Friday, November 4, 2022

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

I had just gone to a concert featuring Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances; why (by pure coincidence, I trust) another one? I thought about not bothering to go, but I realized why I went after I got there. Because a volunteer orchestra managing to play at professional level is one thing, but a truly world-class orchestra is quite another. And it's because SFS is such an orchestra that I go to the trouble of going up there.

Juraj ValĨuha (native of Slovakia, newly appointed music director in Houston) conducted like a flowing stream of water in human form. Behzod Abduraimov (from Uzbekistan) played the Prokofiev piano part; the integration of this with the orchestra was the striking feature, quite different from the bold separation I heard before.

Although the Rachmaninoff's program note writer has been dead for over a decade, it was news to me that one briefly-appearing melody is a serene transformation of a stormy theme from the composer's First Symphony, a work he'd withdrawn and which was therefore unknown at the time the Dances were new. I'd never noticed this before. But I paid attention when it came up here, and sure enough, it is. (Much of the time I find I don't believe such offered equations.)

The difference in the program was that, instead of a Mendelssohn march for wind band, this concert had a recently-composed opener, The Spark Catchers by Hannah Kendall, a Black British composer in her 30s. It sounded a lot like John Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine: jangly, abrupt, and bumpy.

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