Thursday, April 03, 2014

Blomstedt Conducts Nielsen and Schubert at the SF Symphony

The 86-year-old conductor Herbert Blomstedt (above right)) is a marvel. Whether it's his vegetarianism or his Seventh Day Adventism, he's looking not much different than he did during his tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony from 1985-1995. Orchestra conductor is one of those rare jobs where some people only strengthen in their artistry during their seventies and eighties, and Blomstedt is one of them. When he was in his 40s, he felt like a premature old man but as an actual elderly person, he feels and sounds like he's come completely into his own.

The San Francisco Symphony just returned from their European Glamour Tour and are sounding like a sensitive, well-oiled machine. At this afternoon's matinee, they played Danish composer Carl Nielsen's 1928 Clarinet Concerto, which my friend Larry Hunnicutt, walking up the Davies Hall aisle, characterized as "that psycho concerto, I tried to play it once when I was in college, but it was too crazy, not to mention impossibly difficult." SF Symphony Clarinet Principal Carey Bell was the soloist and he played the piece impeccably but a bit too tentatively at the beginning before he grooved into the role of soloist in the second half.

The real surprise was Schubert's Symphony in C Major, The Great, which almost put me into a coma when I heard Michael Tilson Thomas conduct the piece back in 2009 with most of the same musicians in the same hall. The symphony is long, almost an hour, repetitive, and Germanically plodding, but in this afternoon's performance under Blomstedt the symphony sounded like one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. The whole audience felt it, and I recommend any of the next three performances this weekend highly (click here).

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