"In addition to manifest musicality and intelligence, Cristler has a noticeable flair for adventurous programming. One might call his revival of the Kurt Weill Marie Galante music typical Cristler."


Musical America


"The concert ended with Beethoven's Sixth Symphony... Cristler led a reading that had audience and players on the edge of their seats in a familiar work that sounded new-minted."


San Francisco Examiner

"Cristler led the entire [Kurt Weill] program with a fervor that verged on advocacy."


San Francisco Examiner

"Cristler's pianism was the ideal complement to the vocal part, as indeed, Schumann intended it to be, with the vocal and piano lines of equal value to the total effect."


-Schemann's Dichterliebe (San Francisco Chronicle)

"Samuel Cristler gave a musical performance of individuality bright and lively and Hispanic in the garden scene, and monumental in the auto-da-fe. An impressive beginning."


-Verdi's Don Carlo, Metropolitan Opera (Opera Magazine, London)

"Superb orchestral work vaulted Richard Wagner's opera "The Flying Dutchman" into the must-see catagory... conductor Samuel Cristler fully merited the standing ovations given by the appreciative audience."


-Wagner's Flying Dutchman, West Bay Opera (Palo Alto Times)

"Cristler is an exceptionally accomplished cellist and, at 25, steller material. It is one thing to fulfill the requirements of the principal cellist in orchestral music and someting more to play the Haydn Concerto in D Major with its virtuoso demands, both technical and musical. Cristler was equipped to handle virtually any assignment and do it artistically."


The Times-Union, Rochester, New York

"The Wuorinen Grand Bamboula and the Sessions Concertino are both rhythmic nightmares from the viewpoint of the performers, who are kept on a razor's edge. With skill and nerve obeying, the results were exciting. The performance was clear and sure to the point where one could take it all in and just ride unworried on the Sessions Fantasy. Cristler had complete command of this music with all its continual, measure-by-measure asymmetries and the syncopated subdivisions of syncopated subdivisions."


San Francisco Chronicle

"The evening's protagonist was the City of Malaga Orchestra ...always exceptional and attentive to the correct baton of the American conductor Samuel Cristler. The brass was stupendous"


-R. Strauss' Salome, Teatro Cervantes, Welsh National Opera production (Malaga, Spain)

"Samuel Cristler contributed to the orchestra in The Ghosts of Versailles by John Corigliano, and the ascended to the podium of the MET for the first time for Don Carlo. His baton is indisputably professional"


-Verdi's Don Carlo, Metropolitan Opera (La Voce, Italy)












Conducting Reviews



Don Carlo at the Metropolitan Opera 

Samuel Cristler (who had been scheduled to do the work later in the run) made his debut on the MET podium on March 11.  He gave a musical performance of individuality, bright and lively and Hispanic in the garden scene, and monumental in the auto-da-fé.  A former cellist, he had the cello really dig into its attack in the prelude to Philip’s big area.  His beat was clear, and he really listened to the singers.  An impressive beginning.

—Martin Meyer, Opera magazine, London


Richard Strauss’ Salomé in Spain 

The evening’s protagonist was the City of Malagá Orchestra …always exceptional and attentive to the correct baton of the American conductor Samuel Cristler.  The brass was stupendous.”

— Manuel del Campo, Málaga, Spain


Corigliano’s Ghosts of Versailles, and Verdi’s Don Carlo 

Samuel Cristler contributed to the orchestra in The Ghosts of Versailles by John Corigliano, and then ascended to the podium of the MET for the first time for Don Carlo.  His baton is indisputably professional.

–  La Voce, Italy



San Francisco

A Nose for Politics: Sinfonia Takes on a Classic 

Samuel Cristler, artistic director of Sinfonia, is fairly drooling to get his teeth into the wicked score [Shostakovich The Nose].  When the Santa Fe Opera staged it last summer, Cristler attended rehearsals as well as performances.  “It was a great learning opportunity,”  Although Cristler has also been studying Russian, Sinfonia will be doing this concert performance in English — to help audiences unfamiliar with Gogol understand this surreal farce about a a rebellious nose that vacates its owner’s face and goes on an antisocial rampage.​

Last year … Cristler gave up his role as cellist, and he now conducts three Bay Area groups: Sinfonia, the Oakland Youth Orchestra, which survived the collapse of its parent Oakland Symphony; and West Bay Opera, where he recently conducted Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.Cristler explains that The Nose, which is “full of anger at bureaucratic stupidity,” is not a particularly “nice comedy.”  But the opera, he says, is “marvelously scored for chamber orchestra, which is one of the reasons why Sinfonia wanted to do it.”  Shostakovich’s orchestration calls for strings, winds, two harps and balalaikas, as well as three sets of percussion, which enjoy an entr’acte all by themselves.

