Sunday, January 06, 2013

San Francisco Symphony Preview 2013

In a Santa Cruz forest way back in the 1970s, I was once the guest of an elderly ceramicist who puttered around naked from house to kiln to art studio, while he listened to mostly contemporary chamber music being broadcast from a turntable through a series of speakers spread across an acre of property. "Do you really listen to this stuff for pleasure?" I asked, because most of the music sounded so astringent and dissonant to my young, autodidact self who was just discovering Verdi and Mozart. "Oh yes, very much so," he replied. "As I've gotten older, my tastes have become more adventurous. A lot of the music I loved as a young man sounds stale now. Wait and see, it will probably happen to you too."

The above anecdote is a roundabout way of explaining that the San Francisco Symphony offers something for everyone, from beginner to sophisticate, in the second half of its 2012-13 season, and I have tried to offer a guide for both. Sitting at a symphonic concert means seriously concentrating on music, rather than just having it as background for work or drink or socializing. That means the same piece can be a revelation for newer ears and intensely boring for those who have heard it too many times. The elderly ceramicist turned out to be right.

Following are a few San Francisco Symphony concert suggestions for a relative beginner over the next six months:

1. Soprano Renee Fleming (above center, backstage at Lucrezia Borgia at the SF Opera) is singing a bunch of French songs this week, with Tilson Thomas conducting Debussy's La Mer. January 10-12.
2. Charles Dutoit conducting Ravel, Lalo, and Elgar's Enigma Variations. January 31-February 1.
3. Michael Tilson Thomas conducting, Yuja Wang on piano playing Beethoven (Piano Concerto #4) and Brahms (the First Symphony). March 6-8.
4. Herbert Blomstedt, getting even better as he becomes more ancient, conducting two weeks of Wagner (Tristan selections), Beethoven (Symphony #3 and the Violin Concerto) and Nielsen (Symphony #5). April 11-20.
5. Beethoven Project: Tilson Thomas leads a mini-festival of early Beethoven works. May 2-11.
6. Marek Janowski conducts Brahms (Double Concerto) and Schumann (Symphony #4) May 15-18.
7. David Roberts conducting and Mark-Andre Hamelin on piano, playing Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue) and Ravel (Left Hand Piano Concerto and La Valse), with a dollop of Elliott Carter to start things off (don't be afraid). May 22-25.
8. Juraj Valcuha conducting and Gautier Capucon on cello playing Dvorak (Cello Concerto and Symphony #9). June 1.
9. Bernstein's West Side Story in concert, which strikes me as a dubious proposition, since all my favorite live versions over the years have been high school student productions, where youthful energy was half the excitement. June 29-July 2.

And now, for concerts this jaded old character is excited about, let's start with the semi-staged, multi-media, Michael Tilson Thomas mashup of music written by three composers for Peer Gynt, Ibsen's five-hour poetry play from 1876. This will include selections from the original incidental music written by fellow Norwegian Edward Grieg in the first half of the program, followed by excerpts from a 1980s Peer Gynt ballet by Alfred Schnittke, and a world premiere by British composer Robin Holloway. The entire event could turn out to be a disaster, but at least it will be an ambitious one. The Symphony Chorus will be singing alongside a pair of actors and soprano soloist JoƩlle Harvey (seen above at Fort Mason when she was singing Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni with the Merola Opera program). January 17-19.

I have sworn off dreary Requiems for a while, but there's plenty of other bright liturgical music, including the beautiful, rarely heard pieces being conducted in early February by Charles Dutoit (above right). He pairs Poulenc's light-footed 1950 Stabat Mater for chorus and soprano with Berlioz's massive Te Deum for multiple choruses, orchestra, organ, and soloists (Erin Wall and Paul Grove). February 6-10.

Soon after, conductor Pablo Heras-Casado (above right) conducts a recent Magnus Lindberg work called EXPO, the extraordinary British/Australian pianist Stephen Hough (above left) plays Liszt's Second Piano Concerto, and the concert winds up with a wild, favorite Prokofiev symphony, the Fifth. February 14-17.

Though Davies Hall is usually too large a barn for successful Mozart and Handel performances, there are exceptions, especially when the great Symphony Chorus is involved. In April, Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie (above right, with chorus looming over him) will be conducting Mozart's Symphony #39 and a rare motet by the same composer, Ave Verum Corpus. The second half features Handel's paean to the power of music, Ode for St. Cecilia's Day, with soloists Lydia Teuscher and Nicholas Phan. April 5-6.

In June, conductor Kirill Karabits above is conducting Honegger's Pacific 231, Britten's Double Concerto with Symphony principals Alexander Barantschik and Jonathan Vinocour (above left) as soloists, and the crowd-pleasing Sibelius Second Symphony. I will be going for the Britten, who is being shamefully ignored on his 100th birthday anniversary around San Francisco this year. Please, local arts programmers, I have a few requests, such as hearing Britten's marvelous Spring Symphony live at Davies Hall. And while we're at it, the SF Ballet and choreographer Mark Morris need to take on the full-length Prince of the Pagodas, while the SF Opera would be a perfect setting for Britten's Queen Elizabeth opera, Gloriana. And Opera Parallele, it's time to find a small San Francisco church venue, where you can perform the Church Parables and Noye's Fludde and Saint Nicholas, with a combination of students and professionals. June 6-9.

In late June, Tilson Thomas will lead a changing set of all-Stravinsky concerts. The most interesting look to be the ones featuring the Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, joining the orchestra for Renard, Les Noces, and Russian folk songs, followed by The Rite of Spring. June 21-22. See you at the concert hall.


Kimo C said...

What a great summary sfmike. You are a local treasure.

Civic Center said...

Dear Kimo: Thanks, dude.

Nancy Ewart said...

That really is a great summation and sure beats anything in the local fish wrappers.

AphotoAday said...

Best naked elderly ceramicist story I've heard in a long time!