On December 3 I sung at the annual UC Berkeley sing-along to Handel's Messiah, benefiting the Young Musicians Program. It may seem odd for a confirmed atheist to admit, but I absolutely love this work. I first heard my parents perform it when I was very young, and have been hooked ever since. I've sung it (or attempted to) a good half-dozen times at Cal. I was reading through the score on the bus on the way to work the day of the concert, and was close to tears during "For unto us a child is born" - not because of the lyrics (some of which quite honestly creep me out if I read them closely), but when I got to the part where the strings play triumphantly in fortissimo as the chorus sings "Wonderful! Counselor!" in unison. The Messiah is truly a joyous masterpiece.
vvvexation came along, and we had to decide where to sit as I was singing tenor and she, alto, and those sections were in opposite corners. We ended up more in the alto section, and I felt very exposed being just a few rows directly behind the conductor, far from the voices of my fellow tenors who actually knew what they were doing. Still, I struggled through, staying quiet when I got lost and singing out confidently on the Hallelujah and the couple of others that I knew pretty well.
The soloists varied in quality. One of the young YMP alums was amazingly gifted, whereas a student soprano sounded like she'd be much better singing pop or R&B. The professional tenor completely failed to project on my favorite solo, "Every valley", which was disappointing. The bass soloist was quite good though (and also pretty cute!)
The orchestra was pretty mediocre this year. The conductor actually stopped them once and made them start over (he always does this with the chorus on certain numbers, which is annoying enough, but I've never seen him do it to the orchestra before). He apologized that they had only had one run-through of the music, the night before, and that the students were in the middle of finals week. Also, the trumpeter during "The trumpet shall sound" seemed to be in a three-way race between himself, the orchestra, and the soloist. OK, so Cal isn't Julliard, but I still expected a more professional performance.
boyziggy managed to score me a comp ticket to this opera on December 7 even though I wasn't free either of the nights he was offered comps for (due to the other two concerts reviewed in this entry). Yay Ziggy!
This Tchaikovsky opera was delightful. The story, though again it had love as the central theme, was more sympathetic to me than that of The Flying Dutchman. The opera was sung in Russian so I had no chance of understanding a word of it without the supertitles this time, but the program notes were thorough. Though the performance was nearly three hours including intermission, I was rarely bored, except during the female lead's love letter scene which was a bit drawn-out, though I suppose appropriate for expressing her feelings (I later read that it may be one of the longest arias in all of opera).
The music was beautiful, especially the orchestral parts, as I expected from Tchaikovsky. I particularly liked the cello bit that opened the second act, the duel scene. All of the singers performed well, though the baritone playing the title character surprisingly didn't project quite as well as his fellow cast members. The Polish tenor who was making his American debut got the most applause by far, with practically a standing ovation after his final aria.
The sets were lovely, with birch trees in nearly every scene (though once one of the singers bumped into one and it swung like a pendulum for awhile, hee hee), a bit of snow falling, and an impressive pyrotechnic display of a self-lighting-and-extinguishing chandelier. The period costumes were beautiful as well.
Onegin is the final opera of the season, which closes this Sunday. Hopefully Ziggy will land a permanent position there and return when the opera re-opens in May. They won't tell him until January whether or not he has the job.
Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax
Yo-Yo Ma is one of the two reasons I always get a subscription to Cal Performances, the other being Itzhak Perlman. WIthout a subscription and thus priority in ordering, I'd have little chance of getting tickets for special performances like this. I convinced obadiah to get orchestra-level seats with me for this pricey concert, in exchange for getting more expensive tix than I'd wanted for Laurie Anderson (who ended up being quite a treat, so that worked out well).
I had not had the pleasure of seeing Ma in this sort of recital before, though I had seen Ax perform solo (and will see him again in a few months, in a piano duet). The all-Beethoven program (other than a Chopin encore) was very entertaining, including both sonatas and variations on Mozart opera selections.
My heart caught in my throat when I heard the opening notes of the final piece, the Sonata No. 3 in A major. Instantly I was transported back to my childhood home in West Liberty, West Virginia, where my father was practicing that piece. The cello notes drifted up from our sun-room-turned-music-room as he played. For eight years in that big beautiful house I would hear my father playing that sonata and the Dvorak and Haydn concertos, my mother playing viola and violin works, and both of them playing with their fellow Wheeling Symphony performers in a string quartet in our living room. They also taught many students, including myself, though my mother sometimes had to bribe me to take lessons; something like fifty cents for a violin lesson, twenty-five for piano, ten for recorder. (I sung then too, though not as much, spending most of my grade and high school years focusing on violin or piano rather than voice.)
But I digress. Yo-Yo and Emanuel played flawlessly. Ma was so fun to watch handling his cello, rocking and practically tossing it about, looking over Ax's shoulder as he played. The page-turner didn't seem to quite be on the ball, or perhaps Ax preferred to turn his own pages at certain times. I know from experience that it's a tough job. For every page of music for an instrument like cello, the piano is likely to have several, owing to the double-clef plus reduced-size solo instrument line. Though these works were really duets, not solo-instrument-plus-accompaniment.
For what it's worth, the SF Chronicle wrote a better review of this concert than I'm capable of. I'm no professional musician or critic; I just know what I like.
My next scheduled concert outing: Richard Goode, pianist. I've managed to miss him twice already, once when he canceled his tour due to tendinitis and once when I was sick. I did see him accompany a vocalist once, but am really looking forward to finally seeing him in a solo recital.
I might also go see Jonathan Richman at the Ivy Room in Albany next Saturday night, Dec. 18, if anyone would like to join me. It's been awhile since I've hung out on Solano Ave. and it would be nice to check out the new vegetarian restaurant there.