Hugh Wolff

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.