Monday, February 22, 2016
Ragnar Bohlin (above), the Swedish San Francisco Symphony Chorus director, was the curator for this month's edition of the Davies Hall nightclub SoundBox, which featured "transcendent" music about love, war, and God.
The opening number was the wildly exciting Raua needmine from 1972 by Estonian composer Veljo Tormis. The title translates as Curse Upon Iron, with the text decrying a world where humans forge iron into weapons to slaughter each other.
The 15-minute piece is written for a drummer (played with real passion by Bohlin on Saturday evening), a pair of male soloists including baritone Matthew Peterson below, and chorus.
Though the piece is seemingly a classic anthem in the greater Baltic world (click here for a YouTube version with heavy metal electric guitar and chorus), it might have been helpful for the bewildered SoundBox audience to have a spoken introduction on what they were about to hear.
This was followed by a short, ethereal prayer, Columba aspexit (The Dove Peered In) by Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th Century mystical visionary and Benedictine abbess from Germany.
For this number and the final Mahler selection of the evening, the a capella chorus was both onstage and encircling the audience for maximum SurroundSound.
After intermission, a small string orchestra headed by SF Symphony concertmaster Alexander Barantschik joined the chorus and conductor Bohlin in the substantial 1985 Te Deum of Estonian minimalist religious mystic Arvo Pärt. It was given a delicate, magnificent performance, and made me wish the SF Symphony programmed more of Pärt's music on the main stage at Davies Hall.
The third section of the evening started out with a lively, wonderful rendition of a Monteverdi madrigal about love, Ardo avvampo mi struggo (I Burn, I Blaze, I Am Consumed), but the final two pieces didn't quite work. They were sweet, goopy arrangements for mixed chorus of two Mahler songs meant for solo voices, Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz and Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen which were much too elegaic for a crowd that had been drinking most of the evening.
At the end of the concert, we were invited to join the chorus ranged about the audience in a German and a Swedish drinking song, but there were no titles on the screen so it was more than a little tricky to do so. Still, it was a pleasant musical nightcap for another interesting SoundBox concert.