Friday, October 20, 2023

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas, music director laureate, returned to lead the SFS in the Big One, Beethoven's Ninth. What he did for SFS while stationed here was incalculable, and the love and affection that poured forth from audience and performers alike on his arrival onstage - and even more when the piece was over - was tremendous. The more so with his increasing health problems since his retirement, including a cancer operation two years ago that had him off work for months. If we never see him again, we want him to know that the last was the best.

Now MTT is almost as frail as his predecessor Herbert Blomstedt, even though he's close to twenty years Blomstedt's junior in age. He sat for part of the piece, needed a little help getting on and off stage, and there was one horrible spot between movements when he suffered a Mitch McConnell buffering reset moment. But MTT's life is in his conducting, even as Mitch's is in obfuscating, and at their special talents they are both still the unsurpassed masters.

This was as fine and assured a Ninth as we've heard, particularly cherishable in a smooth and layered slow movement. But what impressed me most was the chorus. This was the first concert with the new chorus director, Jenny Wong. Speaking before the concert, she emphasized the words of Schiller's Ode to Joy and how joyous they actually are. "Alle Menschen werden Brüder," which she translated as "All people are brothers and sisters," which is indeed what it means in today's language; and "Diesen Küss der ganzen Welt!" The whole world! Wong wanted the chorus to convey the all-encompassing joy of this, and despite the fact that Beethoven's rather strident composition style here is not the best music to judge a chorus by, they succeeded at this subtle and subjective task, despite that fugal section which seems to go against the trend of the rest of the music.

1 comment:

  1. I went to the Wednesday dress rehearsal. He did the very end of the third movement, ran the fourth, and sent everyone home. He looked so frail, but the music was pure MTT and he got a hero 's welcome. My sub is Friday night and now I am debating a very expensive ticket and going Sunday.

    (Blomstedt is freaking miraculous to be conducting well at 96.)