Friday, September 27, 2019

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

In this, his final season as music director, MTT is focusing the repertoire for his own appearances on revisiting works especially meaningful to him. This week, my first venture there of the season, it was mid-to-late period Stravinsky. We had the Symphony in Three Movements, the Symphony of Psalms, and a lesser-known and later work, the Canticum sacrum. The first of these is for big orchestra, the other two for much smaller ensembles with chorus, with sacred lyrics in Latin.

I like the Symphony of Psalms a great deal, particularly the almost-minimalist serene outlaying of the conclusion. The Canticum sacrum sounds similar, except much drier, and to further evaporate the already naturally desiccated Stravinsky sound is tortuous. Stravinsky's late adoption of twelve-tone technique is responsible for a lot of this; MTT said in introducing the work that, for Stravinsky, twelve-tone was a neutral thing, just another tool to play with, but considering how he'd previously avoided it, I think that Robert Craft bullied him into using it.

These were good performances, but there was something - rushed? perfunctory? those are the wrong words, because they're too strong and harsh - about them.

That being the bulk of the program, what was Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 2 doing in the middle there? Unless it was just that they needed something to showcase soloist Oliver Herbert, and Stravinsky wrote nothing suitable.

I'd spent much of the afternoon in the Foster City library, visiting there in particular because they had a hard-to-find item I wanted to check out, and spending more time because the combination of air conditioning, good books, comfy chairs, and the right to loiter is my ideal way of beating summer mid-afternoon heat, even though now it's technically fall.

That put me, though, in an awkward position geographically to avoid traffic on my way up, and I found myself short of time and at the wrong BART station to get to the concert and, even more so, to get back again, not to mention getting anything substantive to eat.

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