Tag Archive: Webern

Sir Simon Rattle’s Farewell Tour with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra: Two Concerts in Davies Hall, San Francisco

Sir Simon Rattle

It was a tease this time—opening with minimalist Boulez. But it was worth it.

Anyone growing up past mid-century recalls an era when whole portions of the German symphonic experience were seeming property of the Berlin Philharmonic and its legendary conductor, Herbert von Karajan. Put a Berlin Philharmonic LP of Brahms, Strauss, Beethoven or Bruckner on the turntable, and the golden DGG logo virtually guaranteed this orchestra would sound richer, probe more deeply than any other and elicit sheer heft without parallel. No string or brass section would glow as beautifully or emit more power. If that didn’t convey authority, as it surely did to anyone with good ears, Karajan’s mesmeric space-commander hair, ascetic tunic and “visionary closed eyes” (interesting notion, that) encouraged along the way our notion of insights to be found within—most of them worthy and real.

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?

Minsoo Sohn in a Masterful Recital of Webern, Brahms, and Bach Variations at Carnegie Hall

Minsoo Sohn

This simple, but finely crafted program of variations for keyboard instrument by the brilliant young pianist Minsoo Sohn, whose work I have followed for several years, was an important concert. It was not Mr. Sohn’s New York debut, but it…
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The Famous Five Play Brahms: The Tinalley String Quartet Plays with Kristian Chong

The Tinalley String Quartet.

In this the last performance of this program, the Tinalley String Quartet with their usual polish and serious, concentrated approach dipped into distant points in, without any futile attempt to span, romantic chamber music. The all minor key pieces each stood out distinctly by virtue of the composers’ individual emotional and intellectual language, while comfortably yoked together under the Tinalley’s distinctive voice. The subtler sense of humor, perhaps broader range of experience held in Brahms’ music made a very satisfying conclusion to the evening fitting so well the group’s very human tone — warm, but well-rounded and very clear, though at the same time they have a certain relaxed attitude, coloring the group tone as fits the music and their idea of the whole, rather than scrabbling for fleeting spectacle, which makes the performance very memorable. Kristian Chong, the invited pianist, got along very well with the group. Managing to get a remarkably sultry tone out of his Steinway, he seemed to expand the existing coloring of the group for that grand Brahms’ quintet, contributing as much oscuro as chiaro. No multiple-source fluorescent globes here. In the more individualistic writing which brings out each five of the players at some point, each showed an unforced and personal expression yet were always aware of the quintet as an expressive instrument in which their individual thoughts would fly on, the larger group picking up and carrying on the curve of their solo line.

Alice Tully Hall Opening Nights: Coming Home – Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

Starr Theater, Alice Tully Hall. Photo Iwan Baan.

Any one who did not experience the Upper West Side in the late 1960s, when Lincoln Center was nearing completion, or who has forgotten, might read Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet. There was an apocalyptic feeling in the air—more palpable than anything the Bush administration tried to conjure up— as one negotiated panhandlers, muggers, hippies, and refuse, as one made one’s way up and down Broadway. These public phenomena have not vanished, but New York had reached a peak of dysfunctionality, and western civilization seemed to be self-destructing at a fierce boil: cities were decaying around the country, reading and writing seemed doomed to obsolescence, tv was king, and a lot of people were worried about the cultural partnership of drugs and music. In a few sentences, Bellow conjures up what all this felt like on the street. Exposed glass walls seemed no more than an invitation to vandals, and check points were beginning to appear in the seedy lobbies of public buildings.

The public part of Lincoln Center, which was already finished, tried all too hard to emulate Rockefeller Center as an urban landmark, and in design the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana in the EUR, but it seemed frigid, ugly, and vulgar. The fountain in the piazza between the New York State Theater, the Metropolitan Opera, and Philharmonic Hall invited minor mischief—the sort of thing drunken Americans do in Rome—but it failed to humanize the exposed space, which was especially dire as cold winds whipped through it in January. New Yorkers weren’t ready for open urban spaces yet, but, as bigger and even less hospitable spaces were opened up around the World Trade Center, they began to colonize them. The more business-like parts of Lincoln Center, still under construction, were by nature and function private spaces, and hard, brutalist façades seemed an entirely appropriate gesture. Juilliard was among those private spaces, and, if one attended a public event (They were also many private ones.) in Alice Tully Hall,the approach was an entirely different experience from, say, going to hear the New York Philharmonic. One entered the old Alice Tully Hall rather ignominiously through a squat entrance lobby, which was buried under a platform, itself dwarfed by a mountain of classrooms, practice rooms, and offices. Raised up by gallows-like piers, the Juilliard School was totally divorced from the street and the hall—a monolith of heavy, brutalistic forms—the work of Pietro Belluschi, a distinguished Italian-born architect who emigrated to America at a young age and was trained here.

In Praise of Herbert von Karajan, with a Selective Critical Discography

My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.

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