Thursday, March 27, 2008
Alan Gilbert at the San Francisco Symphony
The newly appointed conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert, a mixed-race child of two NY Phil violinists, is conducting the San Francisco Symphony this week in a program of newish music by a composer named Steven Stucky, Mozart's Piano Concerto #18, and the second symphony of the Danish composer, Carl Nielsen.
The concert started out great with Stucky's short "Son et lumiere" from 1988 that takes the idea of using kitschy music that would be used at a "Sound and Light" show at a monument such as the Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower and then doing something with it. As my friend Charlie Lichtman commented, the piece sounded 1940s modernist, but in a good way, and it used a huge orchestra brilliantly. The composer (above, standing in the background) was even there to receive an ovation.
This was followed by a dull rendition of one of Mozart's less famous but extremely beautiful piano concertos, played by Richard Goode (above) with a plodding sense of plowing through the notes cleanly without an ounce of poetry. By the time the piece was over, most of the audience was starting to nod off on Wednesday evening which is not a good sign.
The conductor kept trying to inject some energy into the performance but everytime the soloist would take over, the dullness would return. Plus, as Charlie noted, he wasn't even "off-book," and was following a score closely throughout the entire piece. Maybe it was just an off night but I never want to hear Mr. Goode playing Mozart again.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Nielsen's Symphony from 1902, "The Four Temperaments," which is a wild, weird piece of music, sounding like a cross between Sibelius and Mahler, except with a sense of humor. (For a good essay by The New Yorker's Alex Ross on Carl Nielsen and a review of a performance by Gilbert and the Philadelphia Orchestra of the same symphony, click here.)
The performance was pretty good except when it got too loud in the first and fourth movements, where a lot of detail got lost in the clamor. Still, it was fun and exciting to hear the rarely played symphony, and enjoyable as always to watch the Mark Ruffalo lookalike (above) sawing away at his violin.