Friday, March 16, 2018

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

MTT conducted a big and hefty concert.

It began with a newly-composed curtain-raiser by 79-year-old veteran modernist Charles Wuorinen, Sudden Changes. The composer describes this in his notes as "a light-hearted overture." I wouldn't have thought that light-hearted music lay within Wuorinen's vocabulary, and indeed it does not. A consistently bright-colored sonic palette and a construction of herky-jerky motifs does not light-heartedness make. Wuorinen is an unreconstructed chromatic post-tonalist, and his music is of the kind that sounds as if it's abruptly shifting to an unrelated key about once every half-second. I had my fill of stuff like that about 1972. I put my mind on the sort of stasis I employ while waiting for the plane to board and gritted it out.

Matters weren't improved by a conducting assistant's pre-concert interview with the composer. The interviewer claimed to find the piece comical. Wuorinen demurred. The interviewer kept on describing ways that music can be funny; Wuorinen kept on replying, "Maybe, but I don't do that."

MTT, introducing the performance, said that in a world full of compromising music it's a pleasure to have some music that's completely uncompromising. What can he mean, other than that fragmented chromatic post-tonalism is the only uncompromising music? How about some composers who hold uncompromisingly to the principle that coherent tonality speaks more clearly, and still do so in a stringently modernist manner, writing in harmonic and stylistic idioms that, in both cases, simply did not exist as recently as thirty years before their compositions?

Such, at least in the works presented, were Prokofiev and Copland, composers of the concert's other two works, both longtime favorites of mine. (The composers and the specific works, both.)

Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto was vehemently livened up by the presence of young Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov as soloist. Hunched over the keyboard, looking rather like Simon Helberg taking on the role of Schroeder, Abduraimov unleashed demonic, even Argerichian, reserves of speed and energy, specializing in sudden roaring attacks on the music. The orchestra kept up.

Copland's Third Symphony, on the other hand, MTT took rather slowly - especially in the scherzo - except at the end of the finale which lightened up. The result was to make most of the piece grand and stately, a true reminder of the days when this epic work was considered the Great American Symphony, a rather quaint aspiration today. There were some strange passages which sounded unlike any performances of this work I'd previously heard. Was something wrong, or was I misremembering?

As MTT pleafully reminded us before the piece, they're recording this live for a future CD, and our role was to be silent, especially in the quiet opening of the third movement. It sounded OK in the first two, but what should happen in the third movement but a lot of coughs, odd banging noises, and the muffled sound of somebody talking out in the lobby. Well, if they insist on doing this live, they've got two more chances to get it right.

No comments:

Post a Comment