Sunday, November 21, 2021

concert review: Bay Area Rainbow Symphony

I finally chose Bay Area Rainbow Symphony over Redwood Symphony, not because of the latter's programming of Philip Glass, whose work I like - those who denounce Glass wholesale invariably use a caricature of a style Glass stopped writing in nearly 50 years ago; catch up a little, why don't you? - but because of Luciano Berio. Berio's Rendering is a favorite of conductor Eric K, and he's always excellent at music he really likes; but I've heard Rendering before, and my only desire to repeat the experience would be educational, and I'm not in the mood to be educated about music I dislike.

Instead, I went to BARS, which was playing three pieces I already know and like, in the form of a memorial tribute concert for Oakland's Michael Morgan, all of which sounded good to me. This overcame my doubt about visiting the City on a Saturday evening, always a dubious proposition. I managed the traffic and dinner all right, but it was depressing to know nobody else there when everyone else seemed to know everybody there. The last BARS concert I attended, which was my last symphony concert before the pandemic, I did know some people there.

That one was in the main auditorium of the Conservatory; this one was in a small upstairs theatre in the Herbst building; about one-third stage and two-thirds rising bleachers for seating (with, fortunately, real chairs built in).

To mark the return of the orchestra after 20 months, the concert began with Corigliano's Promenade Overture, the opposite of Haydn's Farewell Symphony. Four percussionists are onstage, and they suddenly begin to beat out a rhythm. The conductor (Dawn Harms) steps onto the podium and stops them with a swish of the baton. An offstage fanfare from brass is succeeded by each section of the orchestra - first piccolo, then flutes, then celli, etc. - marching in while playing (difficult for cellists, but they managed). Then the music turns lyrical, and ends after the last player, the tuba-ist, darts in.

Beethoven's Eighth Symphony, chosen, Harms said, for its cheerful and welcoming opening. I'd describe it more as fierce, but it was a nice jolly performance with only intermittent weakness (this is a volunteer group after all).

Lastly, Florence Price's Third Symphony, which I heard Morgan conduct in Oakland a couple years back, and which he was going to do with SFS this year. The first movement was rough, a lot rougher than the Beethoven, so that some of the grandeur was lost; but both here and in the finale the resemblance to Henry Cowell, which is one of the things I like about Price, was strong. However, the Andante was a gift of simple lyricism and the third movement Juba gently swung charmingly. Despite the unpromising auditorium the sound was better balanced than in Oakland.

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