Thursday, April 09, 2015
John Adams, Schoenberg & Piotr Ilyich at SF Symphony
The young Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado is conducting a marvelous program at the San Francisco Symphony this weekend. I heard the first performance at Thursday's matinee and there are three more chances to catch the concert at Davies Hall on Friday at 6:30, Saturday at 8, and Sunday at 2.
It started with the Symphony's first performance of John Adams' Chamber Symphony from 1993. I have been listening to the Nonesuch recording for decades and love the Looney Tunes meets Arnold Schoenberg work for 15 players, but had never heard it live before.
Though hyperactive and continually pulsing with energy for twenty minutes, the piece felt oddly delicate in Davies Hall. Keisuke Nakagoshi was on a very subdued sounding synethesizer while percussionist Jacob Nissly was mostly very gentle in his playing. They were both superb, playing Adams' fiendishly difficult time signatures with style and accuracy.
Violinist Nadya Tichman gave one of the best, fiercest performances I have ever heard from her, and the composer seemed to agree as he embraced her at the end of the performance.
Son of Chamber Symphony, Adams' sequel, is more frequently performed, partly because it was written for a Mark Morris ballet, but the original is top drawer John Adams.
This was followed by Arnold Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony, the piece of music Adams was riffing on, which also calls for fifteen instrumentalists. However, the programmers went for Schoenberg's reorchestration of the piece for a larger orchestra that he did in the 1930s after leaving Austria for Los Angeles. It was fascinating music but made me wish some programmer would repeat this program in a small concert hall with the Adams and the Schoenberg in its original 15-person version.
After intermission, there was a performance of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with Joshua Bell as the soloist, and it was a surprisingly great performance in music that can be dull from overfamiliarity. There was nothing routine about Bell's performance and Heras-Casado brought out the sheer fun of this score in a sharp turn by the orchestra.