Thursday, April 28, 2016

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Same guest conductor as last week, Pablo Heras-Casado, with another potpourri program, this one of works written within the last century.

Oldest on the program was Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, just short of its century, closely followed by Bartok's Dance Suite. Ravel's was an early work of the "neo-classical" (neo-Baroque would be a better term) movement, while Bartok's was a late outlier of the "primitivist" phenomenon of which Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring is the best-known example, and one which the Bartok sounds rather like.

Curiously, in this performance it was the Bartok which came out all cute and charming in a neo-classical way, while the Ravel was made as brutalist as possible, which admittedly isn't very far.

Shostakovich's Ninth Symphony is in some ways his neo-classical work. It's generally thought of as the light and whimsical piece - "carnival squawks" is what the commissars said when they denounced it - that he wrote in lieu of a grand and triumphant WW2 victory march. But, like other Shostakovich works supposedly of a different mode, it has long stretches of mournful, depressing music in it, notably a long bassoon solo, here given all the emphasis it can get in a moving performance by Stephen Paulson. And then the finale that followed it was as cheeky as it could get. Composer of contrasts, that's our Mitya.

Lastly, a premiere: Auditorium by the inevitable Mason Bates. This music begins with that tired postmodern conceit, an orchestra tuning up - but it's repeatedly interrupted by a taped recording of a Baroque ensemble tuning up to a different pitch. But rather than clashing and arguing dissonantly, the music just switches gears calmly. The Baroque ensemble goes on to offer various snippets of appropriate pastiche music, and the desire to keep the live orchestra in some sort of sync with it keeps the piece from going too far off the rails. Interesting sonorities, and in keeping with the neo-whatsit theme of the evening.

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