Thursday, October 29, 2009

Osmo and Vadim at the San Francisco Symphony

Most of the beautiful usual suspects were at the San Francisco Symphony concert on Wednesday evening, which started with the San Francisco debut of contemporary Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen's first symphony. This was followed by the Sibelius violin concerto, with Beethoven's "Coriolan Overture" and eighth symphony holding down the second half.

This was the second week of concerts led by the Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska who is usually found at the Minnesota Orchestra where he's the music director. The reports on last week's concert of Adams, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak were all over the map, but mostly laudatory. The Sallinen symphony, which he wrote at the age of 35 in 1971, is a mostly tonal fifteen-minute piece that just gets more beautiful as it goes along, with tubular bells and a marimba playing off an extensive percussive section. The stamp of Sibelius was all over the symphony, particularly in its use of strings and horns, but Sallinen seems to have his own, otherworldly voice. Please, let us have one of his other eight symphonies or six operas, and bring Osmo back to conduct them.

The Sibelius violin concerto from 1905 is a dramatic, overplayed warhorse that I love, partly because it sounds so different depending on who is having a go at it. This week's soloist is the 38-year-old Siberian superstar Vadim Repin who played the piece exquisitely, with a total lack of schmaltz.

The only problem was that Vanska and the orchestra seemed to be playing another version of the concerto altogether, a wonderful interpretation on its own but not at all integrated with the soloist. There were a few moments, particularly at the end of each movement, where soloist and orchestra blended rather than contrasted but most of the concerto was a strange back-and-forth between restraint and excitement.

Cedric Westphal (above) had an amusing interview with Vadim last week (click here) where the violinist confessed to having just flown into Helsinki after performing in Melbourne, Australia, which was to be followed by a flight to San Francisco for these concerts. By Friday and Saturday's concerts, he'll probably know which continent he is in.

The great British pianist Stephen Hough is currently writing a blog for The Telegraph newspaper that is funny, smart and approachable (click here). In a recent post, he confessed:
"I don’t get Bach, even whilst I understand his towering genius...but I do get Mompou. Perhaps it’s like friendship, we just like certain people and not others; we resonate with certain composers; we are touched by the cracks between their notes; their music has a ’smell’ with which seduces us, leading us willingly into submission beyond analysis or logic. A composer we love is one where we treasure even the dross, even as we recognize that it is dross. Tchaikovsky is one such composer for me."

The composer I don't enjoy "even whilst understanding his towering genius" is Beethoven. The fact that his music is overplayed may be part of the problem, but it really is a matter of taste. My date for the evening, however, thoroughly enjoyed the Coriolan Overture and Eighth Symphony, and so did the "non-scary-German" over at Not For Fun Only.

The Friday repeat won't feature the Sallinen symphony, which is too bad since it is a rare highlight. The symphony will be played again at the Saturday concert at Flint Center in Cupertino, though, so if you live in the South Bay, it's highly recommended.


Ced said...

Just for the record, it's the Australia-Helsinki part of his trip that sounded crazy. I chatted with him on Oct. 15th, so the HEL-SFO leg gave him time to recover.

sfmike said...

Dear Ced: Thanks for the clarification. And I love that the "leg" is called HEL-SFO, just in time for Halloween.

Dale said...

Great job of capturing 'the moment' of the election eve results in Palm Springs! Nice to meet you and best of luck. We will continue to enjoy your sojourns - merci'

David & Dale