Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mozart Summer Camp

The San Francisco Symphony's annual "Summer in The City" pops program is underway, with sunflower decorations adorning Davies Hall's lobby, as if to make us forget that San Francisco in July is usually fifty degrees outside with howling wind and fog. Thursday evening's weather was no exception.

The program was an all-Mozart affair conducted by James Gaffigan, the symphony's babyfaced Associate Conductor, who is a wizard with Wolfgang's music (click here for an account of last year's concert where Gaffigan actually made "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" interesting).

The first half of the program consisted of obscure ballet music from the opera "Idomeneo," and the Concerto No. 10 for Two Pianos. The instruments for the latter were brought onto the stage via the huge trap door elevator designed for that purpose, which completely fascinated a dozen kids who hopped down to the front of the auditorium to watch before being shooed away by a couple of ushers.

Gaffigan started by trying to describe the drama in the "Idomeneo" ballet music over a hand-held microphone, complete with excerpts played by the full orchestra, and he called the first theme "classy," the second theme "romantic, this is where they're kissing," and the third theme, "suspenseful, this is where the husband comes home." Realizing this was sounding stupid, he finished his music intro with "I'm just making this up, it has nothing to do with the actual story, so use your own imagination," and then launched into twelve minutes of the most exquisitely propulsive Mozart imaginable, so all was forgiven.

The soloists for the piano concerto were a couple of very young teenagers from Julliard. Peng Peng (above) is originally from China while Conrad Tao is originally from Urbana, Illinois.

I wish I could say I loved their playing, but I didn't. It was way too forceful and clangy for the delicate music, and since I was seated in the front row, there was no escape.

The audience adored it, however, and gave the duo a standing ovation which led to an insanely over-the-top encore of "Stars and Stripes Forever" in an arrangement by Horowitz that was definitely some kind of experience.

I didn't stay for the Jupiter Symphony after intermission because my body was in pain and crying out for a hot bath. The reason is I'm currently part of a quartet of middle-aged supernumeraries at the opera who have been asked to play the multiple roles of servants, peasants and demons in a Merola student production of "Don Giovanni." We've been rehearsing for a week and will have a couple of performances at the Cowell Theatre in Fort Mason on August 1 and 3. The student singers, all in their 20s, are being directed by the legendary diva Catherine Malfitano who is famous for the physicality of her performances, and her stage direction is no different. Still, the pain is worth it. Listening to beautiful young singers with beautiful young voices singing Mozart in your ears every day for three weeks is some of the most fun life can offer.


jolene said...

Hi Mike, were you at this concert?? I think I saw you during intermission, taking pictures over your shoulder, but I really wasn't sure. And you had disappeared by then.

ok I'm going to try not to read this until I write my review. It was a really fun concert.

Patty said...

Hi Mike! We met at that SF Blog night ... was it a year ago now? Think so.

I'll be seeing you at Don G, as I'm playing oboe there. Fun! :-)

sfmike said...

Dear Patty: How wonderful we get to work on a show together. One never knows how it's going to turn out, but I've got a good feeling about this one.

jolene said...

Wow, you were sitting so close! Perhaps that explained the difference between your opinion and mine, although I really did come in with low expectations. I was expecting two very robotic yet technically proficient playing, and was surprised when I got more than that.

I hope your body recovers soon!