Michael Tilson Thomas

MTT conducts Feldman & Mozart at SFS

Rothko-chapel * Notes * 
This week San Francisco Symphony performs a contemplative program of Urbaitis, Feldman, and Mozart. Ragnar Bohlin conducted the San Francisco Symphony Chorus in Mindaugas Urbaitis' Lacrimosa, an inoffensive, pretty piece, which was sung with beauty. Before Michael Tilson Thomas conducted Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel, he addressed the audience, and did an impression of the late composer. The piece itself is pensive, the chorus made for a humming cloud to support the percussion, celesta, and viola solist Jonathan Vinocour. The latter played thoughtfully and with warmth. He walked about the stage silently in stocking feet, from one of the five music stands to another. Most of the audience seemed to be there for Mozart's Requiem, which was sung and played perfectly well. The chorus was strong, the orchestra clear, and the soloists blended nicely. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke sang with particular loveliness.

* Tattling * 
The audience on in the Loge was silent. At least one person was looking at her phone during the Feldman.

SF Symphony's 2011-2012 Season Highlights

01122010 September 7 2011: Gala w/ Lang Lang & Itzhak Perlman
September 8 2011: Birthday Bash Free Concert  
September 9 2011: Community Concert
October 23-24 2011: Gustavo Dudamel conducts LA Phil
December 6-7 2011: James Levine conducts BSO
January 2012: Herbert Blomstedt conducts SFS
February 2012: Edo de Waart conducts SFS
February 14-15 2012: Riccardo Muti conducts CSO
March 8-17 2012: American Mavericks 2012
April 15-16 2012: Franz Welser-Möst conducts Cleveland Orchestra 
May 13-14 2012: Alan Gilbert conducts NY Phil
June 2 2012: Black & White Ball
June 9-10 2012: Charles Dutoit conducts Philadelphia Orchestra

The San Francisco Symphony announced highlights from the centennial 2011-2012 season today. John Adams and Mason Bates will both have world premieres during the American Mavericks Festival 2012. The full season will be announced on March 1, 2011.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site

Elza van den Heever sings 4 Last Songs

Michael_tilson_thomas * Notes *
Michael Tilson Thomas is conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Schubert and Richard Strauss this week. MTT introduced the Schubert piece, the Entr'acte No. 1 (Allegro molto moderato), from Incidental Music for the Play Rosamunde, D.797, noting it has never been played by SF Symphony before and is in B minor like Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. The Entr'acte struck me as being a bit silly, but fun to play. The orchestra did sound together and the dynamic contrasts were good. Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder was more impressive, not least of all because of the soprano, Elza van den Heever. Her voice is thrilling, and she soared over the orchestra with a beautiful calm. The second Strauss piece, Ein Heldenleben, Opus 40, seemed rather long in comparison to the first. Violinist Alexander Barantschik played well, as did the pair of harpists and the off-stage trumpet players.

* Tattling * 
The people in the center of Row E on the Orchestra Level were very quiet and attentive.

MTT conducts Revueltas, Villa-Lobos, Varèse, & Beethoven

Lions-roar1 * Notes * 
Michael Tilson Thomas is conducting San Francisco Symphony a program of Revueltas, Villa-Lobos, Varèse, and Beethoven this week. Revueltas' Sensemayá sounded tropical and percussive, and Villa-Lobos' Ciranda das sete notas was quite pretty. Principal bassoon player Stephen Paulson was the soloist in the latter, and the lines were beautifully lyrical. The strings sounded supportive and legato, the principal bassist played particularly well. Before Varèse's Amériques, at least on Friday night, Michael Tilson Thomas addressed the crowd, telling us that this piece would be a "life-changing experience" and that the music sounded like "intoxicated football hooligans." The piece simply annoyed the three people I attended the symphony with, and many of the other audience-members around us. I was, however, very amused by the cow-siren sound that was employed, and completely boggled by which instrument this was on stage. At intermission, we ran into Donato Cabrera, the assistant conductor of SFS, and he helpfully identified this as the lion's roar, a percussion instrument. The concert ended with Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. The playing, while lovely, was not entirely cohesive. There was too much slack in the first two movements, especially the gorgeous Allegretto.

* Tattling * 
There was quite a bit of whispering in the First Tier and far too much clapping in between movements. I believe MTT asked the audience to not clap and to "guard the silence" after the Poco sostenuto — Vivace of the 7th, unfortunately to no avail.