Sinfonia, which employs players from all three of San Francisco’s performing arts orchestras, gave its first concert in 1981.  Since then it has grown to a full subscription series.  If Sinfonia’s The Nose can convince 900 listeners that Shostakovich is the operatic genius some of us think him to be, maybe those listeners will rush to the War Memorial in November to hear the compeer’s second opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.  The Nose may have upset the Soviets—but Lady Macbeth put Stalin in such a flame that, after his official wrath fell on the composer, Shostakovich never wrote another opera.  Our loss.

—Stephanie von Buchau, San Francisco Examiner “Image” Magazine



Sinfonia San Francisco 

For a chamber orchestra only seven years old, Sinfonia San Francisco already has an impressive list of distinctions.  The quality of its personnel and the intelligence and taste manifest in its programming impress you at once.  The Heineman Foundation, which otherwise subsidizes only Marlboro and the New York Chamber Music Society, regards Sinfonia as having passed muster.  Miraculously, Sinfonia enjoys such ardent financial support that it has ended all its seven seasons with a budget surplus.  Its recent concert performance of the 19-year-old Dmitri Shostakovich’s cheeky satirical opera The Nose exemplifies the group’s exceptionally imaginative programming.​

Samuel Cristler, Sinfonia’s artistic director and conductor, joined the Eastman faculty at 24 and that same year became the youngest principal cellist of any major American orchestra.  He draws his roster of 40 Sinfonia musicians from San Francisco’s opera and ballet orchestra, plus players form the symphony.

By 1985, Sinfonia’s fans had outgrown the 400-seat hall used, so it moved into Herbst Theater, which seats 900; even so the five-concert 1988 series sold out five months in advance.  The first program offered all six Brandenburg Concertos, the second Copland’s Clarinet Concerto and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.  The fourth (following The Nose) scheduled the West Coast premiere of the new Penderecki Viola Concerto, the firth the Magic Flute Overture, the Siegfried Idyll, The Transfigured Night, the West Coast premiere of Takashi Toshimatsu’s Threnody to Toki, and Mozart’s Jupiter.  The Nose because Sinfonia’s most ambitious undertaking to date.  A roster of nimble young singers managed the opera’s 78 roles handily, and the orchestra rose enthusiastically to the occasion.  By the end of the evening [Samuel Cristler] and his forces could chalk up an impressive accomplishment.

When Sinfonia began, it wanted above all to grow into a nationally recognized chamber orchestra.  It has made considerable progress in that direction.

—Paul Moor, Musical America



West Bay Opera’s ‘Flying Dutchman’ Outdoes SF

There have been only two fully staged productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman during the past decade in easy striking distance of the Peninsula.  One made it and one didn’t.

Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s at the San Francisco Opera was musically strong and visually spectacular, but conceptually it was a shallow travesty of Wagner’s work.  West Bay Opera now has a three-act production in Palo Alto that is much more consistently Wagnerian.

Under conductor Samuel Cristler, the orchestra — the best I have ever heard at WBO — consistently enhanced the drama of the work, as it must if Dutchman is succeed.

—William Ratliff, Times Tribune



West Bay Opera’s new ‘Dutchman’ Soars 

Superb orchestral work vaulted Richard Wagner’s opera “The Flying Dutchman” into the must-see category as presented last week by the West Bay Opera.​

The superb orchestra assembled by conductor Samuel Cristler is light years ahead of the orchestra of 30 years ago and fully merited the standing ovations given by the appreciative audience.

—Jack Russell, Palo Alto Times



Sinfonia Tames ‘Nightmares” Of Rhythm 

The performance was a tribute to the quality of players Samuel Cristler had assembled and to his musicianship.  The Wuorinen [Grand Bamboula] and the Sessions [Concertino] are both rhythmic nightmares from the viewpoint of the performers, who are kept on a razor’s edge.  With skill and nerve obeying, the results were exciting.  Both works are highly charged, non-repeating in design and used 12-tone construction — but the similarity ends there.  “Grand Bamboula” (1971, and the title’s just a whim) is a taut single movement for strings … Bamboula does come off like a string of Chinese firecrackers but with a cumulative impact, gathering and not simply discharging force.

