Friday, January 13, 2006
Slatkin at the Symphony
On Thursday the 12th, there was a Rhoda Goldman matinee at the San Francisco Symphony attended by mostly elderly women.
There was a short note printed in the program that read as follows: "Mikko Franck is unable to appear with us this week because of illness. We are grateful to Leonard Slatkin for stepping in at extremely short notice to conduct these concerts."
This is roughly comparable to replacing Madonna in a movie role with Meryl Streep at the last minute. (That actually happened in a 1999 film called "Music of the Heart," a not-bad feel-good movie about a violin teacher in a Harlem elementary school directed by horrormeister Wes Craven.)
Slatkin is an old pro who conducted the St. Louis Symphony for decades, with which he recorded a whole slew of American classical music which have themselves become classics.
Currently, he's the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.
Slatkin didn't change the scheduled program, which consisted of a couple of warhorses that have been played to death, Ravel's "Mother Goose" ballet and his orchestration of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Whether you're a classical music fan or not, you've heard bits from both of these pieces on the radio or in television ads over the years.
Between the two Ravel pieces, there was an early Bartok violin concerto which was fairly dull, at least for Bartok who is one of my favorite composers.
The "Mother Goose" ballet was exquisitely played, and made me wish that the San Francisco Ballet would take it up some day. I heard "Pictures at an Exhibition" played live by the Symphony in 2003 with Roberto Abbado conducting, and found it incredibly boring. Slatkin, however, pulled off a miracle. He and the orchestra made the music sound new, fresh and exciting, which seemed impossible, and by the rousing finale at "The Gates of Kiev" the entire audience was ready to jump to its feet and start screaming with pleasure.
There are two more performances, on Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th, and since the usually sold-out Thursday matinee had lots of empty seats, I assume there are plenty of seats left for these performances too. Run, do not walk, to this performance. It really was extraordinary.