San Francisco Symphony announced today that Esa-Pekka Salonen (pictured left, photograph by Andrew Eccles) is its next music director. He starts in September 2020, succeed Michael Tilson Thomas, who leaves after 25 years.
San Francisco Symphony
* Notes *
The opening of San Francisco Symphony's Boris Godunov was a gratifying way to spend the gap day between San Francisco Opera's Ring performances. The semi-staged production (Scene 2 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) from James Darrah is sleek and makes efficient use of the space. Most importantly though, the singing and playing was all exceedingly beautiful.
Michael Tilson Thomas had the orchestra in hand, the strings shimmered, the woodwinds were lovely, and the brass was clean. There was only one moment, when the solo trumpet entered from the audience in the last scene, that seemed out of sync. The Russian bells played by Victor Avdienko were especially wonderful and the orchestra did best when playing the jauntiest passages, as with the inn scene.
The cast is strong, the dozen and a half soloists all sang very well, as did the chorus. Bass Philip Skinner (Nikitch) is always a great villain, and he was intimidating as ever here. Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook is sympathetic as the Innkeeper. Bass Maxim Kuzmin-Karavaev has an open and bright sound as the scholarly monk Pimen, while tenor Sergei Skorokhodov is pleasantly reedy as the novice and Pretender Grigory.
On the other hand, tenor Yevgeny Akimov used his pretty voice to unsettling effect as Prince Shuisky. His account in Scene 6 of the dead Dimitri was perversely dulcet. Another fine tenor is Stanislav Mostovoy, his plaintive quality is perfect for the Holy Fool.
The only soprano principal is Jennifer Zetlan, who sounded petulant and whiny as Xenia. As her brother Fyodor, mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet is rather more winsome. Stanislav Trofimov played the tormented Boris to a tee, his voice is powerful and has a warm richness.
The set includes projections on three odd-shaped circular scrims, all very tasteful with Russian inflected designs. There were also six actors/dancers that ripped books, moved cloths around, and tormented boyar Krushchov and two Jesuits. The last scene was all the more chilling because of them.
* Tattling *
There was so much talking from the audience in the back of the orchestra, it was unbelievable. I heard both Russian and English at full volume. A woman next to me at the end of Row Y kept looking at her phone to check the time during the first half, and finally left with her companion before the intermission and didn't come back. Someone in one of the side orchestra boxes near the back (probably H) fell asleep and snored audibly during Scene 6
On a happier note, I saw many people take this chance to hear four operas in a row. Even Brünnhilde (Iréne Theorin) was there.
June is going to be a very opera-heavy month in San Francisco this year, with the return of Der Ring des Nibelungen starting on Tuesday at the War Memorial Opera House. For those intimidated by Wagner's 15-hour epic (or maybe you don't think going to 12 operas in three weeks is enough), San Francisco Symphony is performing Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov this Thursday, Friday, and Sunday.
The semi-staged production (preliminary sketch by Mac Mock Design pictured) was conceived by Michael Tilson Thomas and is directed by James Darrah, who has had great success with previous work at SFS including Peter Grimes in 2014 and On the Town in 2016.
Based on Pushkin's play, this tense political drama will be heard in its 1869 original version. The cast of 18 vocal soloists, many of whom are Eastern European -- bass Stanislav Trofimov is the title character -- also includes local favorites such as mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook (Innkeeper) and bass Philip Skinner (Nikititsch).
