Tuesday, May 24, 2016

concert review: Oakland Symphony

Getting to an Oakland Symphony concert from here is both very difficult and very easy. The afternoon traffic around the South Bay is the worst I have to deal with, but once you (finally!) reach the end of the BART line, the parking lot is emptying of the commuters who fill it up all day, and it's a short quick ride to literally half a block from the theatre.

I got a late assignment to review this one, but I was happy to go. There'd be Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, probably my favorite of his works because parts of it sound proto-minimalist (but not in this performance, alas). There'd be Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915, the fourth time I've heard this piece in performance in the past year, after a lifetime of never hearing it live at all. Why this, all of a sudden? At least I don't mind: it's both short and very lovely. And there'd be John Adams' Dharma at Big Sur, probably his most extensive essay into spiritual stillness. And which afforded me the opportunity to allude to both Kerouac and Keats in the same review.

Dharma was written for a jazz violinist, Tracy Silverman, because he knew how to bend the notes as Adams wanted, and he performed it here too. It was Silverman's encore that gave me trouble. Just after he began, a smattering of applause came from the audience, so some of them recognized it, but I did not. The next morning I called up the Symphony's publicity officer and asked; he said it was a medley of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" and Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Rain", so that's what I wrote. I've heard of both of them but I don't know their work. It was the copy editor who informed me that Hendrix wrote "Purple Haze"; "Purple Rain" is by Prince. I had no idea which one got played, of course, so he checked with the publicity people again. You can count on me to tell you which of Tolkien or C.S. Lewis wrote "The Nameless Land" and which one wrote "The Nameless Isle" (I once submitted a copy edit note correcting an error on that) but purple pop songs are outside of my field.

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