Friday, September 16, 2011

SFS memories

Here's a challenge to the offhand memory. My editor wants the writers to commemorate the SF Symphony's centennial by submitting brief writeups of a few of our favorites of its concerts of the past. Unlike the NY Philharmonic, SFS doesn't keep a complete past repertoire online, so it's tough for me to remember when a lot of my favorites actually were. I went through some of my old music writings to jog my memory, about concerts as well as when they were, and here's a few from before I started writing for LJ:

1970: You never forget your first real symphony concert. Ozawa led Le Sacre du Printemps plus works by Haydn and Berlioz. The program notes cheekily reprinted the famous early killer review in verse, which began "Who wrote this fiendish Rite of Spring? / What right had he to write the thing?"

1989: In the middle of Herbert Blomstedt's tenure, this concert (conducted by him) marked for me the moment that SFS passed from being a good orchestra to being a great one. Splendid performances of Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody (Vladimir Feltsman as soloist) and Dvorak's Eighth Symphony, consistently shaped and perfect in every way.

1990: Guest conductor Semyon Bychkov was new to me, but I never forgot him after this. An absolutely hair-raising account of Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony, already the composer's most grippingly cinematic work.

1998: Shostakovich again. A huge wad of chunks from about five of his symphonies stuck together as a soundtrack for a screening of Eisenstein's Potemkin. 75 minutes of horrific bliss.

2000: As part of his "American Mavericks" festival, MTT leads the orchestra with amateur audience instrumentalists joining in ad lib, in a wildly clanging sonorous performance of Terry Riley's minimalist classic, In C.

This is best favorite concerts, so I have to leave out the occasion that Ozawa programmed a pretentious piece of modernist crap called Echoes of Time and the River, and during the solemn middle some blessed audience soul started laughing. Then we all began to laugh, and at the end gave the work a huge ovation, we'd enjoyed ourselves so. Ozawa looked thunderously furious.

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