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Category: Symphony

DUSTING OFF MAHLER’S FIRST, TENTH

DUSTING OFF MAHLER’S FIRST, TENTH

Drawing on the first and last, the San Francisco Symphony perused the bookend Mahler symphonies. It was alpha and omega, A and Z, inaugural and swan song—all in one evening. In the process, the SFS played the warhorse in the bunch, the Symphony No. 1, and made it seem fresh as a spring poppy, washing away all the usual starchiness. Credit the resourceful leadership of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, with countless nuances of dynamics and rubato (brief variants in…

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OBSCURE OLD VIENNESE SYMPHONY REVIVED

OBSCURE OLD VIENNESE SYMPHONY REVIVED

A skillful orchestrator, the Viennese composer Franz Schreker has vanished from the radar a century later, alas, now revived by the S.F. Symphony via his Chamber Symphony of 1916. Indeed, the only trace of him I’ve run across before on the West Coast was a 2010 Los Angeles Opera revival of his “Die Gezeichneten” (The Designated Ones). His nebulous, ear-tingling sounds, closer to Debussy or Charles Koechlin than to any  than any of his Germanic cohorts, produce remarkable, memorable effects…

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THE ‘QUARTER-STAGED’ ADAMS ORATORIO

THE ‘QUARTER-STAGED’ ADAMS ORATORIO

Those patrons streaming out at intermission missed the best part of John Adams’ massive and ambitious oratorio “The Gospel According to the Other Mary.” As in his earlier oratorio “El Niño,” this magnum opus links biblical narrative with modern-day people and issues via flashback and flashforward. Modern immigration, farm-workers’ rights and women’s activism enter into the scriptural accounts of Lazarus and Jesus, via the adroit texts compiled by librettist Peter Sellars, a frequent Adams collaborator. If this succès d’estime was…

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MUSIC GOING STRAIGHT TO THE HEART

MUSIC GOING STRAIGHT TO THE HEART

LOS ANGELES—A symphony concert by Dudamel & Co. is not an event; it is an experience. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel is transported to another world in conducting his Los Angeles Philharmonic. With a work like Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” (the suite), he is animated and as if in a psychedelic trance during the music, the whole score in memory, and faithfully giving visual cues to the players in unsurpassed efficiency. At the end, 10 seconds of rapt silence before he…

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MAHLER’S GORDIAN KNOT OF A CANTATA

MAHLER’S GORDIAN KNOT OF A CANTATA

SAN FRANCISCO—The young Gustav Mahler undertook painting a huge canvas in his cantata “Das klagende Lied,” a rich hour-long piece undertaken even though he’d never heard a note of his own orchestration. This weighty vocal-orchestral opus unfurls a somber fairy tale in German—not Grimm, but at least grim—that got an even greater production from the San Francisco Symphony, which added sets, costumes in a lavish but stillborn near-operatic staging. This flickering creation is an obsession of Music Director Michael Tilson…

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SHOSTAKOVICH, BERNSTEIN SURPRISES

SHOSTAKOVICH, BERNSTEIN SURPRISES

SAN JOSE, CA—The San Jose Chamber Orchestra has evolved over the years and appears to benefit from the transition. Formerly an almost-all-women ensemble playing only recent music, it now has a 50-50 gender balance and longer season while playing a predominantly 20th century repertory of better-known works written by concert pianists. It drew a good-sized audience at the Trianon Theatre Jan. 8. While the grand piano still overwhelms the otherwise bright and laudable hall acoustics, the theater (formerly Le Petit…

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POETIC, BUT NOT REALLY POE-ETIC

POETIC, BUT NOT REALLY POE-ETIC

ROHNERT PARK, CA—To catch important musical works, it can take an hour’s drive out of an arts capital to reach them. Credit the Santa Rosa Symphony and amalgamated choruses for bringing out that very eloquent but little-known choral symphony of Sergei Rachmaninoff, “The Bells,” given in the concerts of Dec. 3-5 here. The composer called it his number one achievement. Coming from his palette in 1913, the 35-minute piece contains some of Rachmaninoff’s most skillful musical effects. If you only know…

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BERLINERS GO VIENNESE IN SAN FRANCISCO

BERLINERS GO VIENNESE IN SAN FRANCISCO

Both sides of the Berlin maestro Simon Rattle were evident and resplendent in the tour concert given on Thanksgiving eve: The formalist/modernist in the Second Vienna School, and the sensual interpreter of Brahms’ Second Symphony—two realms of music many miles apart, though all heavily weighted to Austria. The impact was quite overwhelming, with wild audience huzzahs at each conclusion. Half the program went over to Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, a thicket of often rebellious, impenetrable music that rewrote almost everything…

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SHAKE AND WAKE THE PATRONS (The L.A. Philharmonic)

SHAKE AND WAKE THE PATRONS (The L.A. Philharmonic)

On Halloween (Oct. 31) the Los Angeles Philharmonic knocked the socks off almost every one at Davies Hall with Tchaikovsky’s familiar Symphony No. 4, playing it like a true virtuoso orchestra and sounding like a European ensemble. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel’s melding with this group is total. And, in today’s era of strict tempos, he stretches tempi in heart-warming ritards and rubatos that were commonplace till about a century ago. He has pillowy-soft descents from brassy heights into wind-and-string valleys….

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A DYNAMO OF A CELLIST

A DYNAMO OF A CELLIST

Alisa Weilerstein Shares Stage with Heras-Casado Stemming from a distinguished musical family, Alisa Weilerstein seems determined to be the dynamo of the younger performing generation. Last week back east she squeezed two recitals into one, playing all six unaccompanied Bach suites for cello in one intensive three-hour swoop, a feat that could leave both audience and performer in a sweat-drenched tingle. With the San Francisco Symphony in a more subdued mode, she played the Schumann cello Concerto in A Minor…

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