September 5 2018: Open Night Gala with MTT; Itzhak Perlman, violin
September 13-16 2018: MTT conducts Castiglioni, Ravel, Copland; Yuja Wang, piano
September 21-23 2018: MTT conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone and The Firebird
September 27-30 2018: MTT conducts Stravinsky's Petrushka, Violin Concerto, and The Rite of Spring; Leonidas Kavakos, violin
October 11-13 2018: Manfred Honeck conducts Prokofiev and Dvořák
October 14 2018: Evgeny Kissin plays Beethoven and Rachmaninoff
October 18-20 2018: Pablo Heras-Casado conducts Ravel, Bartók, and Debussy; Javier Perianes, piano
October 21 2018: Olivier Latry, organ
October 21-22 2018: Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Orchestra
October 25-27 2018: Cristian Mӑcelaru conducts Anna Clyne, Lalo, Kevin Puts, and R. Strauss; Ray Chen, violin
November 1-3 2018: Jurassic Park film with live orchestra
November 4 2018: Hilary Hahn, violin
November 8-10 2018: Jakub Hrůša conducts Shostakovich, Borodin, and Bartók; Karen Gomyo, violin
November 11 2018: Semyon Bychkov conducts the Czech Philharmonic; Alisa Weilerstein, cello
November 15–18 2018: MTT's From the Diary of Anne Frank
November 23–25 2018: MTT conducts Beethoven's Symphony No. 9
November 30- December 1 2018: The Nightmare Before Christmas film with live orchestra
December 2 2018: Gautier Capuҫon, cello with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
December 14-15 2018: SoundBox curated by MTT
December 14-15 2018: Jane Glover conducts Messiah
January 5-6 2019: Mary Poppins film with live orchestra
January 11-13 2019: Jaap van Zweden conducts Mozart and Bruckner; Eugene Izotov, oboe
January 14 2019: Itzhak Perlman, violin
January 18-20 2019: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts Tchaikovsky and Sibelius; Gabriela Montero, piano
January 22 2019: Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
January 24-26 2019: Christian Reif conducts R. Strauss, Andrew Norman, Prokofiev; Johannes Moser, cello
January 27 2019: Leonidas Kavakos, violin
January 31- February 2 2019: Herbert Blomstedt conducts Beethoven and Mendelssohn
February 7-9 2019: MTT conducts Steven Mackey, Prokofiev, and Tchaikovsky
February 14-17 2019: András Schiff conducts Bach and Mendelssohn
February 22-24 2019: Daniel Harding conducts Schumann; Lars Vogt, piano
February 27-28 2019: La La Land film with live orchestra
March 1-2 2019: Close Encounters of the Third Kind film with live orchestra
March 3 2019: Mikhail Pletnev conducts the Russian National Orchestra; George Li, piano
March 7-9 2019: Franҫois-Xavier Roth conducts Schumann, Liszt, and Brahms; Cédric Tiberghien, piano
March 10 2019: Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin with Lambert Orkis, piano
March 14-17 2019: MTT conducts Ravel, Mozart, and Sibelius; Christian Tetzlaff, violin
March 31 2019: Marc-André Hamelin, piano
April 7 2019: Midori, violin and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
April 11-14 2019: Andrey Boreyko conducts Brahms and Zemlinsky; Emanuel Ax, piano
April 18-20 2019: Fabio Luisi conducts Glinka, Tchaikovsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov; Mario Brunello, cello
April 25-27 2019: James Gaffigan conducts Wagner, Beethoven, Mozart, and Barber; Hélène Grimaud, piano
May 2-4 2019: Marek Janowski conducts Mendelssohn, Bruck, and Wagner; James Ehnes, violin
May 9–11 2019: MTT conducts Debussy and Ligeti; Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
May 12 2019: Joshua Bell, violin; Steven Isserlis, cello; and Jeremy Denk, piano
May 16-18 2019: MTT conducts Mahler's Symphony No. 7
May 23-25 2019: Krzysztof Urbański conducts Elgar, Bacewicz, and Mendelssohn; Vilde Frang, violin
May 30- June 1 2019: Juraj Valčuha conducts Bach and Shostakovich; Alexander Barantschik, violin
June 6-8 2019: TBD conducting Bartók, Grieg, and Saint-Saëns; Nikolai Lugansky, piano
June 9 2019: Christopher Houlihan, organ
June 13-16 2019: MTT conducts Mahler's Symphony No. 9
June 20-22 2019: MTT conducts Steve Reich and Prokofiev; Yefim Bronfman, piano
June 27-30 2019: MTT conducts Noye's Fludde and L'Enfant et les sortilèges
* Notes *
San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas celebrate the birth centennial of Leonard Bernstein with a delightful rendering of his Candide that opened last night. The concert version was animated and very funny with fine playing and singing all around.
Though done as a concert, this version of the operetta was made for the Scottish Opera in 1988. It was striking how theatrical and engaging the piece is despite a lack of frills, only a few props and costumes here and there.
