If nothing else had been performed this week at the San Francisco Symphony, the Scherzo from Erwin Schulhoff’s Fifth Symphony would have been worth the ticket. James Conlon has become an authority in recent years on the subject of “Entartete Musik,” which is to say, music forbidden performance by the Nazis. And he had the daring to program just what he thought the audience would enjoy. I made a point after the concert of listening to several complete symphonies by Schulhoff and concluded Conlon was right to include just the Scherzo from the Fifth Symphony in his program, at least this time around. The music was both remarkably exciting (about which more in a moment), not too long and utterly hilarious, due to the brilliant and edgy talk Conlon gave from the podium before performing it.
A Week of Music in Chapel Hill: Two Conductors, Two Concerts, One Young Composer, a fine Pianist and a Cat
This is a piece about coming of age, so I suppose I should start with Tonu Kalam’s cat, always more vocal than musical, but who has approached gravitas since kittenhood two years ago with remarkably matured powers of persuasion! “Dolce” belongs to Kalam and his fiancée, Karyn Ostrom. And his progress towards getting what he wants with supreme efficiency seems to match the improvements I hear in the UNC Symphony Orchestra, which Kalam directs and manages, and where Karyn plays violin among the firsts. In his maturity, “Dolce” has nearly mastered the front doorknob to go outside and roll all over the concrete path and collect pollen, which he unaccountably enjoys. In the past, the expression of his wishes might have seemed less coherent. Today it is focused and not to be trifled with.
The San Francisco Symphony is just about off and running for a three week European tour. If last night’s performance of the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique is any indication, it will succeed heartily. And those lucky enough to hear Julia Fischer perform the Prokofiev D major concerto (she joins the orchestra mid-tour for Dortmund, Prague and Vienna) will be doubly dazzled.
Here in San Francisco we are fortunate to experience in fairly rapid succession the world’s great violinists, especially the young ones rising. (And sometimes the older ones falling: Pinchas Zukerman’s recent rough and scrapie visit with the Royal Philharmonic was disappointing—a soaring career tumbling for the nets). But it has generally been a feast: James Ehnes, Simone Lamsma, and now Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang, just to name a few. Given the level of excellence these days, it is sometimes hard to pick a winner and know what winning means. All are remarkably good. But I’ll go out on a limb here.
Davies Hall, San Francisco The San Francisco Symphony Friday, February 14, 2014 Jaap van Zweden – conductor Simone Lamsma – violin Mozart – Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio, K.384 (1782) Sibelius – Violin Concerto in D minor, Opus 47 (1904) Tchaikovsky—Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Opus 36 (1877) I am almost at […]
The Royal Philharmonic Disappoints — Pinchas Zukerman Plays/Conducts the Beethoven Prometheus Overture, Concerto and Fifth Symphony
Upon returning from Davies Hall last night, in a state of bewilderment which will soon become apparent, I blundered upon an article from the UK Independent devoted to exploring whether British orchestras are now falling from world-class rank. Government cutbacks in Britain and the orchestras’ own budgetary problems, it suggested, appear to be having an impact on the quality of playing — despite increased ticket sales. Sad to say, this was precisely the feeling I experienced, coming away from a really rather badly executed concert by the Royal Philharmonic on tour, under the baton of Pinchas Zukerman.
Trifonov Triumphs at the San Francisco Symphony with Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variations. Vänskä conducts Sibelius’s Night Ride and Sunrise, Stravinsky Symphonies of Wind Instruments, and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 6
Whenever you attend an orchestral concert, I’m sure you will have noticed that “Double D” on your ticket stub represents not the seating of the audience by bra size (an intriguing notion), but something more like a banishment to Siberia! “DD” is the last row of orchestra seats in Davies Hall, and at that distance music can become less visceral.
This time, though, I was happy to sit back in the hall, particularly for the music programmed on the second half.
It wasn’t, I confess, the originality of the afternoon’s program, which drew me to attend the Sunday concert recently at Disney Hall, but its likely mastery. I was in “The Southland” (as we say in California) in futile search of fahrenheit and friendly sands, only to encounter wet-suits, dogs at the beach and windswept desertion in the face of the same cold-snap that immobilized the East a few days later. But I warmed to the thought of seeing Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos perform again.