Sessions’ Concertino (1972) is a 17-minute piece in three movements for 20 individual players, the four woodwinds doubling or tripling, which allows wide color variety.  Musical ideas and gestures that are tremendously condensed, loaded with real musical energy, are in constant transformation.  The rhythm in that process is as elusive as fire, but because the musical character is so pronounced, the direction, the intent and expression of the piece are unmistakable.The performance was clear and sure to the point where one could take it all in and just ride unworried on the Sessions fantasy.  Cristler had complete command of this music with all its continual, measure-by-measure asymmetries and the syncopated subdivisions of syncopated subdivisions.  The 20 players who were in effect soloists, each on a separate part most of the time, gave a virtuosic chamber performance. 

Between the two modern works, there was a Mozart concert aria, actually a scena, “Vorrei spiegarvi, of Dio” (K. 418) sung by Ann Panagulias.

Cristler’s enthusiasm and energy fired the orchestra, now enlarged to a fuller complement after intermission, to a vigorous and crisp performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.  His interpretation was sound, the playing concentrated and vital.  For maximum contrast, he several times brought the strings down to the sub-sonority level … Cristler’s demonstrative style energizes his audience.

—Robert Commanday, San Francisco Chronicle



Sinfonia Gives Stellar Performance 

Just when you’re about to get bored with concert-going, its high costs and unpredictable performance standards, you hear a group like Sinfonia San Francisco and your love of live music is restored.

Perfect intonation, timing, balance, emphasis, spontaneity, grace, intensity — all the things that make chamber music sing — were conveyed…

If the rest of the season is anything like its beginnings, it’s not going to take long before people figure out where to go for the best live music in the Bay Area.

—Christopher Culwell, San Mateo Times



Sinfonia Opener Ripe With Promise

Cristler opened with the Schubert “Great” C Major Symphony, and after intermission, welcomed his cellist colleague, Lynn Harrell, for the Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 in E-flat, Op. 107.  The Schubert remains a juggernaut for even veteran conductors; the work’s heavenly lengths can seem interminable in most readings.  But Cristler, whose podium experience is not as wide as that of many of his colleagues, scored a modest triumph with this endearing, rambling masterwork.

Hearing the Schubert “Great C Major performed by a 45-member orchestra in a hall that seats approximately 900 brought the welcome touch of intimacy that cleaned the work of the heavy Teutonic overlay that has dogged it for the past 100 years.  For once, instrumental details stood out in bold relief.

Cristler controlled the ebb and flow, the statement and restatement of the Allegro through an acceptably brisk tempo and through a feeling for sonic architecture.  The playing was consistently alive, alert and incisive (the cellos were downright impressive); the winds favor too wide a vibrato for this taste, but it was wonderful for once to hear the opening horn solo phrased with such meticulousness.

Inviting an internationally recognized soloist like Harrell to open the season represents an act of tremendous self-confidence.  He gave a consistently gripping performance of the Shostakovich … Harrell made the work very much his own, deploying edgy attacks and sporadically wiry tone at the opening, melting into an anguished legato when Shostakovich imposes a mood of heroic grief.  The urgency and obsessiveness were no less admirable than the manner in which this cellist uses portamento as a dramatic device.

Cristler led the ingeniously spare accompaniment with discretion; and if the concerto flags temporarily during the fourth movement, blame the composer.  Cristler and Harrell collaborated on an encore, a folksy, melancholic reading of Dvorak’s Rondo, Op. 94.

—Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Examiner



Marie Galante, Mahagonny Songspiel, Happy End

Sinfonia San Francisco owes its existence to a gifted, energetic, and organizationally nimble young cellist named Samuel Cristler, whose podium ambitions moved him ten years ago to pull together a chamber orchestra for himself to conduct — a fine one, incidentally, consisting of hand-picked leading local musicians willing to work on their Monday nights off.  In addition to manifest musicality and intelligence, Cristler has a noticeable flair for adventurous programming.  One might call his revival of the [Kurt Weill] Marie Galante music typical Cristler.

The enthusiastic audience reaction here to Samuel Cristler’s advocacy of this music (in addition to spirited performances of Mahagonny Songspiel and  Happy End) emphasized its potential popularity — especially as done by such a memorable singer as Angelina Rèaux.  One could hardly wish for a better interpreter of them.

—Paul Moor, Kurt Weill Newsletter



A Full Night of Weill 

Samuel Cristler’s Sinfonia San Francisco struck a blow for enlightened, unconventional programming Monday evening at the Herbst Theater when its founder devoted the latest concert to a celebration of the 90th birthday of Kurt Weill.  

Cristler, the orchestra’s music director since its inception 10 years ago, built his lengthy and often fascinating program around the availability of soprano Angelina Rèaux.