Most of the comedy and drama came through simply in the gestures and interactions of the soloists, chorus, orchestra members, and even conductor with each other and the audience. Of course, this could only work because the piece itself is charming and was played and sung with clarity and vim. The sound design from Tom Clark was flawless, we could hear the narration and asides without squeaks or other distractions.
The music sounded vibrant, even when soprano Meghan Picerno (Cunegonde) harassed some of the brass players and the timpanist at the end of Act I. MTT infused both the orchestra and chorus with a nice ease and effortless cheekiness.
The soloists are all clearly talented singing actors. Even from the first tier, the cheerful shrugs or coy head tilts of tenor Andrew Stenson in the title role read plainly. His voice is pretty and sweet. Meghan Picerno's Cunegonde is amusing, her high notes soared and she conveys emotion not only in her body but with her sound. Both Stenson and Picerno brought a certain gravity to the end of the piece, after all the silliness, the contrast was stark and effective.
All the other singing was great, though baritone Michael Todd Simpson did trip over a few words as narrator, he is endearing and his Pangloss was perfectly pompous. It was fun to see and hear the artistic director of Merola Sheri Greenawald as the Old Lady, she really moves gracefully and has perfect comedic timing.
I did not hear any talking or electronic sounds where I was in the First Tier. There were a few people who left the hall in the middle of the performance during both acts, odd given the short 2 hour run time.
I had to run several blocks in the rain to this performance, traffic was worse than I expected and the Performing Arts Garage was full, so I only got into my seat at 7:59pm.
September 14 2017: MTT conducts Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, Bernstein, Ravel; Yo-Yo Ma, cello
September 22-24 2017: MTT conducts Bernstein
October 6-8 2017: Krzysztof Urbański conducts Penderecki
October 13-15 2017: Jakub Hrůša conducts Dvořák, Smetana, and Janáček
October 26-28 2017: Osmo Vänskä conducts Sibelius
October 31 2017: Zubin Mehta conducts Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
November 2-5 2017: MTT conducts Bernstein's The Age of Anxiety, Symphony No. 2
November 5 2017: Lu Jia conducts China National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra
November 10–12 2017: MTT conducts Ives' Psalm 90 and Symphony No. 4
November 16–18 2017: MTT conducts Ives' Symphony No. 3, The Camp Meeting
December 1-2 2017: North By Northwest film with live orchestra
December 9 2017: Masaaki Suzuki conducts Bach Collegium Japan
December 16-17 2017: Home Alone film with live orchestra
January 19-21 2018: MTT conducts Bernstein's Candide
January 28-29 2018: Charles Dutoit conducts Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
February 1-3 2018: Bernstein's West Side Story film with live orchestra
February 8-10 2018: Herbert Blomstedt conducts Stenhammar
February 15-17 2018: Herbert Blomstedt conducts Mozart and Beethoven
February 22-24 2018: Andrey Boreyko conducts Bernstein and Shostakovich
March 1-3 2018: Pablo Heras-Casado conducts Esa-Pekka Salonen's Helix
March 8–10 2018: Edward Gardner conducts Tippett, Gershwin, and Rachmaninoff
March 11 2018: Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; Joshua Bell, violinist and leader
March 15–17 2018: MTT conducts Charles Wuorinen
March 16 2018: Itzhak Perlman, violin and Martha Argerich, piano
March 27–29 2018: West Coast tour with Gil Shaham, violin
March 30 2018: Ragnar Bohlin conducts San Francisco Symphony Chorus
April 4-5 2018: Batman film with live orchestra
April 6-7 2018: Amadeus film with live orchestra
April 14-15 2018: Daniel Harding conducts R. Strauss and Beethoven
April 19-21 2018: Charles Dutoit conducts Ravel; Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano
April 26-29 2018: Charles Dutoit conducts Holst's The Planets and Liszt; Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano
May 3-5 2018: Juraj Valčuha conducts Andrew Norman's Unstuck
May 10-12 2018: Stéphane Denève conducts Saint-Saëns and Connesson
May 17-20 2018: Itzhak Perlman conducts Bach
May 25-26 2018: David Robertson conducts Brett Dean's Engelsflügel
May 31–June 2 2018: Semyon Bychkov conducts Taneyev and Tchaikovsky
June 7–9 2018: Susanna Mälkki conducts Saariaho
June 14-17 2018: MTT conducts Boris Godunov
June 28-30 2018: MTT conducts Mahler's Symphony No. 3
* Notes *
Last weekend San Francisco Symphony continued celebrations for John Adams' 70th birthday with The Gospel According to the Other Mary. The oratorio was tastefully semi-staged (Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, Nathan Medley, Jay Hunter Morris, Kelley O'Connor, and Tamara Mumford pictured left; photograph by Stefan Cohen) and featured a truly resplendent cast.
