A couple of weeks ago I attended the kick-off concert for the New Century Chamber Orchestra's national tour. The pleasant concert followed the ensemble's increasingly familiar format and while it was a pleasure to hear them perform a marvelous version of Strauss' Metamorphosen, I felt like it was time for them to up the ante a bit. NCCO is one of the Bay Area's premiere musical ensembles, a strong supporter of contemporary composers, and its leader Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is certainly no shrinking violet. It would be nice if the group used more of the aggression that makes all of that possible on the concert stage, and resist the urge to go cute. Leave a certain song made famous by Tony Bennett to the musicians in Union Square bars.
I feel like such a curmudgeon for writing that. Whatever. There was nothing curmudgeonly about the duo recital given a few nights later at Davies Symphony Hall by Susan Graham and Renée Fleming, which kicked off the pair's mini-tour around the country. Give the girls their due- they certainly know how to work a room, even one as large as Davies, and they had the crowd eating out of their hand from the start even though they hadn't quite memorized their lines yet. Performing together and separately, the highlights of the show were unexpected - accompanist Bradley Moore's elegant rendering of Debussy's "Clair de lune" and Graham accompanying herself at the piano for a delightfully decadent "La vie en rose." Fleming's best moment came when she went saucy with Delibes’ “Les Filles de Cadix.” Together they performed music from the salon and the opera house, and not surprisingly, the stronger moments came from the latter selections. Fleming is the more intriguing personality, but at this point I find Graham the more intriguing singer.
After the concert Thaïs and I had some drama courtesy of her ex as we were walking home. I'm so tired of drama. So tired of it I'm not even going to tell you what happened.
The next night I went back to Davies (without Thaïs) to see the Symphony's latest lollapalooza, Peer Gynt in 3D. I was originally intending to skip this and was just beginning to regret my decision when Patrick asked me if I would like to join him, so I said yes. Almost everyone was there for this latest multimedia spectacle, the most recent in what's becoming a regular part of the season's programming. Conceptually I think these are great, though they tend to be hit and miss in the execution. I found this one to be mostly miss because the first half was either narrative at the expense of the music, or music interrupted by narrative, and either way, the narrative didn't make any sense.
The second half was better, mostly because attempts to follow the narrative were largely discarded in favor of the music, which was provided by not one, but three composers (!)- Grieg, Schnittke and Holloway. It's likely the vast majority of us in the house were familiar only with Grieg's score, but it turns out Holloway's music was the most appealing and his extended musical sequence of Peer's travels across the sea was easily the evening's highlight. The projections were interesting and evocative, at least until Kurt Vonnegut's portrait of an asshole from Breakfast of Champions was projected above the orchestra in a ghoulish green hue. Joélle Harvey made an excellent impression as Solveig, as did Peabody Southwell as the Woman in Green. Chloe Veltman impressed as the woman in a hat seated next to me.