Cristler led a reduced Sinfonia San Francisco for the occasion; the orchestrations of all three call for glorified cabaret orchestras.  Yet there were some splendid players contracted for the assignment, like S.F. Symphony trumpeter Glenn Fischthal, accordionist Robert Matthews and Anthony Kaye, who alternated between guitar, banjo and Hawaiian guitar.

The 20th century repertoire seems to engage and even ignite Cristler in a special way.  You won’t see the S.F. Opera or Symphony honoring Weill at all this year, though his place in the music of his age looms larger with each passing year.  And Cristler led the entire program with a fervor that verged on advocacy.

—Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Examiner



Sinfonia Serves Up Soprano Doing Weill

The program, conducted by music director Samuel Cristler, featured the “Mahagonny Songspiel,”  Weill and Brecht’s suite of preliminary sketches to the opera “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny,” and similar assemblages of the music from “Marie Galante” and “Happy End.”

For these purposes, Cristler assembled the necessary instrumentalists — a band in which saxophones, brass, drums and accordion feature prominently — and a half-dozen Bay Area singers of proven ability.  The evening was marked by fine ensemble playing and a number of skillful cameos by the locals.

… the crisply played instrumental interludes merited all the attention.

—Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle



A Moving Shostakovich For Sinfonia 

The Shostakovich Symphony No. 14, now 15 years old … is an extended song cycle for which the composer chose 11 texts by Apollinaire, Lorca, Rilke and Küchelbecker, the lone Russian in the lot.  The poems are linked by their thematic preoccupation with death.​

This highly personal musical document is rich, powerful and enormously moving.  Cristler conducted with assurance and finesse, and his forces carried the day … The cumulative effect of the Shostakovich was extraordinary.​

The program was balanced by Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat, a work without pretensions of any kind, just good old Papa Haydn at his sunniest and most pleasant.

—Marilyn Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle



SJS Singers Conquer Bach in Four Hours of ‘Passion’

Conductor Samuel Cristler supplemented his modern orchestra with baroque keyboard and oboes d’amore.  He emphasized the stately sanctity and prolonged mourning mood of the work [Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion], leaving ample room to breathe, sigh and let the sounds decay ever so slowly in the most resonant of all area halls [Grace Cathedral].  The feeling and richness of this gospel-plus-commentary were all there.

Paul Hertelendy, San Jose Mercury News


Their principal advantages lie in highly imaginative programming … Shostakovich’s late masterpiece [Symphony No. 14] was a brilliant stroke of programming.​

That night his work swept over the audience like a whirlwind.  Cristler’s conducting showed both a deep understanding of the music’s essential message and a fine knowledge of its ever-shifting surface.  The Opera-orchestra-cellist-turned-conductor is building a fine reputation among instrumentalists for his imaginative apprehension of music.  Part of what a conductor must do is to bring out the emotion latent in a score; he must show his forces what he feels.  Cristler led his ensemble compellingly through the torments of Schostakovich’s vision.

—Bill Huck, Sentinel U.S.A.



Sinfonia Lives Up to Its Strong Programming

Vitality is a characteristic of Cristler’s performances and primary in the works he chose, Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat, and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for four solo winds, in E-flat, K.. 297b.  This constituted a strong program and a demanding one.  The musicians he assembled were more than equal to the task.  It was a better selection of players than he had last year.

 Because of [the Dumbarto Oaks trickiness, the work often is used as an audition piece for young conductors.  Cristler passed that part of the test with flying colors.  He knows his scores and leads with clear authority.  He seems a thorough musician … and the decisiveness of his leadership draws secure and cohesive performances.​

The Schubert Fifth Symphony was an example of that, a live one, crisp and urgent .. the flow and its bright character were engaging.​

Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante was a gem, the four soloists setting a high standard with superb performances.

—Robert Commanday, San Francisco Chronicle



An Opera Tenor’s Other Side 

With Samuel Cristler as pianist, Joseph Frank sang two of Schumann’s great song cycles, Liederkreis, Op. 39, and Dichterliebe, Op. 48.  This was the first of three Lieder recitals that Frank and Cristler will present in coming months under the sponsorship of Cristler’s Sinfonia San Francisco.

[Cristler’s] pianism was the ideal complement to the vocal part, as indeed, Schumann intended it to be, with the vocal and piano lines of equal value to the total effect.  For that matter, could the wonderful Dichterliebe songs even exist without the piano epilogues that crown so many of them?

