Tuesday, March 21, 2023

concert review: Symphony San Jose

I got sent by my editors down to Symphony San Jose to cover last weekend's programming, and it really was something glorious. Sitting up in the front balcony, which is always the best spot in that house, the sound of Florence Price's First Symphony, which I would probably have gone to hear anyway, outdid itself in a passionate performance.

I really should go to hear this orchestra more often. At one time I had a subscription, which I let drop because while the orchestra was getting better, the programming was spotty. The previous management decided a few years ago to adhere to a theory that every concert should include a popular warhorse, and a lot of those are pieces I like but am just not moved to go out of my way to hear again. Still, this concert's work in that category, the Grieg Piano Concerto, was a lot more exciting and less vapid than it usually is.

A new manager has taken over and is programming next season, and has taken the opposite tack of playing not a single work that the orchestra has ever played before in its 20-year history. That still leaves room for a lot of classics from The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Rodeo to both Mahler's and Shostakovich's First Symphonies, but it also includes Lera Auerbach, Caroline Shaw, and William Grant Still. Despite an all-Puccini concert (in May; the centenary of his death isn't till November), it looks tempting, and I'd be making up for anybody who drops out because they're not getting Beethoven and Dvorak (neither of those two AT ALL are appearing) all year.

At the pre-concert talk, the regular speaker, a violinist in the orchestra, brought on the concert's guest conductor. At the end, the speaker asked the conductor to tell us something interesting and unusual about himself. The conductor fumpfed for a minute, then said, "At university I was a double major in music and government. I've always been interested in government: when I was nine years old I could give the full names of all the Presidents of the United States in order." I half-raised my hand at that, because I could do that too. Then he said to the speaker, "I'm not going to do it now, but give me a number." The speaker said, "19," and the conductor paused for a moment in thought and then said, "Rutherford B. Hayes." Pretty good. Not many orchestra conductors could do that.

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