Monday, October 7, 2019

concert review: Symphony Silicon Valley

This review was a challenge to write: I knew exactly what I had heard that was distinctive in the performance, but could I translate it adequately into words?

Not sure how well I succeeded, but I did note how susceptible Tchaikovsky's Pathétique is to varying interpretations, roughing out the extremes between which they lie. There's an adventure in going to hear a work as malleable as this - Shostakovich's Fifth is another one - because you don't know until you hear it how it's going to come out.

It's a little like going to see a similarly malleable play, like Hamlet. Are you going to get a neurotic Prince, unable to decide what he wants to do? Or will there be an angry Prince, sure of his intentions but raging over the controls both external and internal that prevent him from fulfilling them? Or any of a number of other possible readings? All are justifiable from the text, and differing emphases and interpretations of particular lines make the difference.

There were a lot of unfamiliar faces in the winds, with no explanation in the roster save for note of a vacancy in first flute, which must mean that the new flutist they got two years ago has left. So who was playing, and who the third one was, I have no idea. But the principal bassoonist is still listed as the same, except that was definitely not her playing. I could have mentioned this, or attempted to query for names, but decided not to bother.

I found myself sitting next to a woman who turned out to be a member of the symphony board. Experience with, and formerly being on, the Mythopoeic Society board cures me of awe at such lofty personages, and indeed she was much younger than myself. I said I was a reviewer, and I complimented symphony management for its wise course keeping the organization solvent by not over-reaching. Occasionally over the years they've cautiously experimented as expansions of one sort or another, and if they don't work they're quietly withdrawn from. Quite different from the behavior of management at the old San Jose Symphony 20 years ago, which I'm convinced was responsible for that organization's collapse. What I said at the time was that they needed to keep the same musicians (nothing wrong with them) but get an entirely new management, and they did exactly that on both counts.

Preparation was more scattered than I'd intended. I had made the chance to hear the other work, an unfamiliar one by Kodály, and to get the score from the library, but not both at the same time. For the first time since it was built, and that was some 20 years ago too, the library parking garage is entirely occupied with student permit parking, so visitors can't park there during the week, and there isn't anywhere else nearby to go, unless you snag street parking and that's only good for brief visits. So I couldn't take the time for a potentially frustrating visit until Saturday, which was the day of the concert. Just before the concert, in fact, leaving only time for dinner in a small Thai restaurant down the street that must have been overwhelmed by the (not overwhelming) dinner-time crowds, since it took half an hour for my meal to be served, almost longer than I had free to wait.

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