Saturday, July 9, 2022

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

There are hazards to holding outdoor concerts in high-tech amphitheaters like Stanford's Frost, where I was last evening. Guest conductor Erina Yashima was about to lower her baton on the big post-intermission work, Dvorak's Eighth Symphony, when the interval's loudspeaker program of recorded Berlioz suddenly re-started. She had to wait until someone turned it off again.

Then, a few bars into the work, the music was ripped to inaudible shreds by a helicopter flying low directly over the amphitheater. She had to stop and then start over again, waiting until the helicopter was well and truly gone, which took a bit. More helicopters appeared during the slow movement, but not so low and not directly overhead, so the music could continue.

And it was good music, with this almost terminally attractive symphony given weight and character by subtle fluctuations of tempo in the opening movement, broadening out in the slow section of the finale's coda to almost tragic dimensions.

It was preceded by soloist Johannes Moser being more dutiful than energetic in Lalo's Cello Concerto, and by a newish piece by Syrian-American composer Kareem Roustom. Titled Ramal after a classical Arabic poetic meter, it proved to be full of post-Stravinsky irregular rhythms punctuated by percussion, but with a smooth orchestral style separated by section. I rather liked it.

The amplification system, which proved its necessity by going out briefly during a tune-up, sounded to me more tinny than it had been the last time I was here, three years ago, but that may also be due to my sitting considerably further back this time, but still in the section with actual chairs in it instead of sitting on the grass, three cheers for chairs.

As I was invited to this for a press event, I cheerfully accept the responsibility of letting you know that this was the first of a series of four SF Symphony concerts at Frost, each Friday evening for the rest of the month. The upcoming concerts will include both Strausses, Richard and Johann; Rachmaninoff and Gershwin; Kevin Puts and Gabriella Smith; and Pink Martini. They're surrounded in the schedule by a whole carload of jazz and Latin music performers, and - on August 3-6 - the San Francisco Ballet. Schedule and ticket sales.

Due warning: There are some rather precise requirements for getting in: all bags must be clear plastic, water bottles must be factory-sealed, and if you print out your ticket on your home computer, make sure the QR code appears: inability to get that is what tripped me up. And parking for large events can require quite a long walk around here. But it's really relaxing to sit outside in the evening, when the temperature has dropped to comfortably warm, with no bugs or humidity, and hear some music.

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