Christian Baldini conducts the San Francisco Symphony in John Luther Adams’s The Light that Fills the World; Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Schumann and Brahms, with Anne-Sophie Mutter
*+-This week’s program at Davies Hall had a split personality. Young contemporary music specialist Christian Baldini was onstage to lead the opening work, The Light That Fills the World, by Alaska composer J. L. Adams. Michael Tilson Thomas then conducted the San Francisco Symphony in the Brahms concerto and Schumann symphony.
*+-The best part of a love affair, wrote Georges Clémenceau some hundred years ago, is the moment you are climbing the stairs. It was, one hopes, not a cynical remark but a commentary on the pleasures of anticipation. I thought of this last month as I negotiated stairs at London’s Barbican Centre. A visit by the Berlin Philharmonic is always, if not a love affair, then certainly a thrill. But the otherwise admirable and much used Barbican is a windowless maze, and climbing the various levels can make for the seeming triumph of cluelessness over romance.
*+-In the first hundred years of our still budding love affair with Maurice Ravel, his orchestral works have come to us from many directions. But despite our familiarity, Ravel’s music remains enigmatic beneath its surface appeal. There is something “film-noir” about it. We are in a mystery. The lady has shown up at the detective agency wearing a veil….and one suspects it might take a Frenchman to lift it without getting his face slapped.
*+-Think what you will about San Francisco, but nobody ever said it was Hungarian! You might have been fooled yesterday at Davies Hall, though, rubbing elbows with an enthusiastic elderly audience assembled for Iván Fischer’s Budapest Festival Orchestra. Sunday attendees do normally look a bit older, retired Stanford and Berkeley faculty perhaps, in from the suburbs. But during the week, a twenty-something dating crowd prone to show off its legs and neck in the corridors, leavens the age mix. This time the young were missing. (Their loss!) There was something very “1956” and central European about the crowd, right down to the fuzzy coats and orange hair.
Wagner, Tannhäuser Overture. Sibelius, Symphony No. 2 – the BSO’s first recording under Andris Nelsons
*+-I don’t think I have heard the Boston Symphony sound this full and deep since Koussevitzky. This CD inaugurates Andris Nelsons’ era at the helm of the BSO and signals a reinforcement of the orchestra’s considerable strengths in the more brooding side of the continental repertory.
Susanna Mälkki conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Griffes, Bartók, and Brahms, with Jeremy Denk, Piano
*+-I had several motives in attending this concert. Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki is a fast rising star in the classical world, recently appointed Music Director of the Helsinki Philharmonic. I was eager to hear the rarely performed Griffes tone poem, a brilliant programming move. (We need to experience more “A” pieces from obscure composers of the past, I frequently argue.) And I was curious to see how Jeremy Denk would interact with Mälkki, since both musicians are of the brisk, sparky sort. The concert did not disappoint.
*+-I should kick myself now for not having gone backstage to say hello…you can lose people from sheer timidity, after all. And agents aren’t supposed to be timid.
Last December, I found myself in Los Angeles. The trip was a vain attempt to escape the cold. And it would ultimately yield nothing but tooth-chattering selfies at deserted beaches all the way down the coast. But I did have the opportunity to hear iconic Spanish conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Rimsky-Korsakoff”s Scheherazade and an early Haydn symphony. Both performances were classic, warmhearted Frühbeck in his comfort zone. I wrote-up the concert at the time, and a review can be found here. But I had no idea this would be Frühbeck’s last week with the Philharmonic, nor that six months later he would be dead from cancer at eighty-one. He did seem a bit frail and tired, so I had thought better than to go backstage and disturb him. But now he’s gone, of course…
*+-It would be hard to peg with certainty the guiding concept in Michael Tilson Thomas’ recent choral program for the San Francisco Symphony. As so often with MTT, the selections appear a sophisticated grab bag. But intuition suggests the topic of nature and the metaphysics which spring from appreciating it. Thomas’ introductory remarks for each piece certainly leaned in this direction. Mounting the podium, he reached for his mike and held it like a weapon overhead. This can often result in a verbal concert and the disapproval of old ladies in the audience. But the nature of the music was such that his remarks were appreciated and not too long.