Monday, September 02, 2013

San Francisco Symphony 2013 Fall Concerts

No matter what the calendar might say, the year begins for San Francisco Society on the Tuesday after Labor Day. The occasion is usually marked by large white tents arising in the Civic Center neighborhood for dinners and dancing before and after season openings of the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera.

Festivities start on Tuesday evening with the Symphony's gala opening, featuring Audra McDonald (above left) singing the Broadway "classic songbook" (click here for the interesting selection) along with a performance of the 1925 Jazz Symphony by George Antheil (above right). If an expensive gala is not your style, the Antheil will be performed again on Friday and Saturday along with the Alcott Movement of the Ives/Brant Concord Symphony, Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, and Gershwin's An American in Paris. By the way, if you have not read Antheil's autobiography, Bad Boy of Music, I seriously recommend it as one of the most entertaining cultural memoirs ever written.

Michael Tilson Thomas was scheduled to conduct Mahler's huge Third Symphony on September 18-21, which the orchestra played in an extraordinary performance two years ago. Recently the program was changed to the Ninth Symphony which was supposed to be the orchestra showcase for its Carnegie Hall tour last season. However, the concert was canceled in San Francisco and on the East Coast during the Symphony strike this spring. The Third Symphony has been rescheduled for next year, February 27-March 2, 2014.

From October 3rd to the 12th, the young Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado above left will be conducting two weeks of concerts devoted to Felix Mendelssohn and Thomas Ades (above right), a composer combination as bizarre as (Ludwig von) Beethoven and (Mason) Bates which is being featured next year at the Symphony. Ades will be in attendance for the mini-festival and performing a chamber concert at Davies of his own music along with Ravel and Debussy that sounds fascinating. (Click here.)

A concert that sticks out for sheer programming verve by conductor Edwin Outwater (above right) on October 24th to 26th has the astonishing pianist Simon Trpceski (above left) playing Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, accompanied by Eastern European composers working with folk music in various ways: Ligeti's Concert Romanesc, three of Dvorak's Legends, and Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra.

Bracketing Thanksgiving are two performances of Benjamin Britten's monumental 1962 War Requiem. If you don't own a copy of the 1963 original cast recording, with Britten conducting, buy or borrow it. Tenor Peter Pears and baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sing gay World War One soldier Wilfred Owens' English poetry with a chamber orchestra, an angelic boys' choir intervenes occasionally as a ghostly presence, and Bolshoi soprano diva Galina Vishnevskaya soars over a gigantic chorus and orchestra with breathtaking power as they sing the Latin Mass for the Dead. All three forces alternate and occasionally intertwine for ninety minutes until finally combining at the end.

The piece is enormously tricky to get right, and I've walked out of a few performances, including the last time the Symphony performed it with Kurt Masur conducting because he didn't understand the music. The San Francisco Symphony also gave a performance close to twenty years ago under Donald Runnicles that was even better than the Britten recording. So you never know. This year it will be Semyon Bychkov conducting with soprano Christine Brewer channeling Galina. If you have never heard the Britten War Requiem live, do make a point of attending. It was after seeing this score that the hypercritical Shostakovich realized that Britten was his greatest contemporary fellow composer, and made sure to tell him so.

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