Tag Archive: San Francisco Symphony

Charles Dutoit triumphs in Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony with the San Francisco Symphony, with Kirill Gerstein in Beethoven

Charles Dutoit

There’s no question that the San Francisco Symphony is one of our great American orchestras. I go to as many of their Carnegie Hall concerts as I can, and if these are not a consistent joy, it has nothing to do with the musicians’ capabilities, rather with the vagaries of Michael Tilson Thomas’s talents and tastes—of which more later. The concert I am reporting on had little to do with MTT beyond his successful maintenance of Herbert Blomstedt’s discipline.

James Conlon leads the San Francisco Symphony in a little “Entartete Musik”

Composer Erwin Schulhoff

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.

Julia Fischer and MTT play brilliant Prokofiev and Berlioz with the San Francisco Symphony

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.

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

Oscar Parviainen. The Funeral Procession. Inspired by an improvised funeral march Sibelius played for the artist in Paris in 1905. From www.ainola.fi

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.

MTT, James Ehnes, and the San Francisco Symphony open the season with Americans: Ives, Barber, Antheil, and Gershwin

Charles Ives

Last Friday evening dusked warm and sensuous—a rarity in this city. And at the San Francisco Symphony: one of those electric occasions to match, where everything comes together with inspiration, and the audience goes away feeling alive and happy. I don’t think I have ever seen Michael Tilson Thomas so rested and intuitively joyous at the podium—American music is his specialty—and nobody since Bernstein does it so well. Thomas has a reputation for programming what amounts to narrated musical lesson-plans. Let him grab a microphone, and the dowagers in the audience get nervous.

Marek Janowski Conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Schumann’s Manfred Overture, Rhenish Symphony and the Brahms Double Concerto with Steinbacher and Gerhardt

Marek Janowski.

It has been about a hundred years now since classical composers automatically turned to literature for inspiration. Walt Whitman was perhaps the last universal philosopher of the written word to appeal widely to musicians. Expansive, idealistic compositions by Vaughan Williams (A Sea Symphony), Delius (Sea Drift), Hindemith (“When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”) and many others are still vividly with us to prove the point… But in the decades since, our culture has veered off in realistic, therapeutic and scientific directions. Self-actualization of the dramatic sort depicted in romantic verse now seems naive and self-indulgent to us. We do not model ourselves any more on sweeping literary notions of heroism, duty and suicide. They embarrass us slightly.  And this probably explains why one doesn’t very often come across Fountainhead Symphonies, featuring Howard Roark standing naked at the edge of a cliff, or tone poems devoted to Portnoy’s activities of self-discovery in the coat closet. Occasionally, somebody still thinks of himself with sufficient grandiosity to try pulling off a musical Hamlet or Macbeth, but these days we take it all with a grain of salt. Narcissism has migrated to opera, where it can become camp.

Blomstedt and Hadelich with the SF Symphony…Hats off to collaboration? Or, tell me it isn’t so!

The San Francisco Symphony Davies Hall, San Francisco Saturday, April 20, 2013 Herbert Blomstedt, conducting Augustin Hadelich, violin Beethoven – Violin Concerto in D, Opus 61 (1806) Nielsen – Symphony No. 5, Opus 50 (1922) Hats off to collaboration? Or,…
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The Agonies of the San Francisco Symphony: a Tour Program that Never Got to Carnegie Hall

An empty Davies Hall

The San Francisco Symphony Davies Hall, San Francisco Wednesday, March 6, 2013 Michael Tilson Thomas, Conductor Yuja Wang, piano Samuel Carl Adams – Drift and Providence (2012) Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Opus 58 (1806) Brahms…
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