Tag Archive: San Francisco Symphony

Charles Dutoit conducts the San Francisco Symphony with Emanuel Ax, piano, in Sibelius, Mozart, de Falla, and Debussy

Gustave Courbet, The_Wave, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Scotland

If you ever wonder how Sibelius’ music seems to come in two styles, one bardic, noble, warmly patriotic and slightly thumpy; the other austere, cerebral, craggy and interplanetary, think Karelia. This is the eastern portion of Finland near the White Sea, where ancient forms of native song and poetry still obtained at the turn of the last century. As Vaughan Williams scoured England for folksong and Bartók transcribed them in Hungary, a similar romantic enthusiasm for Finnish roots swept young Finns of the day. Karelianism, it was called, and Sibelius’ suite derives from the music he wrote for the Karelia Pageant of 1893, which represented something of a culmination of the movement. The opening “Intermezzo”, otherwise a contradiction in terms, was in fact used to separate two tableaux within the festivities.

Juraj Valčuha conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Prokofiev, Richard Strauss, and Webern

Juraj Valčuha

There are all sorts of motivations for going to a concert. As a former conductors’ agent, I was curious to learn what Juraj Valčuha would be like in person. (I missed his SFS debut here a few seasons ago.) Valčuha is a forty-year-old Slovakian rapidly climbing the guest-conducting and music directorship career ladder. He is currently in charge of the RAI Orchestra in Torino, but has appeared by now with most of the major European and American ensembles. So what would he sound like?

Edwin Outwater Conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Weber, Saint-Saëns, Busoni and Hindemith

Edwin Outwater. Photo © edwinoutwater.com.

Davies Hall, San Francisco January 29, 2016 The San Francisco Symphony Edwin Outwater, Conductor Stephen Hough, Piano Weber — Oberon Overture (1826) Saint-Saëns — Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major, Opus 103, Egyptian, (1896) Busoni — Music from Turandot Suite, Opus 41 (1905)…
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The San Francisco Symphony: Herbert Blomstedt, conductor; Maria João Pires, piano, in Beethoven and Bruckner

Pianist Maria João Pires

It was a surrealistic night. Every so often a trip to the symphony is like that. It had oddities—both nice and annoying.

First-off, I thought, ninety seems to be the new seventy. And seventy surely is the new fifty. As Herbert Blomstedt came onstage, he didn’t look eighty-nine, that’s for certain! Just slightly snowier than last time. Tall, eager, ambassadorial as ever—Blomstedt led the evening without baton and the symphony from memory—an incredible feat with this edition.

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.

Summer Russians: The San Francisco Symphony
, Edwin Outwater, conductor
 Conrad Tao, piano

Conrad Tao. Photo Ruiming Wang.

There is a special feeling at Davies Hall in summer. The weather is balmy, if we are lucky. The sun is still up as the concert begins. But our hair is let down. Children are present, and young people dot the aisles in remarkable stages of undress. The air of eager informality is like a visit to the movies—minus the smell of popcorn. And, musically speaking, here we sometimes get the chance to hear romantic rarities we secretly love.

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.

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