Pax (funcrunch) wrote,

Concert reviews

Bobby McFerrin
I actually saw Bobby over two months ago, with obadiah; just didn't get around to writing about the experience until now. His concert, on September 11, was the first of my Cal Performances concerts for the year, and in fact I believe it was the season opener.

I knew that Bobby had a phenomenal voice, but I hadn't realized how interactive his concerts were. After a couple of opening numbers, he hummed a tone and gestured for the audience to join in. He then began singing over that tone, which we kept going throughout the entire piece. It was a moving experience. But that was only the beginning! He also:
  • Had the audience (those who knew it, anyway) sing "Ave Maria" while he sang the Bach prelude that traditionally accompanies that piece

  • Called for an audience member to come up and do a modern dance on stage while he sang

  • Called for twelve singers to come to the stage to sing with him (about 40 people ended up there)

  • Went out into the audience and improvised duets with several people

This concert, which I almost didn't attend due to concerns about how much I was spending on season tickets, reminded me why I continue to attend Cal Performances year after year. I don't mind the expense and the inconvenience of going to Berkeley, even on weeknights, if it means seeing fantastic performers like this.

Le Grand Macabre
boyziggy, who has been working for the San Francisco Opera lately, got comp tickets for this production. I am not an opera buff, and have only seen a couple, The Magic Flute and The Barber of Seville, a long time ago (early high school I think). However, I figured that since I like musical theater and classical music so much, there's no good reason I shouldn't like opera. (In fact, I love listening to instrumental versions of operatic pieces such as the Carmen Fantasy for violin, and Tannhauser without Words which my father performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony.)

Well, despite my limited experience I could tell that this was certainly not your typical opera. The overture started with a chorus of car horns honking. The opera had a futuristic apocalyptic setting, with amazing sets portraying collapsed buildings and even a huge telescope in an observatory for one scene. The first scene portrayed two characters crawling across the stage looking for a place to have sex with each other. Comic-strip style thought balloons would sometimes lower over characters' heads to illustrate what they thought of what another character was singing. The words were in English, but supertitles were still used, which was helpful as it was difficult to understand what some of the characters (especially the sopranos) were singing.

Laurie Anderson - The End of the Moon
obadiah convinced me to attend this performance. I had heard of Laurie as early as 1984 but had never experienced her music or art. This performance was a real treat. She alternated between telling stories, sometimes ordinary life events, sometimes more poetic, and then playing her electric violin and synthesizers. The violin was often tuned to sound more like a cello, which I loved. With our amazing third-row seats we could see every detail, from the many flickering candles placed on the stage (though they may have made a better impression from a more distant vantage point), to her upside-down face on the video screen as she held a camera in front of her while discussing her experience as NASA's first (and last) artist in residence.

While listening to her music I immediately thought how much boyziggy would enjoy it. Fortunately Laurie was doing a second show which wasn't sold out yet, and Ziggy didn't have to work at the opera the following evening, so I convinced him to go to Berkeley and check her out for himself. He did, and agreed that the music resonated strongly with him.

Celebrate the Maestro
Last night was the fiftieth birthday of San Francisco Opera maestro Donald Runnicles. I had never seen him conduct (a guest conductor from Europe conducted Le Grande Macabre), but boyziggy again got comps, and the opera orchestra was performing several pieces that I liked and recognized. The opening was "Die Meistersingers", which both Ziggy and I had played in school (me: violin, him: trumpet). Then several more Wagner selections, as it was told (later) that what the Maestro most wanted to do on his birthday was to conduct Wagner. Despite my classical upbringing, I couldn't help visualize Elmer Fudd singing "Kill the Wabbit!" when I heard that musical theme. ;-)

The latter part of the concert featured some hilarious moments, including a soprano pulling out a huge toy snake during a Mozart aria while singing about being tormented by serpents, and a mezzo singing an Offenbach aria to the conductor saying "when it comes to talent, you don't have much, and yet, I adore you" and then changing the lyrics of the second verse to a "happy birthday" refrain. Then a representative from the British consulate presented Runnicles with an order that was just below knighthood in status. And to top it off, a giant birthday cake prop was wheeled onto the stage, it split open and a Marilyn Monroe lookalike came out and sang Happy Birthday (with the audience later joining in).

Definitely a fun evening. We even scored extra-good seats at the last minute, second row of the Grand Tier. I'm afraid these comps are making me quite spoiled, but then I have been spending several hundred dollars a year to see Cal Performances shows across the bay, so I don't feel too guilty.

Next performance I see will probably be Josh Kornbluth again (I missed his post-show talk due to getting another cold last weekend, damnit damnit damnit) - not really a performance but a benefit conversation with San Francisco theater critic Robert Hurwitt, November 30. Then, the incomparable Yo-Yo Ma with Emanuel Ax in Berkeley, December 9.

I need to see about getting sing-along Messiah tix too - benefits the Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley. It will be Friday December 3, 7 p.m. if anyone's interested in joining me. (I sing tenor.)
Tags: concert, josh

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