Saturday, March 10, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

First-time guest conductor Edward Gardner turned out to be a good match for SFS, which delivered hot and sizzling performances of a variety of mid-20C work that the hegemony would have disapproved of.

Tippett's Ritual Dances do not sound at all like dances, but they're colorfully orchestrated and were clearly very well played. Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, on the other hand, do sound like dances when they're properly played, which they often aren't but were here. Five parts drama and intensity to three parts beauty, mixed in a soup of care and devotion to the details of the music, was a good combination.

Even more interesting was Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which got the same tight, dramatic treatment, with an obvious application of great care in rehearsing the orchestral playing. Carey Bell's wailing clarinet opening had a striking caustic freedom, and the big romantic theme for strings (the one accompanying the daydream sequence in the Fantasia 2000 animation) was played with the slightest touch of portamento on the large melodic leaps. I was astonished, as it's almost impossible to get modern string players to perform this way: I've seen them try.

The pianist, Simon Trpčeski, seemed to lose his grip at one point and mugged at the audience. Then for an encore he began by announcing that it was International Women's Day, and then played an arrangement of "Take Five" of Dave Brubeck Quartet fame, a work with no connection to a woman known to me.

Speaking of women, Lisa Irontongue has been casting a mostly disapproving eye on the place of women composers in upcoming season announcements, and gives SFS a particularly withering glare. I have my renewal form here, and it's not particularly enticing: a lot of solid good stuff, but mostly conventional ones. For instance, in September there'll be two weeks of another MTT Stravinsky festival, and what is it featuring? The three classic 1910-13 ballets. True, they're great pieces, but they're not the end-all of Stravinsky. A month later, the Mariinsky Orchestra is visiting with an all-Stravinsky program of its own including both of his mature orchestral symphonies. Now that's interesting, and I may go. Blomstedt, who's been visiting for two weeks every year since his retirement from music director, has now gone down to one week, with the Pastorale and the Scottish, not too taxing for an old man. And who's conducting Bruckner 5 - admittedly a fairly edgy choice for that composer - in his stead? Jaap van Zweden, a hot name right now due to his recent appointment to the NY Phil.

But back to women composers. There's just one work by a living woman composer. The good news is that it's by Anna Clyne, who's tremendously creative, and the other good news is that it's on my concert series. So is the one week from Krzysztof Urbański, and this is interesting. This year he was here for two weeks, and patriotically included one Polish composer each - Penderecki and Lutoslawski - on his otherwise standard programs. A small discussion broke out in the SFCV review and comment section on who should be his flag-waver when he returned, and I'm pleased that one of my suggestions won out: Grazyna Bacewicz, Poland's leading female composer. She's not living, but by sex alone that makes two.

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