A number of years ago now-disgraced Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit brought down the house at Davies Hall with Holst's The Planets. I recall that evening well, a grand traditional performance. On a recent Sunday, though, San Francisco's Resident Conductor, 28 year-old German-born Christian Reif, did better than that. He not only delivered a white-hot account of Holst's interplanetary suite which will play well on Jupiter once the sounds get there. He jump-started what I hope will be a major career. As local music patrons are aware, Michael Tilson Thomas will be leaving our orchestra after another season. Under the circumstances, every guest conductor looms large in the institutional gimlet eye. Leonard Bernstein's conducting career, after all, rocketed when Bruno Walter caught a bout of the flu. Christian Reif's renown may well benefit from Charles Dutoit's bout with moral turpitude....
Articles by Steven Kruger
Though Michael Tilson Thomas doesn't step away from our podium officially until the summer of 2020, his recently announced departure ensures every guest conducting week at the San Francisco Symphony between now and then amounts to a job interview for the Music Directorship. English conductor Edward Gardner, current Music Director of the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway and a frequent recording artist for Chandos with British orchestras, surely had this possibility in mind for his impressive debut program here last week: a shrewdly chosen British signature piece; a bow to MTT's New York Broadway roots with Gershwin, and Rachmaninoff's final blockbuster, written in America. He brought the house down.
If you ever wondered who stole a Paderewski Prize from under the nose of Leonard Bernstein’s Jeremiah Symphony, here is the culprit, and here is the work that did it. It’s better than you think. Gardner Read (1913-2005) seems to have been one of those composers who wins competitions and gets punished by history for it. His music skirts the wild edges of the safe and known. Dismissed by Copland as “too romantic,” Read has largely been forgotten.You can find three of his symphonies on YouTube. But although the composer lived until his nineties in Manchester-by-the Sea, Massachusetts, I had never heard a note of his music before curiosity about the Second Symphony drove me to the bizarrely wonderful and nightmarish work it turned out to be.
One could wait a lifetime for this concert! I nearly did. And while Herbert Blomstedt is in his 90s now, you can only suppose—lucky man to be Swedish—he didn't spend as many years wondering what the Stenhammar Second Symphony would sound like in concert. Wilhelm Stenhammar is Sweden's greatest composer, after all, not without honor in his own country, like Vaughan Williams in England or Martinů in the Czech Republic. But it has taken time in the modern era to recognize which quieter and deeper voices from a nation's immediate past are the ones we will take to heart internationally. I can only thank Blomstedt profoundly for carrying this symphony on his guest-conducting rounds. Senior conductors can be influential that way. Erich Leinsdorf adopted the Martinů Fourth Symphony in his later years, and the work is now well established in concert halls far and wide. One hopes for a similar outcome here.
Here is really lovely Dvořák: fresh and natural, gorgeously recorded—and with something new to say. That’s rare for the symphony, which has been captured for presumed immortality by every orchestra on earth—and dutifully miked from nearly every row in every concert house. There’s a New World for every taste in approach and sonic perspective.
This is the most fascinating Honegger CD I know—brought to us with foundation-shaking percussion, virtuoso string and brass playing—and astonishing podium originality. Mario Venzago is a Swiss conductor who has recorded the Bruckner symphonies, some of them with this same Bern Symphony—sounding world class here. He’s the sort who takes chances with tempo, the way Bruckner conductors are either admired or forgiven for doing.
Musical triumphs, like Tolstoy happy families, tend to be alike. But celebration usually breaks out following a performance, not before! I've only once witnessed the sort of screaming, foot stamping, room shaking reception Thursday's Carnegie Hall audience accorded Martha Argerich, and that was in anticipation of Sir Georg Solti's Mahler with the Chicago Symphony in the late 1960s. And fair to say, though "Solti! Solti!" always made for a great chant, screams for Argerich lasted longer. Even Karajan enthusiasts were less tireless, back in the day.
2017 certainly seems to be a season for auspicious debuts and returns at the San Francisco Symphony! No sooner do we calm down slightly from Krzysztof Urbański's Polish Lancer charge upon the Shostakovich Tenth, than it's gobsmack-time once again from Eastern Europe: Jakub Hrůša's levitating debut in a mostly Czech program few will forget!