Monday, January 23, 2012

Music and Glamour at the Symphony

Last week's San Francisco Symphony program was delightful, with four 20th century pieces that featured two glamourous female soloists, all conducted by the 34-year-old Pablo Heras-Casado from Granada, Spain. Pablo is pictured above left with the chamber orchestra which started the program playing Stravinsky's concerto grosso from 1938, Dumbarton Oaks.

This was followed Ravel's jazzy 1931 Piano Concerto, in an amazing performance by another phenomenal young female pianist named Khatia Buniatishvili from the Republic of Georgia. She didn't efface the memory of Martha Argerich playing the same score back in 2009 with Tilson Thomas, but she was virtuosically splendid and Heras-Casado gave the accompaniment some real snap.

After intermission, there was another short bit of Italian serial music from Luigi Dallapiccola, the 1954 Piccola musica notturna, which was a reminder of how little most twelve-tone music connects with my listening brain. Thankfully, it was short, and we went on to the 1916 Spanish ballet El Amor Brujo by Manuel de Falla with the "flamenco singer" Marina Heredia above left on a microphone giving a sensational performance of the four songs given to Candelas, who is sort of a gypsy Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands character, with a dead lover whose ghost won't get out of the way for her new one.

You've heard the Ritual Fire Dance music from this score whether you know it or not since it's as ubiquitous as The Flight of the Bumblebee, but oddly I had never heard the music live before and according to the program notes, the entire 30-minute ballet with vocal soloist hasn't been played in San Francisco since 1958 which is shocking since the music is so fun and accessible.

When listening to classical LPs as a precocious pubescent brat with my own stereo, I used to drive my family crazy with difficult music like Mahler symphonies and Britten's War Requiem, so it always made my Spanish-born mother extremely happy when I put on a recording of El Amor Brujo. She did everything but get her castanets out of the closet. She would have loved this performance.

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