Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Asiatic Russians at the SF Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony presented a wonderful program last week that is part of what they are taking on the road for a six-city, ten-concert tour of Asia in November. The concert began with a commission from Bright Sheng of an overture from his opera, Dream of the Red Chamber, which just had its world premiere at the San Francisco Opera. It’s a short, lively piece, starting with a big blast of percussion, and easing into the lyrical dance music which my friend James Parr called the “adolescent wet dream ballet.” For some reason, at the top of the evening Alisdair Neale above was announced as the conductor for this particular piece, and then music director Michael Tilson Thomas arrived to lead the rest of the program.

Next up was Shostakovich’s 1933 Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet, and Strings, with the Chinese piano soloist Yuja Wang in one of her trademark sexy dresses along with SF Symphony principal trumpet player Mark Inouye in a tuxedo. The wild, varied concerto is Shostakovich at his most delightful, brooding and moody one second and jazzy and sardonic the next.

Inouye (center, standing) and Wang managed the tricky feat of being completely virtuosic while musically sensitive, and the two played off of each other brilliantly. This was a great performance, and the string orchestra backed them up with style.

On Saturday evening, Yuja returned for a fun, demonic encore, which none of us could identify. According to Ms. Tatyana in PR at the SF Symphony, it was the final movement of Prokofiev's Piano Sonata #7. It made one want to listen to Yuja all night long.

But there were other pleasures in store, two early Asian-inflected ballet suites by Stravinsky: The Song of The Nightingale taken from his early opera based on a Hans Christian Anderson story about a Chinese emperor and a healing songbird, and the 1919 suite from The Firebird distilled from his complete ballet. I love The Nightingale as an opera but am not as enamored of this suite which meanders all over the place. I also wasn't particularly looking forward to the 1919 Firebird Suite, because it is so overplayed, but this was the best live performance of the music I have ever heard. Taiwan, Korea, China and Japan are in for a treat.

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