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A Report from San Francisco



Oh, what benefits there be in cross-country travel! One gets a peek at treats Boston is in line for later this season from the international award-winning Takács Quartet, whom we heard recently in the San Francisco area. Its Bartok concerts, held at Stanford’s Bing Hall over two consecutive evenings, are to be repeated at Jordan Hall for the Celebrity Series, on March 10th for quartets 1, 3, and 5 and April 11th for 2, 4, and 6. This concertgoer intends to rehear them. The unfortunate interval between dates was deemed more in synch with subscriber proclivities but is no reason to forgo the performances. And for those who have not heard in concert the relatively new violist, Geraldine Walther, she is outstanding. Takács’s 1998 recording of the Bartoks may be wonderful, but one eagerly awaits a reissue with Walther, especially Quartet no. 4.

The Bing is an in-the-round venue that opened last year and is proving very successful: good acoustics (though a bit bright), excellent sightlines, and livable size, not to mention adjacent parking and a slew of police officers giving precedence to concertgoing pedestrians. And Palo Alto’s numerous restaurants are nearly all excellent.

Marc-André Hamelin’s performance last weekend at the Nourse Theater (the Herbst is under renovations) was a repeat of one he gave in Boston in December, but our second hearing here, especially of two pieces we never encountered before, was full of those pianistic challenges Hamelin so enjoys, and offered further exposure to his own intellectually and emotionally demanding compositions. He will be back home in Boston for concerts at Jordan Hall on Sunday April 13th and Friday May 2nd, again in the Celebrity Series.

One concert I attended that is not yet scheduled for Boston [though other C.P.E Bach works are being featured here, including his oratorio “Die Israeliten in der Wüste” at Harvard on March 28th] gave exposure to some of the charming compositions of Emmanuel Bach, whose birthday, 300 years ago, is being honored by many musicologists and musicians. The partnership of keyboardists Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang in the Concerto for Harpsichord and Fortepiano in E-flat Major was the high point of the concert by Nicholas McGegan’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, especially the pert, rapid-fire dialogue between instruments, repeating four-note broken-chord figures, and the wonderful pregnant pauses, as in some of Haydn’s delicious piano sonatas. It was held in the year-old SFJAZZ Center, an agreeable hall-in-the-round seating 700.

Robert Levin at the harpsichord and Ya-Fei Chuang at the fortepiano in C.P.E. Bach’s Concerto in E-flat Wq 47

C.P.E. may sometimes seem fluffy à la Fragonard, but so charming! It was surprising how rarely the audience laughed at the obvious humor, despite how well McGegan conveyed it. He is a wonderful conductor, full of understanding for the music and his musicians. Almost 30 years ago McGegan directed the BEMF orchestra in a much-admired performance of Handel’s Teseo. Current BEMF executive director Kathy Fay is a big McGegan admirer: “He is a wonderful colleague, very gifted. It would be a pleasure to work with him again, which I have every reason to believe we will do.” In any event, McGegan will be back East for a repeat performance of Teseo at Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall on Thursday August 14th (the concert will feature local lights Amanda Forsythe, Dominique Labelle, and Drew Minter along with San Francisco baritone Jeffrey Fields, sopranos Amy Freston and Céline Ricci, and countertenor Robin Blaze).

Harvard’s Houghton Library currently has an important exhibition on C.P.E. Bach continuing through April 5th that examines his debt to his father, Sebastian, his important keyboard treatise, his connections with the court of Frederick the Great, his great popularity at the time, some of his own compositions, and his legacy. It is based in large part on the cataloguing done a few years back by Barbara Wolff, wife of the noted music scholar and occasional BMInt contributor, Christoph Wolff.

Boston and San Francisco: a fertile connection.

Bettina A. Norton, emerita editor of the Intelligencer, is a retired museum professional. She has published widely in her field, American historical prints, and in later years, was editor and publisher of The Beacon Hill Chronicle. She has been attending classical music concerts “since the waning years of World War II.”

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