Saturday, June 06, 2009
Lulu Sings To Berg, With Love
"A Schubert/Berg Journey" [to the Center of the Earth via Vienna] was the official title of the San Francisco Symphony concerts on Wednesday and Thursday evening, and journey wasn't a false description. We hopped all over the place, going from a chamber string orchestra to a monstrously huge symphonic orchestra to solo piano and back again. The Ambassador (click here) and Axel (click here) thought the whole thing was a bit too iPod Shuffle demented but I rather enjoyed the variety show aspect of the concert, especially since we had famous cameo stars, including Julia Fischer who was an exquisite soloist in a Schubert Rondo for Violin and Strings.
Then it was on to more early Berg Lieder with orchestra, in this case the "Altenberg Lieder" with Laura Aikin as the soloist. Especially affter Michelle deYoung's overwhelming performance last week in the "Seven Early Songs," poor Laura sounded a bit underpowered in front of the monster Berg orchestra, but I liked the piece and thought she did a wonderful job.
The first half ended with an even larger orchestra playing the first movement from the "Lulu Suite," taken from Berg's last, unfinished opera about the temptress Lulu who destroys everyone in her path with her wanton sexuality before being carved up by Jack the Ripper. This is probably the time to confess that I have friends more musically sophisticated than me who adore Berg and who count "Lulu" as their favorite opera, bar none, but I am not at that level of sophistication and I just don't get it. The music is difficult and disturbing, and the subject matter of both "Lulu" and "Wozzeck" are Germanic Expressionism at their absolute ugliest.
The second half of the concert started with the famous Yefim Bronfman offering a wild, committed performance of Berg's "Piano Sonata, Opus 1" from 1908, which is a bear. Though I don't understand the music and don't particularly want to listen to it again, there's no denying there's something great about it.
Then we were treated to Tilson Thomas at piano, Laura Aiken back as soloist, and San Francisco Symphony clarinet principal Carey Bell playing Schubert's last musical piece, "Shepherd on the Rock," and Bell pretty much stole the show.
This was followed by the return of the monster orchestra finishing up the "Lulu Suite" which included Laura Aiken giving a sensational performance of a few short arias in a role she's famous for in Europe. I walked out of the hall feeling bludgeoned.