Tag Archive: SF Symphony

Martin Helmchen Debuts with the SF Symphony. Yan Pascal Tortelier Conducts Berlioz’ Roman Carnival, the Schumann Concerto and Dvorak’s Symphony No.7

“This is such a wonderful program!” gushed the volunteer showing me to my seat. She had already heard Thursday’s concert and clearly looked forward to the repeat in a beatific mood. It made me reflect. Although audiences are more comfortable about being “educated” to a new piece these days – and the new pieces have become more accessible and performance-worthy – there is something to be said for not entering the concert hall as a captive. For once, our orchestra was simply going to play music we all know and love – and try to make us love it more. They succeeded. And it made for a satisfying evening.



Vasily Petrenko and Joshua Bell in a Russo-English Program with the SF Symphony: Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, and Elgar

Vasily Petrenko. Photo Mark McNulty.

Hats off, ladies and Gentlemen! A conductor! And a great symphony!

Vasily Petrenko’s recent electrifying week with the San Francisco Symphony reminds the listener that Gustavo Dudamel is not the sole “conducting animal” to be found on the musical circuit these days. Esa-Pekka Salonen coined the term a while back, with the impassioned Venezuelan in mind. And indeed, Dudamel is the sort of refreshing performer who has the winds jumping to their feet like jazz musicians and bass players twirling their instruments. He is all about emotion as vitality. But physically, apart from the energy with which he beats time, his manner is unremarkable.

The fascination of Petrenko, by contrast, is his ability to reflect every quivering moment of the music somewhere on his face or body, as though he were a disembodied hologram. We joke about people who are “double-jointed.” But Vasily Petrenko might as well be quadruple-sprung and then some…this is a man who’d have no trouble tapping three heads, rubbing five tummies and signalling with numerous eyebrows at the same time!



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.



MTT conducts the SF Symphony in Cowell, Mozart (with Gil Shaham), and John Adams’ Harmonielehre

Last week’s program at the San Francisco Symphony carried a sense of celebration with it. John Adams was in attendance, giving luster to the orchestra’s new performance and recording of his “Harmonielehre” under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. (Edo De Waart taped the piece in his final year as Music Director, when Adams was composer-in-residence.) There has always been a tendency to rally around the orchestra in San Francisco — cultural boosterism being one of the old-fashioned charms of this now rather important city, which sometimes still thinks of itself as a town and behaves like one in its enthusiasms — and John Adams is a local hero in the orchestra’s history. But the spontaneous applause I heard on Saturday seemed to go beyond these boundaries. It is a though, from the standpoint of an audience, Adams were being hailed for having rescued contemporary music — and indeed, he just may have.





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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