Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Bartok and Prokofiev at SF Symphony

Many years ago I was a non-singing Slave in a legendary production of Strauss's opera Elektra at the San Francisco Opera. During its run I hopped across the street to Davies Hall to see the world premiere of a new John Adams orchestral work, El Dorado, and I did not hear anything. "Agammemnon!" and Elektra's Dance of Death music would not dislodge itself from my brain and all I heard of the Adams was a crescendo and a diminuendo and that was about it. Something similar happened during the first half of the San Francisco Symphony program on Saturday, except this time it was Burt Bacharach's insistent earworms from the Mark Morris dance concert the previous evening that was the auditory block.
It didn't matter much for the first piece, Ravel's overplayed Le Tombeau de Couperin which has always struck me as one of his dullest works. This was followed by Bartok's wild Piano Concerto No. 2 with Pierre-Laurent Aimard as soloist and Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting. According to Joshua Kosman, whose ears were presumably unlocked, it was a great performance, but all I heard was a strange concerto for piano and percussion and the occasional huge orchestra while Do You Know The Way to San Jose? danced merrily through my brain.
After intermission, the orchestra musicians who are playing without a contract, offered a brief protest while waving their one-page leaflets around before settling in for Salonen's 45-minute suite of music from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet. This music did finally dislodge I'll Never Fall in Love Again from my consciousness, partly because Prokofiev's music is so familiar from repeated viewings of the great Michael Smuin production at the SF Ballet during the late 1970s. I was also an onstage extra when the Kirov Ballet brought what was reputedly the original production from St. Petersburg to San Francisco on an American tour, which was a strange, exciting experience. The ancient scenery seemed to be held together by duct tape, the entire cast of young dancers was severely sunburned from a day at Black's Beach in San Diego the weekend before, and the Russian orchestra was superb except on those evenings when they were drunk. The memories came flooding back as the huge orchestral forces in Davies Hall went at the score with full abandon.

1 comment:

Jim Meehan said...

The Prokofiev may have dislodged the earworm not only because it's familiar, but also because it's very loud in many places.