Prokofiev

Music

Christian Reif leads the San Francisco Symphony in Strauss, Lutosławski, and Prokofiev, with Johannes Moser, cello.

I'm often struck, when I attend concerts, with how much it matters what we see happening onstage. Ears aren't everything. And sometimes they are not enough. This is doubly true if an audience is presented with the sort of modern music which trades in humor, sly remarks, and attitude, like the Lutosławski Cello Concerto, which received its San Francisco premiere this week nearly fifty years after it was composed. I'm happy to report the concerto was a triumph worth the wait, but its success with our audience was to a large degree determined by the mini-skit taking place onstage. Fortunately, Christian Reif and Johannes Moser are natural comedians, sufficiently so to dispel any notions that Germans are too uptight to be funny! And our close sight lines in Davies Hall, where it is easy to witness a performer's face, surely played a part in what almost amounted to a Saturday Night Live routine.
Music

A New York Orchestral Retrospective, mostly Autumn 2018

Not so long ago I read a note by a European string player who was a young student in the 1890s. He observed that gut strings were universal before the First World War. When they began to appear in the first decade of the twentieth century, they were considered functional but inferior, and mainly used by students. Wartime shortages then made them a regrettable necessity for working professionals and orchestras. I haven't had a chance to investigate this properly, but the source is unquestionable. Wind instruments constantly evolved and were "improved" over the course of the nineteenth century, with its genius for mechanical inventions. This gives us an idea of when and how this crucial divide separated modern musicians and audiences from the techniques and sounds of earlier composers—meaning Mahler, not Mozart. There is still some general idea in the mind of the public that historical instruments and performance practices concern primarily music of the Baroque and Classical periods, but musicians have been applying the fruits of performance history to Romantic music for over twenty years—with gratifying results.
Music

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Sir Antonio Pappano, conductor, with Martha Argerich, piano, at Carnegie Hall

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.  
Music

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

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?
Music

A Crop Of Recordings VI: Symphonic Works by Strauss, Prokofiev, Mahler and Sibelius

There is nothing more cozy and comfortable in the symphonic canon than the harmless narcissism of Strauss’s “domestic” symphony, originally titled “My home. A symphonic portrait of myself and my family.” Just how tasteful it all is has been a subject of debate ever since 1903, of course. As Peter Ustinov famously said of the composer: “I knew I wouldn’t like his wallpaper.” As it turned out, he didn’t.
Music

Boston and Berlin at Carnegie in 2015

The fall 2015 orchestral season at Carnegie Hall was dominated by the Boston Symphony Orchestra's traditional three-concert visit, this time in October, and a five-concert traversal of Beethoven's symphonies by the Berlin Philharmonic under their outgoing principle conductor/artistic director, Simon Rattle. Both had their joys and peculiarities, but only Berlin confronted us with any actual disappointments.
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