October 3, 2008

Bayrakdarian Makes Her S.F. Performances Recital Debut

By Sue Gilmore

She won't be coming with an orchestra from the land of her heritage as originally planned, but the beautiful Armenian-Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian will make her San Francisco Performances debut Saturday night at the Herbst Theatre in good company nonetheless.

The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble from the province the 34-year-old singer now calls home, has replaced the Armenian Philharmonic, which had to withdraw due to funding difficulties. But the center of the program still revolves around the songs of composer Gomidas Vartabed (1869-1935), a monk and lifelong champion of the Armenian cause who is considered the founder of Armenian classical music.

Bayrakdarian, who first captured attention by winning the 2000 Operalia competition founded by Placido Domingo, may strike a chord in some music lovers' memories here. She appeared here as Cleopatra with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in March, singing excerpts from four operas based on the Egyptian queen; two years earlier, she sang in the world premiere of Jake Heggie's mini-opera "To Hell and Back" with the same ensemble. And that's her voice you hear floating ethereally in the "Evenstar" portion of "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" soundtrack.

In addition to performing some of Gomidas' haunting music, Bayrakdarian has shaped the rest of her program to complement the Armenian theme. It includes Bartok's "Romanian Folk Dances," Ravel's "Deux Melodies Hebraiques," Skalottas' "Greek Dances" and Klein's "Variations on a Moravian Folksong." Piano accompaniment will be provided by Bayrakdarian's husband, Serouj Kradjian, who arranged several works on the program and also accompanied her on "Gomidas Songs," a just-released Nonesuch CD recorded with the Armenian Philharmonic. The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra will be conducted by Anne Manson.

Details: 8 p.m. Oct. 4, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.; $40-$65; 415- 392-2545 or www.performances.org.

Online: To see and hear Bayrakdarian perform Gomidas' "Andouni" ("Homeless"), go to ContraCostaTimes.com. or InsideBayArea.com.

TUNE IN ALSO TO: Cal Performances has the Goode stuff on tap Sunday afternoon with preeminent pianist Richard Goode scheduled to play music by Bach, Chopin and Schubert in a recital in Zellerbach Hall. Details: 3 p.m. Sunday, Bancroft at Telegraph, Berkeley; $34- $62; 510-642-9988 or www.calperformances.org.

Organizers of the Jewish Music Festival (March 21-29) have gathered quite an assortment of musicians for a preview concert Sunday night at the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay. Members of the San Francisco Opera, the Ballet Orchestra and Symphony ensembles join musicians from Earplay, Philharmonia Baroque and other groups to collaborate on the music of Kurt Weill, Arnold Schoenberg and Hanns Eisler. They're labeling it the "Degenerate Music of Weimar Berlin" because that's what Hitler, who didn't much cotton to it, called it. Details: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley; $15-$20; 800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com.

Berkeley's Crowden Music Center launches its new season of the [email protected] Chamber series this weekend with a concert featuring the Afiara String Quartet, the in-residence ensemble at San Francisco State's International Center for the Arts. On their program are Schubert's "Quartetsatz," Berg's "Lyric Suite" and Beethoven's String Quartet No. 8 in E-minor, one of the famous "Rasumovsky" quartets. Details: 4 p.m. Sunday, 1475 Rose St., Berkeley; $12 (free for 18 and younger); 510-559-2941 or www.crowden.org.

SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT: Our multiple Grammy-grabbing local vocal heroes, the a cappella male singers of Chanticleer, are putting another feather in their, um, crowns. Last week came the announcement that the 12-member ensemble will be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Cincinnati's Memorial Hall on Thursday. They'll perform a program at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Chains there the next day, but you can catch them at 5 p.m. Oct. 19 in San Francisco's St. Francis Church, 1112 26th St., with their first season program, "Wondrous Free." Tickets are $25-$44. Contact 415-252-8589 or www.chanticleer.org.

The guys have also just released a new Warner Classics CD-DVD, "Mission Road," which explores the Mexican- and Spanish-influenced music of the California Mission period. I've heard it, and I won't be a bit surprised if it lands among the Grammy nominees early next year.

VANCE ADVANCES: And while we're in a congratulatory mood, here's a convivial pat on the back to former San Francisco Symphony Chorus conductor Vance George, who stepped down from that post last year after 23 years. Last week, it was announced that George will join the San Francisco State University faculty to lead the S.F. State Chamber Singers, the top choir in the School of Music and Dance. And he'll be an honored guest at the school's Opera Gala at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17. For program and ticket information, call 415-405-2849 or visit creativearts.sfsu.edu.

Tuned In appears every other Friday in Weekend Preview. Reach Sue Gilmore at [email protected]

Originally published by Sue Gilmore, Contra Costa Times.

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