Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Blomstedt Conducts Dvorak at the SF Symphony

The 95-year-old conductor Herbert Blomstedt, who who seems to have limited mobility these days, returned to the San Francisco Symphony on the arm of Assistant Concertmaster Wyatt Underhill last week and it felt like a snapshot of time passing for an orchestra. Violinist Underhill is a brilliant new addition to the ensemble and Blomstedt is close to the end of his career, though he remains stupefyingly great in his ability to coax detailed, transcendant performances out of this orchestra, which he led as Music Director from 1985-1995. (All photos by Stefan Cohen.)
On this annual visit to San Francisco, he programmed two 19th century Czechoslovakian symphonies, one obscure and one a well-known warhorse. The program began with the 1823 Symphony in D Major by Jan Václav Voříšek, a contemporary of Beethoven and Schubert in Vienna who died at age 34 of tuberculosis. This symphony wasn't even published until 1957 in Prague, but has since become a Czech concert hall perennial. It was delightful hearing a symphony for the very first time that sounded like both early Beethoven and Schubert. The ebullient performance seemed to do it justice.
After intermission, we heard Dvorak's 1885 Symphony No. 8 in G Major, with its beautiful, bucolic flute and woodwind solos topped off by the finale with its instant earworm fanfare that evokes both the military and a dance hall.
I felt like I was hearing the work for the first time because the connective tissue between all the pretty tunes was treated with unusual respect that gave the performance a sense of wholeness that's indescribable. I pray that Mr. Underhill will be helping Blomstedt onstage to his conductor's chair next year too. In the meantime, the new upper management of the SF Symphony had better start treating its musicians right because they were handing out angry flyers in the lobby before the concert.

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