Friday, February 01, 2008
Ashkenazy at the San Francisco Symphony
Vladimir Ashkenazy (above), who debuted with the San Francisco Symphony as a piano virtuoso 50 years ago, turned to conducting in 1990 and this week is offering a mixed bag of works that were for the most part lovely and bland until the end of the program.
First up was a new piece written by the 79-year-old Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (try pronouncing that name quickly) which was commissioned by the Julliard School in New York for their hundredth anniversary in 2005. It was a three-movement work called "Manhattan Trilogy," which was a pleasure to listen to, though it certainly didn't invoke how I envision Manhattan. Rautavaara started off writing twelve-tone serial music, but made a switch later in his career to more conservative, tonal music with a slight edge to it. In the program notes, there's a great quote from him: "If an artist is not a Modernist when he is young, he has no heart. And if he is a Modernist when he is old, he has no brain."
Next up was the beautiful 1880 Scottish Fantasy by Max Bruch, which is essentially his third violin concerto. It was being played by a tall, handsome young Canadian violinist named James Ehnes.
He played with taste and sensitivity throughout, which is unfortunately not what this schmaltzy, fabulous music requires.
I moved to the Center Terrace from the Orchestra section after intermission because the troll pictured above was sitting next to me and kept shining his penlight on his program throughout the concert which was totally annoying. When I asked him to please stop doing it, he mumbled, "Shut up! You talk too much!" in an accent that was straight out of "Eastern Promises."
The second half started with Respighi's "Fountains of Rome," a warhorse I never really need to hear again, followed by the French composer Albert Roussel's suite of music from the second act of his full-length 1930 ballet "Bacchus and Ariadne." The latter was sensational music, beautifully played, and made me want to hear the entire score, preferably with ballet dancers flying through the air. How about it, San Francisco Ballet?