Arts & Events

MUSIC REVIEW: Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile Play Bach at the Greek Theatre

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday May 07, 2017 - 02:43:00 PM

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has stated publically that he grew tired of playing the same old classical repertoire of music for the cello, so he decided to branch out into other areas of music. In his many crossover recordings he has done so. Sometimes, as in his recordings and concerts with the Silk Road Ensemble, the results are good. At other times, the results are, well, a bit hokey. For his concert at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre on Sunday evening, April 30, Yo-Yo Ma joined forces with Chris Thile on mandolin and Edgar Meyer on bass to perform new and unusual scorings of music by Johann Sebastian Bach. Chris Thile, a mandolin virtuoso who plays bluegrass and jazz as well as classical music, recently took over from Garrison Keillor as host of A Prairie Home Companion. Edgar Meyer is both a virtuoso bassist and a composer. -more-

MUSIC REVIEW: Berkeley Symphony Performs Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday May 07, 2017 - 02:42:00 PM

Dmitri Shostakovich’s struggles with the Stalinist bureaucracy are well known. The composer was denounced in Pravda for his 1936 opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which was vilified as an offense to good Soviet principles. However, with his immensely popular Fifth Symphony in 1937, Shostakovich was reinstated into official favor. This period lasted until World War II, when Shostakovich and other Russian composers were summoned by the government and had to make public apologies and pledge henceforth to write music for the proletarian masses. When Nikita Kruschev issued a denunciation of Stalin in 1960, a certain thaw ensued in the artistic circles of the Soviet Union. However, when the young poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko published in 1961 his incendiary poem Babi Yar and lifted the veil on anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, bringing into the open the Soviet silence over Nazi Germany’s wartime massacre of 34,000 Russian Jews at the ravine of Babi Yar near Kiev, Kruschev lashed out at Yevtushenko and launched a new campaign for “ideological purity” in the arts. However, this did not stop Shostakovich, who had been deeply moved by Yevtushenko’s poem, from deciding to set Babi Yar to music. Shostakovich composed the opening section of his 13th Symphony to Yevtushenko’s poem, and he had already completed it when he met with Yesvtushenko to request permission to set Babi Yar to music. Yevtushenko not only granted Shostakovich permission, he also penned at the composer’s urging a new section entitled “Fears” to be included in the poem and the symphony. The result is a searing portrait of official unwillingness to acknowledge anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and the fears the Russian people felt about speaking out on any controversial subject. -more-

OPERA REVIEW: Philharmonia Baroque Stages Rameau-Voltaire’s Le Temple de la Gloire

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday May 07, 2017 - 02:25:00 PM

Imagine the leading French composer of the mid-18th century, Jean-Philippe Rameau, combining forces with the period’s leading French writer and thinker, Voltaire, in an opera intended to provide for King Louis XV of France an allegorical object lesson in what it takes to be a great ruler. Then imagine that this opera was first staged not in an opera house or a palace but rather in a temporary theatre in the stables, La Grande Écurie, at Versailles in 1745. To top it off, imagine that the original score of this 1745 premiere was lost for centuries and then discovered in UC Berkeley’s Hargrove Music Library. Finally, imagine that Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale would combine forces with the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles and with New York Baroque Dance Company to mount a fully staged production of this opera in Berkeley. What you get staggers the imagination, as we saw when the opera Le Temple de la Gloire opened on Friday evening, April 28, for three performances April 28-30, at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. -more-

THEATER REVIEW: Inferno Theatre's 'Female, Ashkenazi with a Sewing Machine'

Ken Bullock
Saturday May 06, 2017 - 05:51:00 PM

"It's a live oak.

" Her branches extend forever. Did I use the right pronoun?"

"People here can be picky about pronouns."

Jamie Greenblatt's play 'Female, Ashkenazi with a Sewing Machine,' opens with a musical, sweet and humorous courtship vignette, a couple at an old tree. Anna (a strong, affecting performance by elissa Clason) has appeared on Benjamin's (a debonaire and humorous Benoît Monin) "Jewish radar." But she knows nothing about being Jewish, in every sense. She was adopted, an old Singer sewing machine her only link to her otherwise unknown birth mother.

As the play unfolds, like a parable being worked out, a diagnosis of ovarian cancer leads to revelations about identity, community, origin ...

'Female, Ashkenazi ... ' comes from Jamie Greenblatt's own experience, though both the playwright abd her actual circumstances are different from her protagonist. The play is, in fact, playful, without neglecting the seriousness of the disease it turns on, and that is where the excellent collborative production by Inferno Theatre expands on the playwright's vision. -more-

FILM REVIEW: To the Ends of the Earth Foresees a World Beyond Oil and Coal

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Thursday May 04, 2017 - 01:36:00 PM

San Francisco's Roxie Theater, May 10, 7pm. Film screening and panel discussion.

Filmmaker David Lavallee's documentary To The Ends of the Earth begins with playwright Arthur Miller's sobering observation: "An era is said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." One of our basic illusions is that cheap oil will always be available. Prepare to be exhausted.