Friday, November 13, 2009
Dutilleux and Sibelius at the San Francisco Symphony
The originally scheduled San Francisco Symphony program for this week looked interesting: "Shoreless River," a new work by the 39-year-old German composer Detlev Glanert, the Schumann cello concerto with the handsome young French soloist Gautier Capucon, and Sibelius' wonderful Fifth Symphony.
Unfortunately, the concert turned out to be snakebit. The Glanert piece was co-commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra in D.C., and they understandably wanted to give the U.S. premiere which hasn't quite happened yet. It was replaced by a 1964 orchestral work called "Metaboles" by the 93-year-old French composer Henri Dutilleux. I'd never heard anything by him before, partly because he hasn't written that much over his long career, being an exacting perfectionist when it comes to being published. There were plenty of interesting sounds in the 25-minute piece but at a certain point, the thread gets lost and so did my interest.
The next bit of bad news was that Gautier Capucon, the 28-year-old soloist making his San Francisco debut, had been rushed to a hospital Wednesday night with a medical emergency, leaving management and the visiting conductor Semyon Bychkov scrambling to come up with something to replace the Schumann.
They decided on Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess" and "La Valse," which made musical sense next to the Dutilleux, but both pieces have been played way too often lately and the performances weren't particularly special, which isn't surprising considering the lack of rehearsal.
There were plenty of superlatives written about Bychkov's conducting of the orchestra in a couple of large Rachmaninoff pieces last week, so I was looking forward to hearing my favorite Sibelius symphony, but it was a bit of a train wreck. The Fifth Symphony is an impressive mixture of bombast and delicacy, all underpinned by a constant tension in the strings that presciently sounds like John Adams and a lot of the other postminimalists, not to mention tricky cross-rhythms that give the simplest musical materials their fascination. This music must be much more difficult to play than it sounds from the various great recordings that are out there because I have yet to hear a satisfying live performance over the years. Oh well, it's something to look forward to at a future old ladies' matinee, when I'll be the same age as everyone else in the audience.