Saturday night the 13th at the San Francisco Symphony was an odd and interesting affair that started with a short, beautiful piece by Debussy for harp and orchestra called "Danses sacree et profane."
If you listen to classical music stations, you've heard the piece innumerable times but it was still lovely to hear live, played by the symphony's harpist, Douglas Rioth, and conducted by the soon-to-move-on Assistant Conductor Edwin Outwater.
The second piece was the first SF Symphony appearance of music by the young, highly praised British composer Thomas Ades, and though I hate to say it, the 20-minute chamber orchestra piece "Living Toys" was dense, impenetrable and frankly boring.
The concerts had been heavily promoted for the last couple of weeks in every media around (there were even ads at SFist), but that didn't seem to help much, as the house was only about two-thirds full and a lot of that looked papered (comp tickets, in other words, to deserving/unfortunate whatevers).
The trio in front of me, two young women showing lots of flesh in their evening gowns, along with a good-looking gay companion, were a nightmare to sit behind in the cute little first-tier box. When they weren't fidgeting around unceasingly, they would lean over and have long whispering sessions with each other.
So I skipped the final piece before intermission, the "Children's Game Suite" by Bizet, and went to one of the outdoor balconies which turned out to be a perfect place to see fireworks.
The "classic rock" radio station was presenting "Kaboom," their annual free concert and fireworks show on a pier near the Bay Bridge and you could see the pyrotechnics across town from Davies Hall.
The second half of the concert was devoted to "Frankenstein!!" This was a "cabaret with orchestra and speaker" from the 1970s written and performed by the Austrian H.K. Gruber, and three of us calmly walked to the front of the auditorium and sat in some empty front-row center seats.
The piece had been hyped as a "zany" take on Frankenstein, Dracula, James Bond and other pop monsters and heroes. Since I dislike "zany," particularly the Germanic variety, expectations were very low so it was a complete delight to find that the music was inventive, fun and varied. Even the whole raft of toy instruments from kazoos to a baby saxophone were played with wonderful deadpan seriousness.
Plus, the composer/"speaker" was an astonishing performer, rather like Danny Kaye without the sappiness. My favorite moment was when conductor Outwater turned around to face the audience with two batons held out in the shape of a cross and he bravely joined Gruber in a sung prayer:
"dear mama and dear papa
baby vampire's biting me.
give a small clout
to his small snout
baby's cross will drive him out."