* Notes *
This weekend James Conlon (pictured left, photograph courtesy of the Ravinia Festival) conducts San Francisco Symphony in Shostokovich's Symphony No. 14 and the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Before the soprano and baritone took the stage on Friday evening, Conlon spoke about the two pieces in turn, noting that the Shostakovich had never been played at SF Symphony before. The 11 songs that comprise the work are poems set to music, the original texts translated into Russian, with the exception of Kücherbecker's "O Delvig, Delvig," written in that language already. Sergei Leiferkus sounded mournful and gritty, which was quite effective for "De profundis" and "In Santé Prison." Olga Guryakova has a flexible, piercing voice that has a darkness to it. She was alluring in the "Lorelei" and was appropriately disturbing in "Keeping Watch." The concluding duet was beautifully played and sung. The piece calls only 19 string players and a percussion section of 8 instruments, so singers and orchestra were rather exposed. The 3 cellists were especially wonderful, and the 2 bassists were not far behind.
Pictures at an Exhibition seemed a welcome change in mood for most in attendance. The first trumpet played with strength and clarity. There might have been a missed cue in the percussion near the end. Conlon let the work breathe, never pushing the orchestra to race along. There were moments of stateliness and grace, but also ones of joy and playfulness.
* Tattling *
The subscribers in K 11 and 13 of the orchestra were aggressive about moving over to K 5 and 7. The woman who took seat K 5 spoke loudly enough during the music to annoy the people in front of her, but she did not seem to notice the many glares she received. At least she slept silently for much of the Shostakovich.
Some distinctly high pitched noises from a hearing aid were heard throughout the performance.