New York Arts in San Francisco

Krzysztof Urbański Debuts with Emanuel Ax and the San Francisco Symphony in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony

Krzysztof Urbański conducts. Photo by Maria Maślanka

This was an old-fashioned program — the kind audiences like. Two grand and tuneful symphonic works. A venerated pianist. The debut of a young matinee idol conductor. And last but not least, total absence of any threatening nouvelle cuisine for the ear. So how did it go, this debut?

Marek Janowski Leads the San Francisco Symphony in Pfitzner’s “Palestrina” Preludes and the Beethoven Fourth and Eighth Symphonies

Marek Janowski. Photo © CAMI.

Marek Janowski always brings a convincing German something to our orchestra. Polish born, Janowski was raised in Germany and reigns at the Berlin Radio Symphony–indeed is known throughout Europe for his Wagner, Bruckner, Schumann and Beethoven. He’s even managed to elicit convincing Bruckner from the Suisse Romande in Geneva–that alone surely worth some nation’s Legion of Honor–and every so often does the rounds instructively with us. This time Pfitzner was the centerpiece.

Yan Pascal Tortelier leads the San Francisco Symphony in a French Program: Bizet, Ravel, and Saint-Saëns, with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano, and Jonathan Dimmock, organ

Yan Pascal Tortelier

Yan Pascal Tortelier was levitating with exuberance last Friday.

Every good conductor shows passion, of course, even those untempted by choreography. But audiences love the ones who take to the air and defy gravity—most famously Leonard Bernstein, who did so wildly and erotically—but also the occasional anomaly. I once witnessed long-gone Swedish conductor Sixten Ehrling, famously reserved, conduct Respighi’s Roman Festivals in his seventies, leaping about the Carnegie Hall stage like a red devil from Hades. Only the trident was missing.

MTT leads the San Francisco Symphony in Ravel Rossini, and Respighi, with Daniil Trifonov Playing Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto

Daniil Trofonov

  Davies Hall, San Francisco September 26, 2015 The San Francisco Symphony Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor Daniil Trifonov, piano Ravel – Menuet Antique (1895/1929) Chopin – Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Opus 21 (1830) Rossini – Overture to…
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MTT and Yuja Wang play their European Tour Program at Home: Bartók and Mahler

Yuja Wang

Naked came the pianist!

Or so it nearly seemed, as Yuja Wang made her way to the Davies stage last Saturday. This young performer always serves up classic delicacy spiked with erotic undulation. But nothing quite led us to expect the peek-a-lot raspberry dress, with its hip-high slit, diamond glam panels and full expanse of leg seen from the bench. This was nearly Bartók in a bikini. But nobody was complaining. Europe, take note. In America, all is not prudery!

The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra at Davies Hall gets ready for its European tour

Elena Urioste. Photo Alessandra Tinozzi.

I had the good fortune of catching the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra by the tail last month, just as they set out on their tenth European tour. The orchestra has been wowing audiences at the Philharmonie, the Concertgebouw and the Mariinski ever since 1986. I suspect they will make a similar impact this time, under the baton of Donato Cabrera, who also stewards the Las Vegas Philharmonic and California Symphony these days.

Charles Dutoit conducts The San Francisco Symphony in Stravinsky, Elgar, and Mussorgsky/Ravel, with Gautier Capuçon, Cello

Charles Dutoit

It’s hard to recall a time when Stravinsky’s music carried with it the suggestion of impossible modernism. But it did—once. The appearance of Petrouchka on TV in 1960 made the viewer feel quite daring, I remember. It was “dissonant.” And the Rite of Spring, with all those purpose-led insect lives and braying jurassic fossils was just plain intimidating. Little did we know then that dinosaurs were merely large chickens and Stravinsky himself, if not exactly a pussycat, then about as threatening as a Russian wolfhound on Stupid Pet Tricks.

Michael Tilson Thomas Leads the San Francisco Symphony in Leonard Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety” Symphony and Mahler’s Fourth

Leonard Bernstein in 1947. Photo Victor Kraft.

There is a sound you sometimes feel after midnight, high up in Manhattan. It comes from maybe thirty blocks away. Very faint. In the stillness of your mind, you know it is a lonely taxi horn dancing with the doppler effect. But in the small hours of the city, you wonder who might be riding home amongst sleeping millions, and how boozily, and what love affairs or personal dramas might now begin or end. New York is like that. In its darkness, taxis are crickets, and you listen.

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