MTT conducts Harrison, Copland, & Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky-4 * Notes * 
San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas returned to Davies Hall with a program of Lou Harrison, Copland, and Tchaikovsky last night. Harrison's rather orientalist A Parade was cheerful and shimmery. The duet between the concertmaster and principal violist was particularly lovely. This was followed by two Copland pieces, the first, Quiet City, featured English horn and trumpet. Playing the former, Russ DeLuna had a pleasant, mellow sound. Playing the latter, Mark Inouye sounded sweet. Copland's Organ Symphony did not engage me, though organist Paul Jacobs played beautifully. After the intermission we heard Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F minor. The oboe was gorgeous in the Andantino in modo di canzona. The Scherzo was charming, the strings did a great job with the pizzicato ostinato. The brass was powerful and only had one vulnerable moment in the Finale.

* Tattling * 
There was some whispering during Wednesday's performance in San Francisco. The regular watch alarms were heard a the hour. We were asked to be especially quiet during the Organ Symphony, as it was recorded. Even still, someone on the left side of the Orchestra Level managed to drop something during this music, and was glared at by the indignant patrons in Row R.

Cooke & Vinocour at SFS

Sasha-cooke-credit-christian-steiner * Notes * 
Michael Tilson Thomas is currently conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Berlioz. The Wednesday performance began with the Le carnaval romain, and it was played brightly and with bombast. The English horn solo was very pretty. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke joined the orchestra for Les Nuits d'été. The six songs were brilliantly sung, Cooke's voice simply floated over the instruments with hardly any strain at all. Her high notes are absolutely beautiful. There were two low notes that perhaps were not perfect, one sounded a bit gritty, the other did not project that well, but obviously this is only a minor point. The new principal violist, Jonathan Vinocour, was featured as the soloist of Harold en Italie. His playing was very smooth, warm, and sweet. Berlioz's music is off-kilter at times, for instance, the third movement Sérénade is hardly song-like or calm at all, until the end. Perhaps this is part of Berlioz's charm, however.

* Tattling * 
There was a lot talking in the Front Orchestra Side section, except during the first piece. I hushed the Cantonese-speaking women at the end of Row F (Seats 22 and 24), and I was mesmerized by the hairdo of the young lady in front of me in Row D Seat 16. She seemed to have missed a significant portion of her roots when she last dyed her hair, but just on one side.

Yuja Wang at SFS

Yuja-wang * Notes * 
Michael Tilson Thomas is amidst conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Stravinsky, Villa-Lobos, and Ravel. However, the main attraction of last night's performance was clearly pianist Yuja Wang. The evening began with MTT and Yuja playing Poulenc's Sonata for Piano Four Hands. The piece came off a bit acridly, Wang has a ruthlessness that is impressive. The symphony took the stage for Stravinsky's Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. The principal violin and cello sounded strong, and Wang's playing was unyielding. She makes one understand the piano as a percussive instrument, and the contrast between her and the strings was shown in high relief. The soloist got a break during the Villa-Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9, a very beautiful piece, and beautifully played. Wang returned for Ravel's Concerto in D major for the Left Hand for Piano and Orchestra, and she created a great deal of sound, the end was lively and expressive. After the intermission we heard Le Sacre du printemps. This piece certainly was disturbing, even violent. The woodwinds squeaked a little, but were mostly good, and the violas also played well.

* Tattling * 
There was some talking, mostly during the first half. The women in G 105 and 106 of the orchestra level were rather loud, but since they were utterly excited about both Yuja and SF Symphony, it was hard to be too upset with them. A cellular phone was heard between the Rustique and Final movements of the Poulenc.

MTT conducts Wagner, Berg, & Beethoven

Violinkonzert * Notes * 
Michael Tilson Thomas just finished conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Wagner, Berg, and Beethoven. The Overture to The Flying Dutchman sounded lovely, and the brass were fairly clear and sounded nice. The second piece also had to do with opera, and the Suite from Lulu was dense and lush. Soprano Erin Wall made an admirable attempt to be heard over the heavy orchestration, and something about her icy voice does penetrate over the din. It was not very easy to hear which words she was singing, however. The second half of the performance consisted of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, with James Ehnes as the soloist. The orchestra was spirited, the principal cello and viola were particularly fine, as were the woodwinds. The quiet parts of Ehnes playing were exquisite and plaintive.

* Tattling * 
There was some quiet talking during Saturday's performance in San Francisco, but not very much. A cellular phone was heard right before Beethoven.

