Thursday, December 09, 2010
Harmonielehre at the SF Symphony
Okay, I lied. A couple of posts ago I wrote, "I'm not going to say this twice, you need to go to this concert.", so let's say it again: Michael Tilson Thomas is conducting John Adams' virtual first symphony, "Harmonielehre," written for the orchestra in 1985, and is going hell for leather which is what this music demands, and if you're interested in music of your own time, you need to check it out. All the cool people were there at the Wednesday opening, including Cedric and Axel and Richard, and you've got Friday and Saturday to experience it.
The first half of the symphony concert started with a 1929 Henry Cowell dance piece called "Synchrony" that sounds like proto-John Adams, and it's a wonder, although how the monster orchestra(tion) was ever supposed to work for Martha Graham's dance company is a mystery. This was followed by Gil Shaham (above) playing with a reduced orchesra and MTT while performing as soloist in Mozart's Fifth Violin Concerto.
MTT isn't a particularly natural or inspired Mozart conductor, and was edging the performance towards decorous boredom, but Shaham was having none of it, and nudged the conductor and the orchestra into a livelier rendition. By the third movement, we were hearing the Turkish gypsy subtext to the music and it was wonderful and delightful, a perfect musical palate cleanser between the Cowell and Adams.
"Harmonielehre" is one of Adams' breakthrough works, and on his blog "Hell Mouth" he writes about the hell of delivering the music to the San Francisco Symphony back in 1985 after 18 months of writer's block (click here for "Launching the supertanker"). It was great hearing this mix of Sibelius, Mahler, Strauss, Wagner, Glass and Pure Rock & Roll again live. What I'm really looking forward to is this Sunday where Adams conducts a few San Francisco orchestra musicians in his chamber music: "Road Movies" for piano and violin, "Hallelujah Junction" for two pianos, "Shaker Loops" for seven strings, and his "String Quartet" from 2008. Click here if you're looking for tickets.