as being "jolly and miserable" in turn, Durante's Concerto for Strings No. 2 in G minor as "chromatic and slithery," and explained that Pergolesi wrote his Stabat Mater just before he died at the age of 26. The playing sounded a bit harsher and less resonant in this venue compared to the Herbst Theatre or First Congregational, but is a far more comfortable than the former as far as seating and air flow. McGegan has his own very distinctive cheerful style and the orchestra still sounded jaunty and lilting.

I enjoyed hearing the Händel played by this orchestra, as there was never a dull moment. Though I know the pieces quite well, having heard Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare live on multiple occasions, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra brought a certain freshness to them. Soprano Carolyn Sampson (pictured above, photograph by Marco Borggreve) and countertenor David Daniels blended nicely in "Io t'abbraccio." They clearly listened to each other. Daniels sounded fairly hearty in this space, and did not have to employ much vibrato. Sampson was delightful in "Da tempeste," and it would be great to hear her sing the entire role of Cleopatra. Her voice has a sultry warmth but sparkling high notes.

The Stabat Mater was exuberant, the light music is mostly happy with a few moments of seriousness, and then rather triumphant. The orchestra never overwhelmed the singers. The singing went smoothly.

* Tattling * 
One of the ushers behind us in Row M seemed to speak at full-volume even when musicians were playing quietly. There was also some sort of incident with a microphone during the Presto of Durante's Concerto.


Eschenbach conducts Wagner & Dvořák

CE-IMG_2186-Eric-Brissaud* Notes * 
This week Christoph Eschenbach (pictured left, photograph by Eric Brissaud) conducts San Francisco Symphony in performances of Wagner and Dvořák. The two Wagner pieces included "Die Frist is um" from Der Fliegenden Holländer and Wotans Abschied from Die Walküre, with baritone Matthias Goerne as soloist. Goerne sounded characteristically legato. He was drowned out by the brass, and in fact the whole volume of the orchestra was rather loud. There was an obvious sour note in the second piece. There were moments when the first violins had a lovely, open sound, but the low strings were a bit muddy.

After intermission came Dvořák's Symphony No. 9, From the New World. Again, the powerful volume of the orchestra was impossible to ignore. I found myself distracted by the absence of William Bennett's oboe playing, as this was the first time I have heard San Francisco Symphony since his death.

* Tattling * 
There was some chatter, but nothing too obnoxious.