MTT conducts Mozart, Holloway, & Schumann

Erin-wall2010 * Notes *
This week Michael Tilson Thomas conducted San Francisco Symphony in a program of Mozart, Holloway, and Schumann. The performance began with Mozart's "Bella mia fiamma...Resta, o cara" and Holloway's Clarissa Sequence, both of which featured the soprano Erin Wall. The Mozart showcased her pure, clear sound, and though Wall warbled a bit, she never was unpleasant. The brass was slightly hazy, but the woodwinds and strings were transparently lovely. The Holloway had a few good moments, and the Wagner quotes in "Fire and Apotheosis" were amusing. Wall's last notes were rather low, perhaps not showing a soprano to her best advantage. The orchestration was rather heavy, and it seemed that there were about two and a half more orchestra members on the stage than for the Mozart. It was impressive to hear one singer take on such a lot of musicians, but it was not always easy to make out the text. The brass was appropriately menacing and the oboe was especially fine
. The music was at times feebly romantic, but perhaps that suits the plot at hand. After the intermission came a cheery rendition of Schumann's Symphony No. 3. The trumpets sounded particularly good at the end of the first movement. The Scherzo was fluid, brilliant, and rolling, but the slow movement was occasionally slack. The ending was lively and hopeful.

* Tattling *
There was just a little talking during the Holloway in Premier First Tier last night. One did note a lot of yawning during the piece from the few people in the Center Terrace.

A second violinist rushed off the stage after the third movement of the Schumann. Perhaps it was her cellular phone that was ringing the standard Nokia tune just at that moment.

MTT conducts Stravinsky, Bernstein, & Ravel

Chichester-Psalms * Notes *
Michael Tilson Thomas conducted San Francisco Symphony in a program of Stravinsky, Bernstein, and Ravel last week. The performance was supposed to include Stravinsky's Threni, but EXAUDI, the vocal ensemble to be featured, was held up by issues with a group P-1 visa. Instead we heard Stravinsky's Ode and Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. In the former, the brass sounded typically fuzzy from the beginning, but the strings and woodwinds were clear. The second movement was played viviciously. The Bernstein was performed with well, the playing was focused, as was the singing. The boy soprano, Zachary Weisberg, was self-possessed, and sang beautifully, in the frightening manner that only boy sopranos can sing. The music did have moments that were reminiscent of West Side Story, which was very amusing, though vaguely incongruous with the texts used.
The second half of the performance consisted of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, a choreographic symphony in three parts. Again, the playing and singing had a fine unity and loveliness. The brass sounded warm. The circus-like violin solo at one point in the music was particularly fine.

* Tattling *
There was some talking from a couple on the orchestra level in Row T Seats 5 and 7 during the Bernstein. They did not reappear after the intermission, but someone in U picked up their slack and spoke during the a little bit during the Ravel.

Kissine & Tetzlaff at SFS

Kissine * Notes * 
San Francisco Symphony just finished 4 performances a program that included a world premiere of Kissine's Post-scriptum and Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with Christian Tetzlaff. The musicians seemed quite focused during the Kissine, they were clearly paying a good deal of attention to Michael Tilson Thomas on the podium. The result was a diaphanous sound, the music itself wavered icily, and at times achieving an atmospheric, otherworldly beauty. In contrast, Christian Tetzlaff almost seemed possessed during the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. His playing could be savage and fervid, never mawkish, but not without tenderness when necessary.

The second half of the program gave us Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales and Lizst's Tasso: Lamento e Trionfol. The playing was facile, and the brass was particularly clear in the Lizst.

* Tattling * 
Somehow I found myself in the first row of the orchestra, in the middle section, just slightly to the left. Everyone around me was well-behaved, though there was some minor talking aloud.

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen at SFS


* Notes * 
On Friday Michael Tilson-Thomas lead San Francisco Symphony in a program about the origins of the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony. MTT talked quite a bit and gave musical examples, as he was being filmed for the public television show Keeping Score. He even had Thomas Hampson come out to sing bits from three of the Rückert Lieder. The concert proper began with the Adagietto itself, followed by Donizetti's Funeral March from Dom Sébastien. Hampson returned to the stage to sing the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, which he sang with warmth and sensitivity. The songs themselves were a bit silly, particularly the melodramatic "Ich hab' ein glühend Messer."

