Saturday, April 04, 2009

Classical Gas

Wednesday night's San Francisco Symphony concert was delightful, though it started in a lumbering fashion with Haydn's Symphony No. 52. The orchestral playing was fairly sloppy and the piece didn't quite come alive, though conductor James Gaffigan was certainly doing his best.

I love all of Haydn's music, from his oratorios to his 100+ symphonies, the dozens of string quartets and oddly neglected piano music. The symphonies, however, tend not to work all that well in a big, modern auditorium like Davies Hall. I have no idea why that should be, but I can't remember a satisfying performance of one in thirty years at Davies.

This was followed by a 2005 violin concerto written by the gay British composer Thomas Ades. The soloist was the 32-year-old Canadian violinist Leila Josefowicz who has been specializing in playing the music of living composers, which got her a Macarthur Foundation "genius" award last year.

Cedric (above) posted an entertaining interview with Ms. Josefowicz at SFist, which you can get to by clicking here.

The short, three-movement violin concerto was the most enjoyable Thomas Ades piece I've ever heard, particularly the casbah sounding final movement, but I still don't quite get his highly lauded music. It's very dense, so it's not really possible to grasp on first hearing, but it doesn't interest me enough to want to listen to it repeatedly. I'm sure the loss is mine, because the performers were certainly committed to the concerto and gave a fine performance. It would be wonderful to have Ms. Josefowicz back with John Adams' "Dharma at Big Sur" or Esa-Pekka Salonen's violin concerto which she is premiering in Los Angeles next week.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Mozart's Symphony #39 in a performance so good that everyone in the audience stopped coughing and collectively held their breath, wondering whether the entire piece could be sustained at such a beautiful level.

It was, and I burst into tears again. Perfect Mozart that's also lively is really rare. In fact, I can't remember a better performance of one of his symphonies in 30 years at Davies Hall.


Professor Zero said...

I've given your blog a prize!

My real blog is the wordpress one above although it appears I've got to use a blogger ID to comment here.

Civic Center said...

Dear Professor Zero: Thank you so much. I love prizes.

Nancy Ewart said...

And you deserve every prize - another knock out review. If you keep up like this, I'm going to have to start going to the symphony again. I love Mozart and listening to his divine works is worth the price of admission. But I'm not sure I can stand to sit through the modern pieces; I've tried but not succeeded in appreciating much of it.