Friday, September 28, 2007

Das Lied von Erde at San Francisco Symphony

On a whim, I called the San Francisco Symphony hotline Thursday morning at (415) 503-5577 (don't let them know I told you this number), and was informed there were $20 rush tickets available for that evening's performance of Mozart and Mahler at the Davies Hall box office.

Even with this inducement, I felt a little ambivalent, because Mahler's 1909 "Das Lied von Erde" has twice bored the heck out of me when I heard it live. The piece is an hour-long set of six German art songs that somehow bloat into a huge symphony as Mahler channels his inner melancholic Chinese soul (the lyrics are German translations from Chinese poetry).

The auditorium was one-third empty, and my $20 even got me a First Tier box all to myself, just to the right of the stage, which turned out to be a wonderful spot.

The concert is being recorded as part of Michael Tilson-Thomas' Mahler Cycle, and though the audience sounded like a tuberculosis ward in the first half of the program, coughing up a storm through Mozart's Symphony No. 34, they were wonderfully silent for the most part during the long second half.

The performance of "Das Lied von Erde," as it turned out, was one of the best live concerts of my entire life, finally winning me over to the piece.

This was due not just to the magnificent playing in the orchestra, but because of baritone Thomas Hampson who was in spectacularly superb voice, filling the huge hall with sound in a way that very few singers in the world can accomplish. I can't wait until he crosses the street to the San Francisco Opera next month for Verdi's "Macbeth." The other soloist, tenor Stuart Skelton, wasn't even remotely in the same league, but he wasn't terrible and his share of the songs came through fine.

The concert is going to be repeated tonight (Friday) and again on Saturday. According to that phone number I told you not to write down, there are $20 rush tickets available tonight for the concert. I can't recommend the experience highly enough.

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