Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Wild Night at the SF Symphony

A loud heckler during Penderecki, a vibrating mobile Amber Alert chorus accompanying Mendelssohn, and a stupendous Shostakovich 10th Symphony made for a wild night Saturday evening at Davies Hall with the San Francisco Symphony.

The brilliant young Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbański started the concert with Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, a short, iconic avant-garde composition from 1960 for 52 strings by Krzysztof Penderecki (click here for a recording by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra). Though excerpts have been used in everything from Wes Craven's 1991 film The People Under The Stairs to David Lynch's recent Twin Peaks reboot, I had never heard the amazing piece live. About halfway into the 10-minute atonal, aleatory, incantory composition, a woman's loud voice could be heard throughout the huge auditorium shouting something which sounded like "THIS IS CRAP!" Everyone looked around in the orchestra section but we couldn't see where the voice was coming from. A couple of minutes later, the same lady was shouting, "REALLY?" in a way that implied the phrase should be, "Like, are you serious, really?" There were a couple more outbursts before the piece ended, and in a demonstraton of solidarity with the conductor and the musicians, the audience gave them a standing ovation. The ladies sitting in front of us thought that the crazy shouting was possibly a part of the score, a 1960s "happening," but it turned out that it was a patron in the expensive Loge section who decided she needed to have her opinion heard.

The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, with soloist Augustin Hadelich, was evidently more her style since there was no more yelling, but her clamor was replaced by intermittent moments of what sounded like feedback from the amplification system used for announcements at Davies Hall. It turns out the noise was caused by an incessant, public Amber Alert, and everyone who had set their mobile phones to vibrate caused a weird electronic chorus that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. Hadelich and the orchestra gave a sweetly soulful performance of the warhorse concerto, while the audience kept looking around to figure out what was up with the sonic sabotage.

After intermission, Urbański gave a lecture/demonstration on Shostakovich's 1953 Tenth Symphony, having sections of the orchestra perform various themes, while demonstrating how they were transformed over the course of the hour-long work. He also tossed off a few amusing biographical asides, such as "Shostakovich had just gotten married for the second time, and they didn't even like each other!" This kind of patter and music appreciation demos usually annoy me, but this symphony is long and dense and the musical examples were useful signposts for everyone in the audience.

The orchestra then proceeded to give one of the greatest performances of any music I have ever heard in Davies Hall with Urbański dancing ecstatically around the podium. The latter also could have been annoying except it was obvious he worshiped the music and the the sound coming from the orchestra was breathtaking. In two weeks, Urbański will be conducting another program with the SF Symphony at Davies Hall that includes Dvorak's Cello Concerto and another modernist Polish work, Lutoslawski's 1954 Concerto for Orchestra. The Lady Heckler of the Loge might want to sit this one out, but everyone else should buy a ticket now. Urbański is a rare talent and he clicks with this orchestra.


Hattie said...

Wow. There are no spaces left for thoughtful cultural appreciation. Distraction is everywhere.
Thanks for the link. It's nice to be able to hear some of the music you write about.

le_sacre said...

I was at this performance, and I'd have loved to be sitting next to that stupid and obnoxious woman, first to give her a shushing that means business during the performance, then to give her a serious piece of my mind at the start of intermission, and finally to promptly and persistently demand that she be barred from the 2nd half of the concert if she had the gall to stay--and the rest of the season for good measure. There's no excuse for her behavior and she's unworthy to attend. It's an extraordinary piece that many of us in the audience were eager to have the experience of hearing live (and had paid good money for), and to deliberately tarnish it for us is unconscionably selfish and rude. My blood boils.

Civic Center said...

Dear le_sacre: I wrote to the P.R. department about all this and was told that the patron had "expressed her opinion" and left with her companion at intermission. Reading between the lines, the opinion holder must be from a local society family or is a companion of a family that gives millions to the SF Symphony. Bay Area society is a very small world, and I'm sure a lot of people within that circle are mortified, with blood boiling, because she ruined the music and the moment for them too. And I would love to see you "give her a shushing that means business." I'm pretty good at death stares at noisy concertgoers myself, and have even been known to get physical with my finger on their lips when they get really out of hand.

Hattie said...

It's amazing to me what all kinds of scuzzy people get away with these days.