San Francisco Early Music Society

Musica Pacifica at SFEMS

Mood-pencil Whilst the Opera Tattler searched for parking to attend Urban Opera's performance last Saturday, the Last Chinese Unicorn went to the program presented by San Francisco Early Music Society at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.

* Notes * 
"Why bother going into the city when there is perfectly good music to be found in Berkeley?" is what I asked myself after the glorious performance by Musica Pacifica with guest soprano Dominique Labelle. The program was comprised of 3 instrumental and 4 vocal sets, the songs having the unifying theme of Love, personified by Cupid with his bow and arrow, as a powerful and unpredictable force and warns us to be on guard for we are at the mercy of his whims.

The ensemble was very cohesive, playing as one entity with good balance and a dynamic exchange of dialogue between the instruments. Especially impressive were the Allegri of Sammartini's Sonata in b minor, Op. 1, No. 6. The long, fast runs were executed with precision, there was no rushing or what I like to call "run-aways," yet they did not sound mechanical nor did they lose momentum. Telemann's Quartet VI in E minor was also nicely done with beautiful phrasing and received copious applause and cheering from the audience. Judith Linsenberg played the recorder with purpose and sprightfully bounced at the knees for added emphasis. The violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock was also very expressive in her playing, with emotion emanating from both her body and face. The only thing that could have made the performance better was if Labelle had committed her songs to memory. A little bit of musicality is lost when one is trying to sing while at the same time looking for the note or word that comes next. However her voice is well-suited for this repertoire with a nice blend of weight and brightness.

* Tattling * 
The venue was humble and the crowd was unpretentious and very Berkeley. Lots of jeans and sneakers, and I even spied someone in a pair of cowboy boots, a gentleman sporting musical socks, and 2 elderly ladies in Row D Left donning some very interesting headgear à la the Opera Tattler. Actually, perhaps they resembled what the OT and I will look like in 50 years or so. Everyone was on their best behavior. No cell phones went off and there was no audible crinkling of candy wrappers, talking, or hearing aid malfunctions. During the pauses some kids running around outside playing and screaming were heard. The only other disruption was when one of Dominique's large sparkly earrings fell off her ear and on to the floor with a loud clunk. Musica Pacifica did a raffle drawing during intermission and gave away some purple mood pencils (pictured above, they turn hot pink when you grip them - chouette!) in celebration of their 20th Anniversary as a group.

Ellen Hargis & Paul O'Dette at SFEMS

Hargis_ODette * Notes * 
The San Francisco Early Music Society recently presented soprano Ellen Hargis and lutenist Paul O'Dette in a concert of Barbara Strozzi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Cesti, and Alessandro Piccinini. I skipped the second half of Opera in the Park for the San Francisco performance, and did not regret it. Hargis has a pure, clarion tone. Her high notes are brilliant, only a few of her lower notes did not sound quite as lovely. O'Dette played cleanly, his rather dry technique suited the music and the singer. I especially enjoyed the rhythms of Strozzi's "Questa è la nuova."

* Tattling * 
Hargis made a paper airplane during "L'Astratto." The audience appeared quite elderly, and I felt younger than ever seated a few rows back from the front of St. Mark's Lutheran Church. A cellular phone rang during the first Adagio of Scarlatti's "Orfeo," but otherwise everyone was very attentive and supportive.