Berkeley Symphony Orchestra
Tuesday, January 22nd, 2002
Roda Theatre
Berkeley, California
All Photos © 2002 Ting and Randy Vogel

 Sonos Handbell Ensemble
Ding Ding!

The exciting feature of tonight's entertainment was my first visit to the newly-opened Roda Theatre in downtown Berkeley. Located on Addison Street, just a half block off Shattuck, this block is supposedly a keystone of the 'Berkeley Arts Revival,' a project designed to breathe new life, artistically, into downtown. Roda Theatre is part of a complex run by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, being the smaller of two performance spaces there.

Tonight's symphony program was typically eclectic:

  • Schubert: Symphony No.5
  • Sonos Handbell Ensemble, performing Karen Lakey Buckwalter: Nocturne in A minor 
  • David Sheinfeld: Different Worlds of Sound 

  • (a world premiere)
  • Alban Berg: Chamber Concerto
I was particularly beguiled with the handbell ensemble. As my previous exposure to such performance was limited to Christmas Carols -- a style of music I find rather boring -- I wasn't expecting much of the Ensemble, but the short piece they performed was splendid. Full of soft tones and sparkling resonances, the ensemble members coordinated their parts marvelously. I'd like to see this group again!

I'd heard portions of the Sheinfeld piece at an open rehearsal that Ting and I attended last June. At that time, the composer was still tweaking things, and listening to him as he collaborated with the conductor as to how to draw his intentions forth from the orchestra was a fascinating experience in its own right. 

Here, the work stood fully formed. Like many modern pieces, this one was more or less tuneless. From start to finish, the percussionist is crashing and banging, sometimes vigorously and other times with delicacy and precision. All the while, the conductor waves his hands dramatically forth and back, while the orchestra peeps and hoots and provides a controlled cacophony in counterpoint to the percussion blasts. It reminded me a lot of seeing Cecil Taylor leading a large group...

The Berg piece that concluded the show was interesting for several reasons. The first third of the work has a focus on the piano -- the lead violin being completely silent. This reverses during the second third of the piece, with the lead being taken by the violin while the piano rests. Only during the concluding movement do both instruments play, and end even then, their lines are not so much a conversation as they are two voices talking simultaneously. Interesting and strange! Definitely a work of the 20th Century.

To read another view of the show, see Berkeley orchestra's Spangler virtuosic in Sheinfeld piece by Joshua Kosman. Click here to see the program notes.

 Dong Dong!
 Take a bow...
 Ward & Kent
 Crash! Bang!
 Ward at work
 Percussion Machine
 All Smiles!
 More Flowers!
 Stuart Canin Saws Away
 Kent Gives a Signal
 And Markus too!
 Everybody Bow!
 Can We Go Home Now?