Friday, November 02, 2007

Old Lady Matinee at the Symphony



My favorite concerts at the San Francisco Symphony for decades have been the weekday matinees.



The audiences are about 90% women of a certain age, and only about 10% of the male attendees are under the age of 60.



Above all, they're a great audience, both sophisticated and adventurous after having heard so much different music over the years.



This week's program started with a few incidental pieces from Moussorgsky's great unfinished opera "Khovanschina," which I hope Gockley at the Opera will present soon (in the Shostakovich orchestration, please), and then continued with that almost archetypal Romantic piano concerto warhorse, Rachmaninoff's Second.



Every time I see James Gaffigan, the Associate Conductor of the symphony, he seems to be accompanying a different young female pianist with a blonde ponytail in a Rachmaninoff concerto (click here).



This time the soloist was a 19-year-old French girl named Lisa de la Salle, who has started recording for the aptly named "Naive" label. She's probably a wonderful pianist, but the performance was something of a mess, with the orchestra drowning her out too often, and without that layer of Russian schmaltz that can make this music so irresistable.



The second half was a 15-minute piece called "Si Ji (Four Seasons)" by the contemporary composer Chen Yi, who is originally from China and now lives in New York and Kansas City (talk about cultural fusion). Though the piece didn't seem to be the audience's "cup of tea," as my seatmate put it, I thoroughly enjoyed the strange, propulsive tone poem and would happily listen to it again. The final piece was Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" overture, which Sid Chen of "The Standing Room" (click here) can't listen to without thinking of Russian ice skaters flashing lots of sequins.



The only distressing aspect to these matinee concerts is at the end, when a mass of older women, many with "memory issues," attempt to find their buses that will take them back to the Peninsula or Rossmoor or wherever. Not helping matters is that all the damned buses look the same.

1 comment:

Jon said...

More than twenty years ago I drove one of the buses for these matinees. I looked forward to them. I got into the performances for free, although I had to leave before the end. I'd never heard a real symphony orchestra in a first class hall so it was a completely novel experience. I thought I understood music, but those performances hit me at a completely emotional level. I didn't become a hardcore classical fan, but I learned to recognize a few composers that I enjoyed. I added some classical music to my record collection and continue to do so.
I enjoyed the "old ladies" for all of the reasons that you mentioned.