Wednesday, June 5, 2013

a concert review and a memoriam

The concert was "A Britten Celebration" in the series Curious Flights, at the San Francisco Conservatory.

It's Ben Britten's centenary this year, and this little tidbit of a concert of his obscure music seemed just the way to celebrate it. It was held in the Conservatory's big hall, the one amply large enough to contain everybody who might be interested in hearing something this specialized.

First we had two short student works, a string quintet (instead of the usual quartet) and a wind sextet (instead of the usual quintet). Both began with fragments played over a single line, and the course of the piece was devoted to making those fragments cohere into a grander structure.

Then, a work of his maturity, Canticle III, an eerie setting of Edith Sitwell WW2 allegorical Passion poetry for tenor with piano and horn.

Finally, a real treat, a reconstruction of the Clarinet Concerto made by Colin Matthews (the same ghoulish fellow who wrote a "Pluto" for Holst's Planets just before Pluto was demoted). While in the US in the early 1940s, Britten met Benny Goodman, who commissioned a concerto from him (not a unique event when Goodman met classical composers). Unfortunately, when Britten left the country to return home to the UK, the US emigration officials thought his draft for the first movement looked like a secret code, and they confiscated it. Eventually he got it back, but the project had lost momentum. Matthews orchestrated the draft, and concocted two more movements out of other abandoned Britten works of the period. He's right that the first movement would sound unfinished by itself, and I liked the succeeding movements better: the pulsating flow of the slow movement and the arresting lower-strings tutti that begins the finale.

Brenden Guy, a British clarinetist who's studied at the Conservatory, played the solo part with fluency; he was also the clarinetist in the wind sextet. Alasdair Neale, a conductor of considerable local reputation, led the scrappy orchestra.


I come home from this to learn that local fan Hugh Daniel has died. What? How can such a dynamic, vibrant, enormous force of human nature suddenly cease to be? I am stunned.

Hugh and I moved in overlapping social circles, but we never had much personal interaction. The things he tended to talk about he was more interested in, and knew much more about, than I. Had we ever had any extensive one-on-one, I would have tried to find some common ground, but that never happened. Typically he was the center of a large circle of conversants.

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