Tag Archive: Michael Francis

Michael Francis Conducts the San Francisco Symphony in “My Classic Americana,” with Pianist Charlie Albright in His San Francisco Debut

Michael Francis. Photo: Chris Christodoulou

It’s silly season again at the San Francisco Symphony! A quick report from the front. And a debut teaser for later. Do we have a new Horowitz?

 

In perfect weather, with no need for a sylvan retreat, we San Franciscans simply shine a colored spotlight on the Davies Hall organ pipes in July, and Presto, music becomes festive! “My Classic Americana” is one of several programs containing well-known works Michael Francis has been leading this summer, with super zest and limited rehearsal. At times he’s got us clapping along in such good spirits, we might as well be at the Albert Hall Proms. The young Englishman has now conducted several summer seasons in San Francisco and is a great hit with our audience, bringing just the right touch of knowing wit, uncomplicated musicality, good spirits and schoolboy snark to the proceedings.

Michael Francis conducts the San Francisco Symphony: Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Rachmininoff and Beethoven with Lisitsa and Buechner

If the ebullience surrounding every squeak made by the San Francisco Symphony last Friday and Saturday is any measure, the orchestra’s summer season is in fine hands. On the podium for much of the month has been Michael Francis, and waiting in the wings pianists Valentina Lisitsa and Sara Davis Buechner, all to dazzle and command in their own ways. About which more in a moment.

Summer concerts are a special art and a fine test for the temperament and ability of musicians. While accuracy and sight-reading abilities reflect the latter, there is a special dimension of celebration and showmanship involved, and the treacherous challenge to popularize without diminishing. So it is a delight to report that the programs I attended in Davies Hall sported no colored lights, no floral wreaths, trotted out no talkative or, worse, awkward masters of ceremony, and contained no “special occasion” works of dubious provenance. Just classic music, and very well played it was. Remarkably so, with what must have been little rehearsal.

Michael Francis debuts with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

One of the consolations of living in a successful middle-class society, I think, is to experience the evaporation of self-consciously plug-ugly proletarian art and music. Many of the last century’s early musical compositions seem today unnecessarily obsessed with wheezing ’round the campfire, banging on pots and pans, or otherwise ramming washtub crudities down the listener’s throat. Even where it isn’t that obvious, the blue-collar bias can be detected: “Barefoot Songs” by Tubin. “Hammersmith” by Holst, Milhaud’s “Le Boeuf sur le toit,” and of course, almost everything by Copland. Just under the surface of most music from the 1920s and 30s, you could say, lies a post office mural. And like post office murals, sometimes it is great art, sometimes propaganda, and sometimes just not worthy of restoration.

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