Author Archives: Nate Ben-Horin

West Edge Opera Presents a Heartwarming Janáček Fable


Leoš Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen (composed 1921-3) follows the exploits of Sharp-Ears, a wily fox, in a series of bullet-point vignettes, from her capture as a pup by a bumbling but tender-hearted human, to her courtship with a handsome male fox in the forest, and her death at the hands of a poacher. Replete with a wily, lovable protagonist, a full complement of colorful woodland creatures, and a gorgeous folk music-inspired score, one can easily imagine it serving as a template for a young Walt Disney. Yet for all its lightheartedness, it also encapsulates Janáček’s philosophy on the cyclical nature of life and death, and indeed the final scene was performed during the composer’s funeral as per his wishes.

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Archived in these categories: 20th Century, Opera

Jeremy Denk’s Tour de Force Solo Recital at Davies

Jeremy Denk - March 2016

Jeremy Denk is known for programs that keep audiences on their toes. His taste, while impeccable, is eclectic in the extreme, and he regularly plays some of the most difficult pieces in the repertory, often back to back. However, in the case of his first solo recital at Davies Symphony Hall last Sunday evening, the intrigue began a week before the actual performance when he announced a complete overhaul of his program: instead of his slated potpourri of Byrd, Joplin, Nancarrow, Stravinsky, Schubert, and much more, he would instead play Bach’s complete Goldberg Variations, one of his signature pieces. I admit I was disappointed. Although the Goldberg Variations are wonderful, the former program had sounded so fresh and exciting and featured many pieces I had never heard before.
But the surprises continued when Denk emerged onstage and announced that he “felt guilty” about the change and so would play the first half of the program more-or-less as originally planned, an would then play the Goldberg Variations in the second half. We were in for a lengthy concert!

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Archived in these categories: 20th Century, Baroque

Maria João Pires and Herbert Blomstedt Shine with the San Francisco Symphony

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Once, in conversation with a highly-regarded pianist, I asked which present-day players she liked and went through the list of famous names, most of which elicited a noncommittal shrug or a dismissive “Well, he can play the instrument.” But when I mentioned Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires, the response was: “She’s scarily good.” I’ve been familiar with Pires’ work since purchasing her Deutsche Grammaphon recording of Bach Keyboard Suites over ten years ago. I was struck by her uncommon attention to musical gesture, and her consummate control of phrasing in both hands. So it was with no small degree of excitement that I waited for her to emerge onstage to play Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto at Davies Symphony Hall on Friday night.

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Archived in these categories: Classical Era, Orchestral, Piano, Romantic Era

West Edge’s Bold New Transgender Opera Opens in Oakland

Transsgender logo

In recent weeks, news headlines have been filled with stories about Caitlyn Jenner, who, as a celebrated former athlete and reality television star, has become the world’s most famous transgender person. Her highly public transition has sparked national and international conversation that is by turns jubilant, impassioned, enraged and abrasive. In this light, it seems that there is no better time for West Edge Opera’s production of As One, concept and music by Laura Kaminsky, which deals explicitly with the experience of a male-to-female transgender protagonist named Hannah. While gender-swapping has been a staple in comic opera for centuries, As One treats the subject with great seriousness, humanity and sensitivity.

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Archived in these categories: 21st Century, Opera

San Francisco Symphony — Samuel Adams, Mozart & Bartok

Tilson Thomas SF Symphont September 2014_edited-1

Wednesday night’s program opened with the brief, buoyant Radial Play local 29-year-old composer Samuel Adams. This miniature orchestral study was originally written for the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. Particularly notable was the prominent and rhythmically complex two-harp part, and the “pitchless exhales” from the brass, which at times gave the impression that the orchestra was a living, breathing entity. Full of short gestures and well played, the piece zipped by. It was pleasant, original, and fun, but did not make a substantive intellectual or emotional impression.

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Archived in these categories: 20th Century, Classical Era, Concerto, Orchestral