Tuesday, February 14, 2023

two concerts and a play

1. Sometimes Herbert Blomstedt's concerts with the San Francisco Symphony disappoint me. This one didn't. I live for that enraptured experience when going through a masterpiece.

I'm particularly happy with this review, because I managed, without I hope going too far off topic, to convey 1) my impression of the retro character of Beethoven-era symphonies by other composers; 2) the point that Schubert broke out of it; 3) the unique character of his Ninth (the Great C Major) and how there was nothing else like it in music until, well, Dvořák's Eighth; 4) that Dvořák's Eighth and Ninth (the "New World") sound completely different, my dig at Leonard Bernstein who claimed that there was nothing any different about Dvořák's American works from his Czech works; 5) that Voříšek, whose symphony I had certainly heard before, was Czech and not, as the editor who assigned me this concert thought, Swedish.

2. The San Jose Chamber Orchestra didn't play a concert in the church in Willow Glen with the terrible sightlines but passable acoustics. Instead, their string principals played a quartet by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, sister of Felix and said to be equally talented. Good piece, sounded like Felix in the fast movements, not so much in the slow. Then, a visiting group called the Julius Quartet - whose second violinist was once the SJCO youth orchestra's concertmaster - played the quartet that Viktor Ullmann wrote in the Terezin concentration camp. Chromatic to the point of teetering on twelve-tone, it was successfully lyrical. Then, in obedience to the rule that any concert featuring two string quartet ensembles should have them join forces in the Mendelssohn Octet, they did. The Julius first violinist played lead, with sufficient force. The scherzo was not feathery, but quite sprightly enough, and that the finale was the same way was even better.

3. Assassins by Stephen Sondheim, from the Hillbarn Theatre, a small local group. I'd seen this show before, but it didn't stick. This production was livelier. Somewhat cut down - tiny pit band, the Proprietor and Balladeer were the same character - but well-acted, with more of an emphasis on the monologues (Booth and Sam Byck were particularly well-performed) than the songs. The creepiest part is the end, where all the other assassins, past and future (!), form a club and talk Oswald into shooting Kennedy, basically on the grounds that it'll mean people will pay attention to him and, by extension, them. Well, it worked - I mean, here we are watching a musical about them - but surely there's a difference between being famous and being infamous? Anyway, nobody walked out on the performance, which wasn't true the first time I saw this show.

I think Sondheim is going through a posthumous career like that of Philip K. Dick. His status, already high, jumped up even higher as soon as he died and hasn't gone down. Productions of Sondheim's works are popping up all over the place. This is just the first of five of them, by different companies, that I'm scheduled to see in the next ten weeks. And that's not counting the Stanford production of Company that I skipped because, based on sampling the tv recording of the Neil Patrick Harris/Stephen Colbert stage version, I don't want to see Company. The fact that I found those characters too disagreeable to want to spend time with, but I was willing to see a show about presidential assassins, underlines just how disagreeable they are. There's a difference between evil and disagreeable.

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