Thursday, March 27, 2008

Alan Gilbert at the San Francisco Symphony

The newly appointed conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert, a mixed-race child of two NY Phil violinists, is conducting the San Francisco Symphony this week in a program of newish music by a composer named Steven Stucky, Mozart's Piano Concerto #18, and the second symphony of the Danish composer, Carl Nielsen.

The concert started out great with Stucky's short "Son et lumiere" from 1988 that takes the idea of using kitschy music that would be used at a "Sound and Light" show at a monument such as the Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower and then doing something with it. As my friend Charlie Lichtman commented, the piece sounded 1940s modernist, but in a good way, and it used a huge orchestra brilliantly. The composer (above, standing in the background) was even there to receive an ovation.

This was followed by a dull rendition of one of Mozart's less famous but extremely beautiful piano concertos, played by Richard Goode (above) with a plodding sense of plowing through the notes cleanly without an ounce of poetry. By the time the piece was over, most of the audience was starting to nod off on Wednesday evening which is not a good sign.

The conductor kept trying to inject some energy into the performance but everytime the soloist would take over, the dullness would return. Plus, as Charlie noted, he wasn't even "off-book," and was following a score closely throughout the entire piece. Maybe it was just an off night but I never want to hear Mr. Goode playing Mozart again.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Nielsen's Symphony from 1902, "The Four Temperaments," which is a wild, weird piece of music, sounding like a cross between Sibelius and Mahler, except with a sense of humor. (For a good essay by The New Yorker's Alex Ross on Carl Nielsen and a review of a performance by Gilbert and the Philadelphia Orchestra of the same symphony, click here.)

The performance was pretty good except when it got too loud in the first and fourth movements, where a lot of detail got lost in the clamor. Still, it was fun and exciting to hear the rarely played symphony, and enjoyable as always to watch the Mark Ruffalo lookalike (above) sawing away at his violin.


Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm glad there's someone who will believe me the next time I say Goode is a dull and overrated pianist. I have tickets for Saturday night and plan to post about it.

That's a fine description of Nielsen. Really love his symphonies.

Civic Center said...

Dear Lisa: Thanks for the confirmation since I basically know diddly about pianists, but I do know a boring performance when I hear one. I don't think I'd ever heard Goode before so I had absolutely no preconceptions either. And the Neilsen symphony should be much more together by Saturday.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I heard Goode play a solo recital at Zellerbach in the mid-90s sometime and remember thinking him pretty stop-and-go, without much of a sense of the large structures or line. Was the playing like that?

Civic Center said...

Dear Lisa: Sounds about right, though Kosman in the Chronicle this morning claims it was because Mr. Goode wasn't in agreement with Mr. Gilbert. Whatever.

Henry Holland said...

Ooohhh, hello Mr. Blonde Violinist With Glasses in the third picture from the...erm....bottom.

Sorry, nothing more profound to add than that.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I also like watching the Ruffalo look-alike!

The Mozart was dull, and after hearing Alan Gilbert in two Mozart and two Beethoven pieces in his 3 most recent appearances at SFS, I just don't want to hear him in much written between, say, 1780 and 1820. He's been excellent in 20th century music, and I'm guessing is good in 19th c. based on his Nielsen, which I liked a lot.

As for Stucky, I thought Son et Lumiere good but not anywhere near as good as the new Radical Light.

Axel Feldheim said...

I don't know who Ruffalo is, but I've noticed this violinist too. I have my doubts. The Symphony's string section plays very uniformly these days, but he often seems out of sync. He sometimes runs out of bow before the rest of the section. He starts his tremolo after a long down-bow wind-up, then seems to be going half the speed of the rest of the section. I suppose I find his playing a bit distracting visually, & I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Mark Ruffalo: