Thursday, September 15, 2011

culminating in an SFS concert review

My previous post on seeeing two plays at Ashland reported just the first act of a week's road trip that I took, alone with just my small blue car for company, to Oregon.

Centerpiece and occasion for the expedition was a visit with friends - yes, that's what it was - in Portland. For the better part of three days we talked, ate, square danced (those of us who were up to it), visited Powell's, assembled jigsaw puzzles, and sang silly songs along to lyrics projected on a screen. Kate Y. beginning a sentence with "I was reading The Encyclopedia of Societies and Associations for fun ..." reminded me that the reason I'm a science-fiction fan is that it enables me to hang out with people who do things like that.

Other events of the trip included selling surplus and duplicate books to Powell's and other booksellers (Powell's buys online too, but it's worth going in person if you can, as they buy a lot more that way), and driving around to most of the towns in the Willamette Valley for a purpose to be named later, which incidentally increased my appreciation of the land's quiet beauties.

On the way home, I stopped off to play Tolkien expert in a law office, visiting a lawyer friend of Mike W's who was seeking evaluation of the author-inscribed early editions of The Lord of the Rings he'd saved from his childhood. I'm not a book dealer and couldn't price them, but I could help identify the printings and give him some background on the publishing history that clarified some questions he had.

And then one more stop, literally on the last leg home, at the San Francisco Symphony. For the first regular concerts of the orchestra's centennial season, MTT chose a program of pure beef: Beethoven's Third Leonore Overture, Brahms's First Symphony, and Hindemith's Cello Concerto. Yo-Yo Ma was the soloist and no doubt responsible for selling out the house. It was doubtlessly good of the Yo-master to choose a difficult modern work that's well within his capacity (peering over at his part as he played) instead of the crossover schmaltz that is his usual repertoire these days, but it's still the case that his soft soapy playing style didn't comport well with Hindemith's angular music, and still less with the orchestra's sound. Even more evidently in both the other pieces, it's obvious that for this year's SFS, MTT is cultivating a distinctive sound that I could spend an entire review trying to describe. It's like a serrated knife cutting through the music, with the brass at the knife edge. Combine that with a lean and taut interpretation, and it's the kind of stunning work you expect on a regular basis from a great orchestra. Time and repetition will reveal whether it wears well.

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