My favorite box-office person in the Civic Center, Meredith Clark (above), has set up shop in the lobby of Davies Symphony Hall and it was a joy as usual to see her on Sunday afternoon. It's too bad the San Francisco Ballet, where she worked for 17 years, has decided that the internet should be the only way people get tickets rather than providing a fully staffed box office. (Note to Ballet: It doesn't work.)
Alex Ross at "The New Yorker" has written an amusing account of how audiences have behaved over the centuries at music concerts and notes that serious, quiet and rigid routines are of recent vintage. He describes the usual cookie-cutter approach to programming a classical music concert as the following (click here for the whole article):
"The modern classical-music performance, as audiences have come to know it and sometimes to love it, adheres to a fairly rigid format...The evening falls into two halves, each lasting around forty-five or fifty minutes. An orchestral concert often proceeds from overture or short tone poem to solo concerto, and then to a symphony or some other major statement."
That sums up last week's San Francisco Symphony concert perfectly, except the formula felt fresh and exciting because the music and the performances were so good. The "short tone poem" was the 1967 "Lontano" by Ligeti, which was beautiful and hugely delicate. Unfortunately, the music barely survived the Sunday matinee crowd's incessant coughing which sounded like a tuberculosis ward.
This wasn't a problem for the 1932 concerto for two pianos by Poulenc played by Katia and Marielle Labeque (above). They performed the same piece in May 2006 and I'd be happy to hear it again in 2010 as it is Poulenc at his very best -- by turns witty, mysterious, and exuberant.
The sisters returned for an encore of some delightful bit of nonsense which nobody at intermission seemed able to place.
The second-half symphony was Prokofiev's #5, written at the end of World War Two, and I don't think I've ever heard it before which is a bit like saying you know most of Beethoven's music but have never heard the Fifth Symphony.
Though the music isn't to everybody's taste (Lisa Hirsch wrote "Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony is about the most clattery, repetitious, overlong excuse for a symphony I have ever heard"), I loved every moment of it, and the performance reminded me that Prokofiev is one of the oddly underrated composers of the 20th century. Bring back his operas, San Francisco Opera, please.