Saturday, June 21, 2008
Finland Station at the San Francisco Symphony
The "West Coast Premiere" of a new orchestral work by Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg (above right) took place at a Thursday matinee, led by the young Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo (above left). The Symphony had co-comissioned "Seht die Sohnne" ("Behold The Sun") with the Berlin Philharmonic, which last year not only gave the 30-minute piece its world premiere, but took it on tour to the BBC Proms in London and Carnegie Hall in New York where it was very well received.
I'd never heard anything by Lindberg before (above, in the middle) but his name has been appearing everywhere as one of the "cool kids" composers (he's 50 years old), so I was genuinely curious, and am happy to report that "Seht die Sohnne" is an absolutely spectacular piece of music, sounding as if Sibelius had somehow managed to absorb Messiaen, Ligeti and John Adams into his palette.
Though the huge orchestral forces are almost relentlessly loud during the first half, the piece suddenly turns into a work for solo cello midway, which was played fearlessly and beautifully by Peter Wyrick (above), before building into another huge, false climax reminiscent of Sibelius' Fifth Symphony, and then gearing down into a soft, troubled conclusion. What it all means I haven't a clue, but it passed the new music test with flying colors. In other words, I immediately wanted to hear it again.
The "Rhoda Goldman Matinee Series" of mostly old ladies tend to be good, sophisticated audiences, but my friend Charlie Lichtman and I were sitting behind an exception. The lady in red (above) decided she hated the Lindberg piece from the get-go and spent the entire time talking to her husband or shaking with laughter so violently that we thought she was having a stroke. She so thoroughly pissed off one of her neighbors two seats away that he leaned over in the middle of the music to tell her to be quiet, which didn't do much good.
After this volcanic opening, we were offered a set of seven early Debussy "art songs" orchestrated by the conductor and sung by his soprano wife, Anu Komsi.
Unfortunately, European art songs tend to bore the bejesus out of me, and this performance did nothing to alter my prejudices. Komsi has an absolutely beautiful voice except when she doesn't, shrieking a few notes into the large Davies Hall that were surely not intended.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Charlie's favorite Beethoven symphony, the Seventh, conducted by Oramo with really eccentric tempos that didn't work at all. Most of the first three movements were way too slow and emphatic while the final movement was taken at supersonic speed as if to make up for the bizarre lethargy that preceded it. The performance brought to mind Benjamin Britten's unkind remark about Beethoven's music as "just like sacks of potatoes...it's all so obvious."