Sunday, May 7, 2017

Shostakovich Eleventh festival

You all know that one of my favorite composers is Shostakovich, right? Well, my favorite Shostakovich symphony - it's not the greatest, but it's my favorite - is the Eleventh, an unbroken sixty-plus minutes of the grimmest, bleakest music you ever heard. How could I resist the rare opportunity to hear two different orchestras play this chilling masterwork on consecutive evenings?

So this past weekend I parked myself up in the North Bay, and went to hear the UC Berkeley Symphony under David Milnes play it on Friday evening at Hertz Hall on campus, and the Santa Rosa Symphony under Bruno Ferrandis play it on Saturday evening at Weill Hall in the Green Music Center.

The performances weren't all that different. Berkeley's was rawer and rougher, putting more emphasis on the finale, which was marked by a strong upturn in tempo and some tremendous clanging from the percussion, especially what Leonard Bernstein used to call the "Winnipeg Sound" from the gong. In Santa Rosa, Ferrandis, who bobbed and weaved around the podium for the rest of the program, stood stock-still for this piece which he led with firm control. There are times when iron rigidity is the proper approach to music, and this is one of them.

The reason the Eleventh is such a dire work is that it's a musical depiction of the 1905 Winter Palace massacre and the tragic atmosphere around that, with suggested overtones of the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, which occurred just before the piece was written. Ferrandis explained all this in a pre-concert talk, adding that the election tension in his native France right then was making him identify with the work even more.

Oh yes, there was more on the programs. Santa Rosa offered an all-Soviet evening, with high-energy performances of Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite - his most tuneful work that isn't Gayne - and Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto, which Vadim Gluzman whipped through with smooth ease. Berkeley had a graceful and pastoral rendition of Elgar's Cello Concerto, with as soloist a recent graduate named Melody Huang. Is she going professional? No, she's going to Harvard Medical School this fall. Also a recent concerto for a Korean bowed instrument called a haegeum, of which I'll just refrain from speculating what kind of animal in pain it sounded like.

On the way home on Sunday I stopped by the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek to hear the California Symphony play my favorite symphony by another of my favorite symphonists, Bruckner's Sixth. It further turned out that this was the concert that my editor had been trying to reach me to ask me to review, so that folded together quite nicely. Of course that did mean the review would have to focus on the cello concerto being premiered, but fortunately it was Really Interesting. I'll show you the review when it's published, probably on Tuesday.

That did leave some time between concerts, much of which I spent in monkish concentration on revising a scholarly paper, with no home computer, or cats wanting petting or food, to distract me. On Saturday I was on my way out to lunch when I was waylaid by ... but I'll tell you that story tomorrow.

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