Tuesday, September 24, 2019

approximately three concerts

Having already been there once this season, Saturday I went back to Hammer for another symphony concert, this time on assignment for SFCV. Acoustics in bad auditoriums are usually worst on pianos, and though my reviews are usually pretty restrained, this time I let them have it: "an extraordinarily dampened and clanging tone, like a honky-tonk dipped in a river."

I trust I won't get any pushback on this one. I shared dismay with a couple people I knew who were there, asking them how the balance was where they sat, and also with a man who came up afterwards and asked, "Are you the guy from SFCV?"

So that was Saturday. Sunday was something different. Usually I choose my classical concerts on the basis of repertoire. If you tell me of some performer who's giving a concert, I'll say, "What are they playing?" But this one was different. It was a recital/chamber concert with violinist Stuart Canin.

Stuart Canin is 93 years old. But it wasn't the attraction of hearing so venerable a player that brought me. Stuart Canin was the concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony when I first started attending it, fifty years ago, and I quickly imprinted on his smooth and elegant performing style. I heard it again in the 1990s when he founded and led the New Century Chamber Orchestra, filling it with string players in his own idiom (it's still around, but it's different), and here was another chance.

The program was the Debussy sonata and a Bartok rhapsody with pianist Markus Pawlik, and the Brahms Op. 87 Trio with cellist Angela Lee. A program I'd be happy to hear if I were going anyway, but it wouldn't otherwise lure me all the way to Oakland. This one was sponsored by the Berkeley Symphony - I learned that Canin does this for them every year, but I wasn't on their mailing list before, so I didn't know about it - and was held at the Piedmont Center for the Arts, a converted house at the top of a hill in tony Piedmont. The venue was a large living room, laid out like the Great Hall at Kohl Mansion, only much smaller, and with vividly bright sound. Canin's sound has sharpened with age, and the Bartok piece and the Brahms scherzo suited him very well, but there's still something of the unique smoothness that originally appealed to me.

I sat outside on the yard bench beforehand, hoping to get some writing done on my review, but the conversations among others there was too distracting. I wound up conversing with a pair of violinists, former students of Canin's, who were so enthusiastic to hear him that they came up from LA just for this. They were professionals, one with the LA Chamber Orchestra, the other in the New Hollywood Quartet. We wound up comparing hall acoustics in our urban areas.

As long as I was going up for this, I decided also to make a stop at the Presidio Pop-up Orchestra. To celebrate the restoration of the Presidio Theatre - which is a hall actually in the Presidio, the old military reservation at the tip of San Francisco (and not a movie house in the nearby Marina commercial district, which is what you'll get if you put "Presidio Theatre" in Google Maps), a collection of musicians got together for a brief free concert of music associated with the WPA, which originally built the theatre back in 1939.

Of course it was sketchy, and the trumpet soloist in Copland's "Hoedown" was so out of it he might as well not have been there, but it was a pleasure to hear some Copland, and Barber, and one piece I wasn't likely to hear live elsewhere, an Appalachian folk-flavored scherzo from Ernst Bacon's "Americana" Symphony.

What I hadn't known, but the organizers of this concert should have before scheduling it early afternoon on a Sunday, is that on Sundays the parade green in the Presidio, which is right around the corner from the theatre, is taken over by a food truck festival, and packed with people. I arrived in plenty of time, but every single public parking space - and they're pay parking, even on weekends - in the central Presidio was full. I almost gave up, but my map-reading fu led me to discover a hidden stash, not far away, of mostly open spaces that didn't cost anything, and even the two-hour limit didn't apply on weekends. Am I going to reveal where this hidden treasure is located? Hell no!

Unfortunately the difficulty of parking, and the lack of ticketing for the concert, meant people were still pouring in while the music was playing. Afterwards I wandered down to the green, where I had a cup of chowder that wasn't quite worth the 20 minutes I had to stand in line for it.

Altogether an adventurous day out, by my standards of adventurous.

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