After the intermission, Mahler's Symphony No. 1 was played yet again. The playing for the first three movements were not as loud as last week's opening. This was particularly nice for the third movement, the folk-tune themes sounded lovely. The musicians seemed more focused, perhaps because of the dozen cameras in the hall, and the soli sounded beautifully clear. The lower strings remained muffled by the violins because the latter were all downstage. There was not enough back and forth between first and second violins to justify the arrangement. The evening ended with the bluster of the last movement, which certainly was Stürmisch bewegt.

* Tattling * 
The audience was exceedingly well-behaved, there were barely any whispers and no electronic noise. Apparently filming a performance inspires silence.

Rückert Lieder at SFS

Susan-graham * Notes * 
Yesterday evening mezzo-soprano Susan Graham opened San Francisco Symphony's latest Mahler Festival with the Rückert Lieder. Graham sang with a gorgeous ease, her voice sounds both pure and lush. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the orchestra in a straightforward manner. Some of the brass entrances were harsh, but the playing was fairly clear. The woodwinds did well, especially the English horn in "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen." The violins were split downstage, with cellos next to the first violins, violas next to the seconds, but it seemed that everyone could be heard perfectly fine.

After the intermission, Mahler's Symphony No. 1 was played with great volume and flashiness. Despite this, the performance was a bit slack, the tempi and dynamic changes did not always come through. Also, the celli were buried behind the violins, because of the seating arrangement. There were, of course, moments of beauty nonetheless, particularly in the inner movements.

* Tattling * 
The audience was perfectly silent for the Rückert Lieder, as they were being recorded. People did whisper during the 1st, and someone's iPhone quacked at one point. The woman in Row L Seat 7 of the orchestra got a text message on her iPhone at the end of the second movement and she updated her Facebook page during much of  the following Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen. Naturally she clapped quite heartily at the end and joined in for the standing ovation.

Gil Shaham plays Berg at SFS

Gil-shaham * Notes * 
The Schubert/Berg Festival over at San Francisco Symphony ends this week with performances of Berg's Violin Concerto and Schubert's Mass No. 6 in E-Flat major, D. 950. The soloist for the former, Gil Shaham, seemed very immersed in the work, and made frequent eye-contact with the members of the orchestra. Shaham played assiduously, the strings sounded clean, the woodwinds were expressive, and the brass had a warm but muddy sound. The piece itself seemed very constrained and prickly, though not overwhelmingly sorrowful, at least, not in this particular reading.


Last night's performance of Mass No. 6 was this symphony's first. The chorus sounded nice, very together, and not strained in the least. The playing was likewise fine, but without any fire. The five soloists had little actual music, but their voices blended beautifully. Tenor Bruce Sledge sounded more delicate than tenor Nicholas Phan. Laura Aikin's voice, on the other hand, has both heft and a lovely ethereality.

* Tattling * 
The amiable Michael Tilson Thomas spoke at length about the Berg piece, and helpfully gave live musical examples. At times, one does wonder about conductors who may have more to say verbally than musically.

There was scattered speaking during the music, especially during the second piece. I even caught myself daydreaming about Spanish cognates to the Latin text of the Mass.

Michelle DeYoung and MTT at SFS

Michelle-DeYoung_Christian-Steiner * Notes *
San Francisco Symphony's Schubert/Berg Festival, entitled Dawn to Twilight, began yesterday evening with a performance of the Schubert's Rosamunde Overture. The playing was sloppy, and the entrance of the winds was rather poor. The brass sounded brash, as usual. Things picked up with Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder, as the soloist, mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, has a gorgeous voice. Her silvery, smooth sound has a good heft and is not overly ethereal. She also displayed fine control of her upper range and clear German enunciation.

The second Schubert piece, Symphony in B minor, D. 759, Unvollendete, was somewhat rough but at least more engaging. The winds sounded much better, the oboe and clarinet were particularly good. The horns and trombones lacked clarity. Michael Tilson Thomas gave an extensive explanation of Drei Orchesterstücke from Berg before these were played. He spoke about the "profound belief in notes" both Schubert and Berg had. The pieces seemed a bit disheveled, though they certainly got the demented clownish music of the "Reigen" down well. The "Marsch" made my insides hurt acutely.

* Tattling * 
Attendence was a bit sparse, and thus one was not particularly bothered by other audience members. There were at least 5 watch alarms that sounded 8pm during the first movement in Unfinished. Someone in Row Z of the orchestra level had a glowing ball, which he waved around during the last ovation.