The libretto, compiled by Peter Sellars, is a mish-mash of the Bible and texts from Dorothy Day, Rosario Castellanos, June Jordan, Louise Erdrich, and Primo Levi. The collage makes for a narrative that is disjointed and jumps from different time periods, but essentially recounts the story of Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Lazarus and their interactions with Jesus.
The music is vivid with textures and rhythms, and there is much for the three percussionists to do, as they share a dozen instruments including timbale, almglocken, and cimbalom. Not a note of this seemed gratuitous in the least, though it did seem very difficult. Maestro Grant Gershon looked as if he was counting and cuing constantly, and this did give the music a bit of a square feel.
The singers were unreal. In the title role, mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor showed off some alarmingly low notes and beautiful clear high ones as well. Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford also displayed a dark richness as Martha. Tenor Jay Hunter Morris was able to navigate choppy lines as well as ones more lyrical and legato.
The trio of ghostly countertenors Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, and Nathan Medley were effective as was the small chorus, whose members were very together. Everything was impressively loud, and microphones were used but were not distracting in the least.
The audience was quiet but there was a noticeable amount of attrition during intermission.
* Notes *
Last weekend Michael Tilson Thomas and San Francisco Symphony presented Das Klagende Lied with some wonderful vocal soloists (Joélle Harvey and Sasha Cooke pictured left with dancers, photograph by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Symphony) and a somewhat incoherent but pretty staging. The early Mahler cantata is narrated by four singers and a chorus, since the characters aren't played by the vocalists, having a staging confuses the plot.
The biggest problem with the performance was not James Darrah's direction, which involved four dancers, two children, and lots of tree video art from Adam Larsen. It was the piece itself, which dates from 1880, and is one of the earliest works of Mahler's that still exists. It sounded a lot like substandard Wagner, and while interesting, it did not make for compelling drama.
The singers were great, baritone Brian Mulligan is rich toned, tenor Michael König is robust, and soprano Joélle Harvey is as clear as ever. Best of all is mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, whose ethereal voice has brilliant high and low notes. She also sounded lovely in the Songs of a Wayfarer that was performed before the intermission.
The orchestra sounded shimmery throughout the Sunday afternoon performance and the brass was clear and bright in the beginning Blumine. MTT kept a stately pace.
The audience was patient and silent, giving a standing ovation at the end.
* Notes *
Susan Graham (pictured left, photograph by Dario Acosta) is singing Berlioz's La Mort de Cléopâtre with San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas this weekend. The piece, a replacement for the previously announced Brahms's Alto Rhapsody, is quite suited to Ms. Graham. Her clear high notes and fully developed sound work well with its descriptive, declamatory nature.
The orchestra supported her in a characteristic glimmering way. The basses were particularly nice at the end. Graham sang "L'île inconnue" from Berlioz's Les nuits d'été song cycle as an encore.
The Berlioz was sandwiched by more 19th century music including Brahms' rather odd Variations on a Theme by Haydn and Schumann's Fourth Symphony. The cello and oboe were lovely in the Schumann, which was recorded for a future release.
* Tattling *
There was light talking during Brahms and even some whispering during Schumann, though we were asked emphatically not to make noise because of the recording.
* Notes *
SoundBox's latest program, titled Outré, featured French avant-garde music over seven centuries. Beautifully curated, the engaging music ranged from Pérotin's polyphonic Sederunt principes with a cappella male voices and portative organ to Messiaen's Couleurs de la cité celeste for solo piano and instrumental ensemble, including the many gongs seen in the photograph to the left.
