Gil Shaham

Gil Shaham plays Brahms at SFS

Gil Shaham 1 - photo credit Boyd Hagen* Notes * 
Michael Tilson Thomas is conducting San Francisco Symphony in a program of Wagner and Brahms this week. Yesterday's performance began with the Prelude to Act II of Lohengrin. For some reason, without the rest of the opera, this music struck me as being a bit more absurd than it usually does. The brass sounded clean but the woodwinds bordered on squeaky. The following Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 77 by Brahms with soloist Gil Shaham (pictured above, photograph by Boyd Hagen) was more nuanced, the dynamics were clear. Shaham seemed very happy to be playing with the orchestra, and listened attentively to each section. His own playing is precise but never cold. The woodwinds were lovely, especially William Bennett's solo at the beginning of the Adagio. The Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace was exactly that, filled with an irrepressible joy but never out of control as far as tempo is concerned.

The last piece of the evening was also from Brahms, his Quartet No. 1 in G minor for piano and strings, orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg. The soli from Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik were particularly beautiful. The principal clarinetist also played rather well. The final movement (Rondo alla Zingarese: Presto) was a great deal of fun.

* Tattling * 
There was whispering when Gil Shaham was not playing in the violin concerto, and between movements throughout the performance. The person in O 111 hit me (very lightly) in the head with her scarf as she put it on during the ovation for Shaham. I was also elbowed by the person in N 113 as he checked the time on his mobile after the last piece.

Robertson conducts St. Louis Symphony

David-robertson * Notes * 
The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra came to San Francisco for two performances at Davies Hall, the first of which occurred yesterday evening. David Robertson had the musicians well in hand, they seemed entirely together and produced a gorgeous, clear sound. The performance started with Christopher Rouse's Rapture, which has an apt title and did sound quite like spiritual exaltation. The trombones were particularly fine in their playing. Gil Shaham joined the orchestra as the soloist for Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor. The second movement was stunning, and the low strings were especially moving. Shaham's playing was vivid.

The second half of the program began with Sibelius' Symphony No. 7 in C Major. The brass section was lucid, and the horns were exceptionally good. The Vivacissimo was just that, spirited and brilliant, and the tempi in general seemed appropriate. The performance ended with the Doctor Atomic Symphony from John Adams, who was sitting in Loge A. The piece sounded beautiful, and the trumpet solo was absolutely ravishing.

* Tattling * 
Though San Francisco Symphony very kindly provides press tickets to me, I still have a subscription and occasionally buy single tickets in the Center Terrace. There was some light snoring during the second movement of the Prokofiev, but very little noise until the last piece. A plump, grey-haired woman old enough to be my grandmother just behind me was speaking at full volume during John Adams, and after turning around once to express my displeasure, to no avail, I was forced to hushed her. She leaned over and hissed "Bitch" into my hair, to which I could only laugh. After the ovation, I asked her if she had really hurled an expletive at me during the performance, to which she responded "Why, yes I did." I thanked her for being quiet for the rest of the performance, and her companion told me that I should hear the things she calls him.

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.