Friday, March 31, 2006

Rostropovich and Shostakovich, Round 2

Last week's all-Shostakovich concert conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich was just about perfection, but this week's edition was sort of a sprawling, fascinating mess.

We sat in the nosebleed section in Second Tier, where a private corporate event had commandeered one of the outdoor balcony areas away from the peasants who had paid $39 for the cheapest seats.

Though the party looked dreadfully boring, it was still a rather obnoxious sign of the privatization of public space (you're right, Friends of the Library gadfly James Chaffey, you're right!)

The concert started with "Suite No. 1 for Jazz Orchestra," a poorly digested Russian attempt at jazz circa 1934 that had the audience laughing, particularly when the Hawaiian guitar appeared in the third movement.

This was followed by Shostakovich's Second Violin Concerto from 1967, written for David Oistrakh. It was interesting music that probably gets better the more you hear it, but the soloist was the San Francisco Symphony's concertmaster, Alexander Barantschik, and he just wasn't up to the task. His playing was beautiful and he probably got every note right, but the piece really demanded a more gripping soloist who could take you into the heart of the music and its many cadenzas, and instead the playing just sounded dutiful.

After intermission came the choral Symphony No. 13, "Babi Yar," written to five poems by Yeugeny Yevtushenko in 1962. This is an amazing, powerful piece of music but like many Shostakovich symphonies, it went on way too long, particularly after the lengthy first half of the concert.

As if to one-up Benjamin Britten and his all-male opera "Billy Budd," Shostakovich wrote the piece for a soloist and chorus who were all basses. The soloist, a young Russian named Mikhail Petrenko, had a beautiful voice but like the violinist he seemed something of a lightweight. This music demanded a truly great performer.

The poetry by the glamour boy Soviet poet of the 1960s, Yevtushenko, by the way, reads like Rod McKuen verse in its English translation. I certainly hope it's better in Russian.

According to Wikipiedia, Yevtushenko is still alive and teaching at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa and also at Queens College in New York. My, how the mighty have fallen.

If you get a chance, do check out the concert because your chances of hearing "Babi Yar" live in this lifetime aren't all that great and it is extraordinary music, but you might just want to sneak in at intermission.


Ced said...

Mmm, I don't feel so bad I'll miss it then. I had/have other plans for all three nights. I ran into a guy in the choir. He loved the soloist, and loved Rostro (great as an interpreter of Shostakovich, he said, and as a conductor as well).

It would be nice is Davies was a public space!

Anonymous said...

Think I'll stick to Vivaldi and good Baroque tunes. Why be miserable with tuneless tunes with little melody but lots of ego?

AlbGlinka said...

Hey, don't dis Queens College, I went there for a year! It's a pretty decent school and not too expensive.

My *Magic* performances are scheduled for July 19-23rd. That is, assuming I survive the rehearsals. I'm scared about having to say actual lines after decades of bad miming on the Opera House stage!

Thanks for the congrats! :-) Alb/Grove

Trevor Murphy said...

Aw, I like that jazz's like Kurt Weill, if he'd heard even less real jazz.

Civic Center said...

Dear Trevor: To be honest, I actually enjoyed the Jazz Suite too, which sounded like Weill imagining an American city/sound filtered through a Russia once removed. Shostakovich, no matter what faults he has, was an insanely gifted composer.

It was in retrospect that I disliked the Suite because, though it's only about fifteen minutes in duration, it helped made the concert way too long

sfwillie said...

Superb picture of City Hall as high class whorehouse.

Anonymous said...

sf mike whatch out..the end of cheap burritos is coming to an end

Kimo C said...

Hi Mike - so sorry i wasn't a good date - I hope I can make it up to you.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you are starting to get it. I think it was just a few months ago you called me a monomaniac. Now just imagine that they put their party on the stage and moved half the orchestra to the unheated basement where the tenor caught cold and the Stradivarius warped, then you will appreciate what happened to the public library. James Chaffee

Civic Center said...

Dear James: I also misspelled your name and would like to apologize profusely (and will go back and change it). Your warped Stradivarius analogy is great.

Though "monomaniac" was a little harsh, it wasn't all that unfair, and frankly good for you for being one. You are up against some very rich, powerful forces. By the way, my friend Kimo Crossman, who attended the concert with me, says you're a totally cool person/activist and that's good enough for me.

And readers, check on James' name above to get to his website. It's filled with some fascinating information about the insidious mixture of public/private going on right now.

Kimo C said...

Yes two cheers for both my friends Mike and James. Both with insight into the political underbelly of the city, which, I am sorry to admit, I had not seen until I started following the WiFi TechConnect dealio.

Seriously you two have opened my eyes, like Lazarus, the scales have fallen off.

I can't say I am pleased with what I now know, but with this understanding, navigating the minefields is possible.


Ced said...

James: but to be technically accurate, there was no Stradivarius, Barantschik plays a Guarnerius.