Michael Tilson Thomas lead the musicians and amiably talked the audience through the pieces one by one. Selections from Jean-Féry Rebel's Les élémens was a cheerful place to start, and the sprightly French Baroque music was such fun. This certainly set the stage for the program to come.
It was lovely to hear the musicians of San Francisco Symphony in this more intimate venue. Principal oboist Eugene Izotov played Ravel's Pièce en forme de Habanera and Saint-Saëns' Molto allegro from Oboe Sonata in D major, while principal flutist Tim Day played Debussy's Syrinx. Principal percussionist Jacob Nissly especially impressed in Darius Milhaud's Concerto for Percussion and Small Orchestra, Opus 109. Ending with an excerpt of Milhaud's Scaramouche was a festive touch.
The French-inspired garden installation designed by Luke Kritzeck with a digital reflecting pool by video designer Adam Larsen was rather pretty. The videos during the music did not distract but did not look like screensavers either.
The youngish audience was mostly quiet. There seats are not guaranteed for these sold-out events and we were lucky enough to find a friend in line just before 8pm. Those who did not line up mostly milled about at the back of the venue, though a couple did stand directly in front of my date (we were seated by the west side of the first stage) for the second set.
September 7 2016: MTT conducts Steve Reich, Rossini; Renée Fleming, soprano and Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano
September 8 2016: MTT conducts Copland, Vivaldi, Rossini; Susanna Phillips, soprano and Alexander Barantschik, violin
September 9-10 2016: MTT conducts Copland, Reich; Susanna Phillips, soprano and eighth blackbird, chamber ensemble
September 11 2016: MTT conducts Steve Reich 80th Birthday Celebration
September 14-17 2016: MTT conducts Haydn, Sibelius, Beethoven
September 18 2016: MTT conducts Beethoven Discovery Concert
September 22-24 2016: MTT conducts Marcello, Berio, Verdi; Michael Fabiano, tenor; Swingle Singers, vocal ensemble; Eugene Izotov, oboe
September 28- October 1 2016: MTT conducts Bright Sheng, Shostakovich, Stravinsky; Yuja Wang, piano; Mark Inouye, trumpet
October 9 2016: Vincent Dubois, organ
October 13-15 2016: Brad Lubman conducts 2001: A Space Odyssey
October 16 2016: Chamber Music with members of SFS
October 19-22 2016: Pablo Heras-Casado conducts Mozart, Schumann, Dvořák; Alisa Weilerstein, cello
October 23 2016: Chamber Music with members of SFS
October 27-30 2016: MTT conducts Allegri, Mozart, Brahms; Rudolph Buchbinder, piano; Pacific Boychoir
October 31- November 1 2016: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
November 2-4 2016: MTT conducts Chopin and Bruckner; Yuja Wang, piano
November 5 2016: Día de los Muertos Concert
November 6 2016: Jacek Kaspszyki conducts Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra; Yulianna Avdeevat, piano
November 9-22 2016: Asia Tour with Yuja Wang
November 20 2016: Christian Reif conducts SFS Youth Orchestra
November 22-23 2016: Simon Rattle conducts Berlin Philharmonic
December 3 2016: Edwin Outwater conducts Music for Families
December 4 2016: Chamber Music with members of SFS
December 4 2016: Yu Long conducts China Philharmonic Orchestra; Julian Rachlin, violin
December 9-10 2016: SoundBox
December 11 2016: Christian Reif conducts SFS Youth Orchestra in Peter and the Wolf
December 11 2016: A Merri-achi Christmas
December 15-17 2016: Patrick Dupré Quigley conducts Messiah
January 7-8 2017: David Newman conducts On the Waterfront
January 13-15 2017: MTT conducts Mahler
January 16 2017: Itzak Perlman, violin & Rohan De Silva, piano
January 21-24 2016: James Gaffigan conducts Musssorgsky, Prokofiev, Mozart, and R. Strauss; Simone Lamsma, violin
January 20-21 2017: SoundBox
January 26-28 2017: Lionel Bringuier conducts Kodály, Ravel, Beethoven; Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