—Marilyn Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle



Sinfonia Brings Bach, Stravinsky to Life 

Sinfonia San Francisco, the newest orchestral star on the local scene, presented a brilliant display of instrumental virtuosity … Conductor Samuel Cristler had his musicians keyed up to the highest international performance levels for his mostly Stravinsky evening.​

Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 was excellent in all ways.  It danced and sang along with consummate verve.

Cristler gave the finest live performances [of Stravinsky’s Renard] of the nine or 10 I have heard.  He took the score at face value, giving it a vivacious, technically brilliant interpretation.  There was no attempt to squash the orchestral sonority for the sake of the singers — which can easily kill what interest there is in “Renard,”

[In Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat Cristler took idealized tempos and highlighted the panache of Stravinsky’s melodic inflections with superb articulation.  You will not hear better performances.

—Heuwell Tircuit, San Francisco Chronicle



‘Barber’ Good Entertainment for Opera Lovers, Non-Lovers

… and the fine conducting of Samuel Cristler, who led his forces with style and precision .. it was all in the service of Rossini, just as it should be.

—Caroline Crawford, Times Tribune



California Coast Opera Presents ‘Barber’ 

The show got off to an excellent start with a clean, sensitive rendition of the overture directed by Samuel Cristler.  It was a pleasure to hear such outstanding work, especially from the strings, which usually are the weak links.

—Judy Richter, San Mateo Times



Plucky Group’s Peninsula Surprise

Conductor Samuel Cristler’s devotion to the Prokofiev score [Love For Three Oranges] is obvious … he ensures the musical elements of taste and style.

—Marilyn Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle



An Impressive Start for Sinfonia’s New Season

Conductor Samuel Cristler chose to honor the tricentenaries of Bach and Handel on his first concert.  

Star achievement of the program was the sterling account of Stravinsky’s jazzy Ebony Concerto.  The big band accompaniment was excellent under Cristler’s zesty guidance, with special bravos due the saxophone quintet.

—Heuwell Tircuit, San Francisco Chronicle



Admirable Effort from the West Bay Opera 

West Bay Opera’s Un Ballo in Maschera achieves the spirit and style of Verdi.  Conductor Samuel Cristler drew the best from his vocal and instrumental forces on Saturday night.

—Dorothy Nichols, Times Tribune



The Theater Couldn’t Hold the Voices 

Samuel Cristler led the well-disciplined orchestra as well as the excellent chorus and the soloists with precision and care … the interplay between voices and instruments was well done [Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera].

—Angela M. Owen, Times Tribune



Verve Marks West Bay’s ‘Un Ballo’ 

The orchestra, directed by Samuel Cristler, also had a full sound an supported the vocalists with a fine sense of balance.  

—Lisa Gibbs, San Mateo Times



Sinfonia Launches Its New Series in Style 

Musical director Samuel Cristler has organized the chamber orchestra concerts around an intriguing academic premise.  Each concert will deal for the most part with music of one important composer, Haydn for the Monday night opener, to be followed by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Tchaikovsky.

Cristler, a cellist with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, has assembled his current orchestra principally from the younger ranks of the opera orchestra.  And what a cracking good ensemble it is.

I was little prepared for the surprising richness and freshness of the string sound, the incisive phrasing, the spiffy winds in such works as the Symphony No. 48 “Maria Theresa,” the E-flat Major Trumpet Concerto and Symphony No. 92 “Oxford.”

Cristler and the Sinfonia had done their homework well.  There seems to be a strong organization as well as financial backing behind the Sinfonia.  Interpretive results indicated sufficient, even generous, rehearsal time.

The fast-passage Allegros sparkled with a vivacity all to rare in Haydn symphonies.  The unhurried grace of the slow movements and earthy buoyancy of the minutes were also ingratiating.

The rapport between conductor and players was self-evident in its friendliness.The good batch of well-played Haydn did not upstage the presence of Alan Cox’s Elegy.  Many of the aspects of elegiac writing are sensitively set forth and developed in the Elegy, often with fine antiphonal effect.  Cox, the first flutist in Sinfonia, was evoked a direct emotional response in his Elegy.  It leads logically and satisfactorily to the meditative calm of the concluding measures.

—Marilyn Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle



Oakland Chorus Still Sharing, Singing 

Working under the direction of Samuel Cristler and singing to an accompaniment provided by members of Cristler’s Sinfonia San Francisco, the chorus delivered a stylish presentation [of Handel’s Messiah] that was distinguished by an infectious enthusiasm, confidence, clean rhythmic articulation, good balance and excellent enunciation.​

Cristler dedicated himself to the score in a manner that elicited a highly credible, rightly musical performance literally from first note to last.  Although he worked with an orchestra of only 13 strings, he maintained a balance that was never disturbed, even when the chorus sang full-throttle.

