Thursday, January 10, 2019

10 Fabulous Musical Events of 2018

It's getting a bit late for a listing of 2018 musical highlights, but I've been busy with a full-time job. This also meant missing a lot of worthwhile concerts, but the following were some of my favorite things last year. In March, on the freezing top floor of the McRoskey Mattress showroom on Market Street, 24 pianists gave a marathon tandem performance of of J.S. Bach's The Well Tempered Clavier, Book 2. Nicholas Pavkovic, above, was one of the organizers and pianists in a long evening that became richer as it headed for the third hour.

Also in March, Trio Foss made their performing debut at Old First Concerts in front of a tiny crowd. Violinist Hrabba Atladottir, cellist Nina Flyer, and pianist Joseph Irrera gave remarkable performances of the 1939 Bergerettes by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů and Dmitri Shostakovich's 1944 Piano Trio No. 2.

In April, Bard Music West had their second annual festival at the Noe Valley Ministry, this year dedicated to the late California composer Henry Cowell, along with his friends, influencers, and followers. Violinist Luosha Fang, pianist Allegra Chapman, and cellist Laura Gaynon above gave a great performance of the Charles Ives Piano Trio. The entire festival was extraordinary, with Saturday afternoon dedicated to World Music, a concept Cowell pioneered.

In June, the SF Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theatre held a virtual musical festival over four days, with various performers accompanying remastered and rediscovered silent films. The revelation this year was the newly restored, 200-minute version of the Swedish masterpiece from 1924, The Saga of Gösta Berling, with a trance-like music score by the Swedish musician Matti Bye and his ensemble. It was amazing, and after three and a half hours of Scandinavian melodramatic gloom, there was even a happy ending.

The Ojai Festival this year was led by violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, and its northern offshoot at Cal Performances included a number of amazing performances at Zellerbach Hall by the young woman, her parents, and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, among others.

West Edge Opera found another factory building to throw their tent up for a summer opera season, and the surprisingly lovely production of the three-opera festival was Debussy's Pelleas and Melisande, a very tricky opera for any organization to pull off, and the company did themselves proud.

The San Francisco Opera presented Wagner's Ring Cycle this summer, but as I said earlier I have a full-time job so missed most of it, which was no big loss since Nina Stemme's performance as Brunhilde the last time this production was presented was still so vivid. This fall a fairly obscure Donizetti opera about the ancient Elizabeth I, Roberto Devereaux, was presented with luxury casting that made the formulaic music occasionally sound profound. Sondra Radvanovsky chewed the scenery and sang her heart out as the queen, and Jamie Barton and Russell Thomas as thwarted true lovers were exquisite.

Another obscure piece, Richard Strauss's Arabella was also given a surprisingly effective production at the SF Opera, with the wonderful debuting conductor Marc Albrecht leading the great SF Opera Orchestra and a non-stellar cast that rose to the occasion and managed to carry the weird, curdled Viennese comedy off.

The SF Symphony had a mostly dull season last year, though prospects are looking brighter for this one. My favorite concert was conducted by the young Czech, Jakub Hrůša, who led Shostakovich's Violin Concerto #1 with the fabulous soloist Karen Gomy, Borodin's Second Symphony, and Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin Suite. There are plenty of pitfalls in every one of those pieces of music, but they all came across as sonic masterpieces.

The annual excavation by Ars Minerva of forgotten early opera masterpieces presented the long, major Baroque opera, Ifigenia en Aulide by Giovanni Porta this December, and it was an amazing achievement for a shoestring budget company. It made me happy to live in San Francisco where wonders like this and my other Top 10 concerts exist.

1 comment:

Episcopal Church of the Incarnation San Francisco said...

Hi Michael,

My name is Mathew Chacko and I am the Director of Sunset Music and Arts ( and Music Director at Incarnation Episcopal Church (

I saw your post and wanted to let you know that Trio Foss will be performing at Sunset Music and Arts 2019 season (see here for our full calendar). In fact Nina Flyer will be performing twice in 2019, once with Trio Foss and a second time with Trio Terme.

We would love to have you attend one of our concerts.