Thursday, November 5, 2015

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Yan Pascal Tortelier conducted. He's a solid, sober-looking man in his late 60s, but he bounces energetically on the podium. The program was all French, and not too heavy.

The Carmen suites, and the warhorses galloped across the stage.

Saint-Saƫns' Organ Symphony is equally a warhorse, but this was more like a python slithering across the stage. It was smooth and slinky - check out the string sound in that Poco adagio - slow and stealthy, and powerful and muscular. The organ was set to reedier stops than is usually heard for this work, so it stood out conspicuously, yet not enough to make the orchestra's full throat seem lesser or secondary.

Ravel's Left Hand Concerto, with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet holding on to the piano desperately with his other hand while trying to play in all registers at once, was spiky and prickly, the embodiment of the twirky modernism that Ravel wrote the concerto in. (Did Paul Wittgenstein, the conservative one-armed pianist who commissioned the piece, like what he got? He did not.) It was a very suitable and characteristic performance, yet I found it uncompelling.

Dinner beforehand was interesting. We went to the Hayes Street Grill, and I ordered the grilled scallops on the day's menu. I'm not too fond of scallops, but I'll eat them if they're cooked really well, which I correctly assumed they would be; but I ordered this mostly because what they came on appealed to me: polenta (very light, rather like grits) with pureed kale mixed in.

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