—Richard Pontzious, San Francisco Examiner



West Bay Opera’s ‘La Boheme’ Has All the Elements of Success 

When you want a guaranteed full opera house, put on one of the familiar old warhorses that people will come to hear regardless of who is singing.  If you then give them a cast that’s superb both musically and dramatically and scenery that makes them sit up in admiration, you have a success on your hands whichever way you look.

West Bay Opera’s production of Puccini’s La Bohème is all of the above.  It opened in Palo Alto under the musical direction of Samuel Cristler.

—Angela M. Owen, Times Tribune



Bach’s Music Played With Style 

The immediate impression Sinfonia makes is one of unanimity.  The players’ individual sounds blend well together and their musical temperaments do, too.  Cristler knows he has a fine-tuned instrument to conduct and does so from inside the organism.  Never did he seem merely to be imposing his will on the music or on his players.

In a concert with so many bright spots, the highest lights were the consistently well chosen tempos, especially slow ones which never once dragged.  At the metronome’s other end, the finale of Brandenberg Concerto No. 3 zipped along at break-neck speed.  But no necks broke, nor anything else.  This was ensemble articulation at its very best.  Even the lowest strings’ notes spoke cleanly and clearly.

—Michael Andrews, Times Tribune



Sinfonia Shows Off Its Professional Capabilities 

The orchestra, begun on an informal basis a few years back by cellist Samuel Cristler and fellow players from the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, now wants to be taken seriously as a fully professional chamber orchestra.  From the evidence so far, that will not be difficult.

Monday’s program included Prelude, Fugue and Riffs by Leonard Bernstein, as well as Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins.  These were placed side by side with Mozart’s Overture to The Abduction From the Saraglio and D-Major Flute Concerto.

A program of such stylistic diversity presumably could be in trouble at the outset, but the program enjoyed great flair.  The orchestra, well rehearsed, played Mozart of classical elegance, lightness and purity.  It was obvious in the “Seraglio” Overture that his was an orchestra, not just a group on players getting it together.

Cristler was poised and confident, as was the Opera’s fine first flutist, Alan Cox, who was the concerto soloist.

—Marilyn Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle



Sinfonia San Francisco Seems To Have Found The Right Stuff This Year 

In the category of resident musical institutions improved out of all recognition, Sinfonia San Francisco gets the vote today, especially after its cleverly conceived and admirably executed second concert of the 1987 season at the Herbst Theater on Monday night.

What’s happened with this organization since last year seems less a miracle of hype and funding than a matter of repertoire planning, the careful hiring of musicians and the maturing podium powers of artistic director and conductor Samuel Cristler.

Cristler’s compact program subscribed to the 18th-20th century dichotomy, now fashionable among chamber orchestras.  He started in whimsical mood with the Overture to Rossini’s opera buffa, “Il Signor Bruschino,” continued with Haydn’s Symphony No. 46 in B-Minor, then went modestly modern after intermission with Bohuslav Marinu’s “Toccata,” and Frank Martin’s Six Monologues from “Jedermann.”

Cristler injected the Rossini with a healthy dose of carbonation.  Crisp tempi and unanimity in bowing enlivened the Haydn, a less dour specimen than most of its companions in the “Sturm und Drang” series.  Cristler’s reading maintained a boldly mobile profile.

With its obsessive rhythmic underpinning and its sudden flight into Czech folk material, Martinu’s elegantly crafted 1946 Toccata tested the orchestra’s resources to the fullest.

It took courage to conclude with the austere “Jedermann” monologues, with texts borrowed in 1949 from poet-librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s perennial Salzburg Festival morality play.  The Swiss composer illustrates the words without falling slave to them, mixing declamation, arioso and pure song, framing the soloist with brass fanfares and plaintive viola motives as he prepares for the Day of Judgment.  These is despair here, but there’s also a rising tide of religious ecstasy, and the Sinfonia caught the transformation with a rare glow.

—Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Examiner



Youth Orchestra Opens Season  

Samuel Cristler, the group’s talented and popular conductor, led it dynamically throughout Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave, Michael Torke’s Bright Blue Music and Dvorak’s New World Symphony.​

… the large string section exhibited extraordinary cohesiveness and strength — the musicians actually played better than the strings in many adult community orchestras. Cristler’s charisma and musical concepts set the group afire for the Dvorak.  Obviously enjoyed by the musicians, they played it with excitement and spirit.  Good sectional balances permitted clear, artful projection of thematic materials, while intelligent phrasing and rhythmic impulse kept the piece moving at an exciting pace.

