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*+-Concerts this good have become our norm and good fortune in twenty-first century America—especially in San Francisco. We are used to charismatic conducting, to fine piano debuts, to engaged orchestral playing and the rediscovery of great neglected symphonies. What differs from time to time is the realization that a performer may not only be accomplished, or even inspiring, but one of a kind. I begin to think Vasily Petrenko is such an artist.
*+-If you feel pursued by good luck, do we call it paranoia? This is the question I must answer lately, since it seems the London Symphony has chased me down in San Francisco—to my great delight!
Just a month ago, I had the good fortune of hearing Sir Mark Elder lead the orchestra in a solid Pathétique at the Barbican. By the time my visit was over, I had experienced the Berlin Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony, the Philharmonia and the London Philharmonic, as well. What puzzled throughout all this listening was the difficulty of telling the orchestras apart in London’s Barbican and Festival Hall, clinical modern venues with limited reverberation and bass.
*+-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.
*+-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.
*+-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.