—Cheryl Greger, Alameda Times Star



Zestful Performance as Sinfonia Ends Season  (1988)

The program was enlivened by Takashi Yoshimatsu’s “Threnody to Toki” (1980).  The Toki is the Japanese crested ibis, of which there were only three living specimens when the composer wrote his program notes, and the piece turns out to be an agreeable nine-minute elegy for 11 strings and piano.  

Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night was done with success … Cristler got a good deal of mileage out of Schoenberg’s melodic side.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, the “Jupiter,” was a worthy conclusion.  Cristler bustled confidently through the Minuet and Trio, and infused the brilliant Finale with animation.As appetizer, Cristler served up the “Magic Flute” Overture, and did it with unfailing zest and the necessary textural clarity.

—Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle



Sinfonia’s Challenging Mix of Baroque, Boogie

The boogie music was Libby Larsen’s Four on the Floor, which its young Minnesota composer claims is a “celebration of American music and musicians.”  This was followed by Ernst Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1, intended in 1924 as a teaching tool for composition students bent on dissonance and other extremes.

Cristler began the work like a cannon shot … As it turned out, the Bloch was the revelation of the evening.

Marilyn Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle


Sinfonia Stars With Beethoven Program 

The Sinfonia San Francisco opened with Mozart Symphony No. 29.  Cristler’s direction was solid; the music pulsated.

The Sinfonia succeeded best with the familiar Beethoven [Symphony No. 7].  The group did a fine job resurrecting this fiery work.  Cristler’s direction depicted the real Beethoven, the one who, in approaching the sunset of his middle period, formed strong reactionary political viewpoints in direct relation to his growing disillusionment with mankind.

Those marvelously unequal dactyls in the first movement were superbly tackled; the finale, which Wagner respected enough to call “the apotheosis of Dance herself,” was played with skill and zeal.  If the finale allegro was at all unmusical — it bordered on the overwrought — it was in the spirit of the composer, who is often and, unfortunately, forgotten by academics as an original who consistently stressed extremes.

—Chris Culwell, The Times



Sinfonia Stakes a Claim in Chamber Competition 

… opened a new season with a brilliant, tightly knit ensemble sound and strong artistic leadership from the podium.  

Sinfonia was joined for its opening-night gala by cellist Lynn Harrell, a gripping soloist in Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 107.  Scorning the easy path, Cristler devoted the concert’s first half to Schubert’s “Great” C Major Symphony.  A sellout Herbst Theater audience responded with well earned enthusiasm.

The huge, sprawling C Major Symphony makes heavy demands on a conductor — to forge a cohesive statement out of Schubert’s impossibly broad musical vistas and to do it with consistent attention to the detailed textural and melodic workings of the music.

Cristler, conducting from memory, met those challenges admirably.  On the large scale, the symphony made consistent dramatic sense, with climaxes carefully charted and a long-range command of pacing clearly in evidence.  At the same time, the performance was intimately scaled, and rendered with an appealing clarity of line and phrasing

In the first movement especially, Cristler established a nice contrast between the bristling first theme and the more relaxes second theme, which the remainder of the movement proceeded to work through persuasively. The second movement was taken at a jaunty clip that showed off the main melody to great advantage.

The finale ... made its points with considerable vigor and animation.

—Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle



Ancient ‘Iphigenia’ Has Modern Appeal

Two seasons ago there were six chamber orchestras in or near San Francisco, playing January-to-May seasons.  ​

The leading survivor today appears to be Samuel Cristler’s Sinfonia San Francisco, an enterprising and imaginative group drawing its players from the opera orchestra, the Oakland orchestra and other places.

The Sinfonia’s five stimulating programs this season (given in eight concerts) range from all-Mozart to all-Weill, with two world premieres of music by young American composers also included.

This week Cristler & Co. presented the world premiere (in a concert version) of the one-act opera “Iphigenia,” by Lori McKelvey, 31, a graduate of Eastman School of Music.

Mezzo Dolora Zajick was a brilliant choice for the title role.  In the monday performance, her heavy, Verdian voice carried the needed weight yet could also render the light-lyrical serenity of the after-life spirit called for in the finale.  That voice sent goose bumps up my spine.  Conductor Cristler has a true gift for evoking expressiveness and well-rounded phrases from the singers.  


Sinfonia Gets a Jump on the Mozart Bicentennial

Music director Samuel Cristler programmed three works for Monday’s program at Herbst Theater, the Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,”  Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat, K 297b and the opera “The Impresario.”  The program was to be repeated yesterday, a measure of the appeal that Sinfonia has gained in the last decade.  

Bring in “The Impressario” was a capital idea.  Mozart himself performed in and conducted the first performance for a soiree at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna in 1986, and Cristler followed vocal suit with a few gravelly lyrics in the final ensemble.

Cristler and Sinfonia offered solid support.  The overture was one of the best played items on the program and the whole thing was a delightful non-sensical fluff.

—Marilyn Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle



Sinfonia Gives a Bracing Effort

The Sinfonia draws its players from the area’s larger professional orchestras, and Cristler has discovered how to elicit focused and consistently exciting playing from them.

Sinfonia performed a five-part program that looked like a hodgepodge on paper.  But penetrating, high-tension performances unified the event.

… much heralded West Coast première of Roger Reynold’s “Whispers Out of Time,” a composition for string orchestra that won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize.

It was framed by two perfectly decent modern-instrument performances of Baroque excerpts.  Beyond its topicality, the Sinfonia from J.S. Bach’s Easter Oratorio offered some delectable playing from the choir of woodwinds.  The Overture to Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music .. was lusty and incisive, with strong instrument contrasts.

The contemporary treasure was the local première of Elliott Carter’s 1987 “Pastoral.”  The concert ended with a companion “Pastoral,” Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony.  Hewing at least close to the composer’s metronome markings, Cristler led a reading that had audience and players on the edge of their seats in a familiar work that sounded new-minted.

—Timothy Pfaff, San Francisco Examiner



Quintet Offers Illuminating Concert

Five members of Sinfonia San Francisco performed for the Music at Kohl Mansion series in Burlingame.  ​

Musical director/ cellist Samuel Cristler, violinists Zoya Leybin and Beni Shinohara, violist Basil Vendryes and clarinetist Michael Corner performed a typically illuminating and enlightening program that included the clarinet quintets of Mozart and Brahms and Dohnanyi’s underperformed Serenade in C, Opus 10.

Cristler, as always, was a model of grace and refinement.

—Christopher Culwell, San Mateo Times



“Cristler is an exceptionally accomplished cellist and, at 25, stellar material.  It is one thing to fulfill the requirements of the principal cellist in orchestral music and something more to play the HAYDN CONCERTO IN D MAJOR with its virtuoso demands, both technical and musical.  Cristler was equipped to handle virtually any assignment and do it artistically.”  —The Times-Union, Rochester, New York

“The outstanding performance of the evening was DVORAK'S CELLO CONCERTO with the very talented Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra principal cellist Samuel Cristler as soloist.  His performance was exceptionally musical, thoroughly studied and poignant.”  —Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY

“The biggest hand of the evening went to the orchestra’s principal cellist Sam Cristler, who was the soloist for the SAINT-SAËNS CONCERTO IN A MINOR.  He proved, as he has countless times in the past, he is a very talented and accomplished performer as he etched clean melodic lines throughout the knotty, dramatic piece.” —The Times-Union, Rochester, NY

“The evening’s highlight was a performances by cellist Samuel Cristler of HAYDN'S CONCERTO IN D MAJOR. Cristler’s playing was everywhere marked with strength, fine tone and electrifying energy.  The first movement cadenza (by Emmanuel Feuermann) was well-motivated, intense and brought off grandly.  The slow movement was broadly and expansively interpreted by Zinman and received a studied and thoughtful rendition by Cristler.  The melodies in the concluding movement, a 6/8 dance, were given fine voice by soloist and ripeno alike.”  —The Geneva Times, Geneva, NY

“Samuel Cristler was the evening’s guest soloist.  He began with HAYDN'S CELLO CONCERTO IN C MAJOR … playing with an extraordinary flair and style.  He brought refinement to the line of the second movement and a confident air to the third.  Even more refinement of line came from Cristler’s performance of the Rachmaninoff Vocalise.  The work’s tender tunes lie well for cello and orchestra and were sensitively performed.”  —The Hartford Courant, Hartford, CT

“Samuel Cristler, principal cellist of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, was the splendid soloist.  With a lovely, singing tone and dead-center intonation, he caught the essentially romantic spirit of the work, giving PROKOFIEV'S SYMPHONY-CONCERTO long lyrical lines a noble arch and expressive phrasing.  This was a technically masterful performance, with even the fastest sections crisply and cleanly articulated.”   —Corning, NY

​“His lyricism was very convincing in the slow sections of the middle movement [LALO CONCERTO] and he made a great deal of charm out the jaunty Spanish theme.  Mr. Cristler finished his performance with the best of style.”  —The Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut

1976 concert poster
1976 concert poster