January 28 2017: Edwin Outwater conducts Music for Families
January 29 2017: Chamber Music with members of SFS
January 29 2017: Emmanuel Villaume conducts Prague Philharmonia; Gautier Capuçon, cello
February 1-3 2017: Herbert Blomstedi conducts Beethoven
February 4 2017: Chinese New Year Concert
February 5 2017: Chamber Music with members of SFS
February 7 2017: Lang Lang, piano
February 9-12 2017: Herbert Blomstedt conducts Beethoven and Brahms; Yefim Bronfman, piano
February 10-11 2017: SoundBox
February 16-18 2017: Joana Carneiro conducts John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary
February 19 2017: Chamber Music with members of SFS
February 22-25 2017: MTT conducts John Adams, Prokofiev; Leila Josefowicz, violin
February 26 2017: James O'Donnell, organ
March 1-4 2017: MTT conducts Gnesin, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky; Gautier Capuçon, cello
March 5 2017: Christian Reif conducts SFS Youth Orchestra
March 9-12 2017: Marek Janowski conducts Beethoven, Hindemith, Brahms; Arabella Steinbacher, violin
March 10-11 2017: SoundBox
March 13 2017: András Schiff, piano
March 16-18 2017: Juraj Valčuha conducts Schreker, Barber, Beethoven; Gil Shaham, violin
March 18 2017: Christian Reif conducts Music for Families
March 19 2017: Chamber Music with members of SFS
March 19-20 2017: Yuri Temirkanov conducts St. Petersburg Philharmonic
March 23-24 2017: MTT conducts Cage, Robin Holloway, Bartók; Jeffrey Anderson, tuba
March 25-26 2017: MTT conducts Cage, Bruch, Bartók; Nicola Benedetti, violin
March 26 2017: Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin and Lambert Orkis, piano
March 30- April 2 2017: MTT conducts Mahler
April 2-3 2017: Fabio Luisi conducts Danish National Orchestra
April 5-8 2017: US Tour
April 7 2017: Ragnar Bohlin conducts San Francisco Symphony Chorus
April 14-15 2017: SoundBox
April 14-15 2017: Emil de Cou conducts Raiders of the Lost Ark
April 19-22 2017: Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducts Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff; Denis Kozhukhin, piano
April 27-29 2017: Fabio Luisi conducts Schumann and R. Strauss; Igor Levit, piano
April 30 2017: Chamber Music with members of SFS
May 4-6 2017: Charles Dutoit conducts Berlioz's Requiem; Paul Groves, tenor
May 7 2017: Chamber Music with members of SFS
May 10-13 2017: Charles Dutoit conducts Sibelius, Mozart, Falla, Debussy; Emanuel Ax, piano
May 14 2017: Christian Reif conducts SFS Youth Orchestra
May 17-21 2017: Roberto Abbado conducts Schumann and Mendelssohn; Veronika Eberle, violin
May 25-27 2017: Manfred Honeck conducts Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky; Matthias Goerne, baritone
May 28 2017: Chamber Music with members of SFS
May 31- June 1 2017: Alexander Barantschik, violin leads Vivaldi, Mozart, J.S. Bach
June 2-3 2017: Sarah Hicks conducts Casablanca
June 3 2017: Christian Reif conducts Music for Families
June 4 2017: Wayne Marshall, organ
June 9-11 2017: Susanna Mälkki conducts Debussy, Beethoven, Stravinsky; Garrick Ohlsson, piano
June 15-18 2017: Vasily Petrenko conducts Glinka, Lalo, Rachmaninoff; Joshua Bell, violin
June 23-25 2017: MTT conducts Ives, MTT, Harrison, Antheil; Measha Brueggergosman, mezzo-soprano
June 28- July 1 2017: MTT conducts Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette; Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano; Nicholas Phan, tenor; and Luca Pisaroni, bass-baritone
San Francisco Symphony presenting Hitchcock's Vertigo with the score being played live by the orchestra this Friday and Saturday. We spoke to SF Symphony's Associate Director of Artistic Planning Richard Lonsdorf, who programmed the film series.
There have often been silent films with the scores played live around Halloween for some years, but The San Francisco Symphony film series started in 2013-14, was it with the Hitchcock film week? How did this come about?
The film series came about for a few reasons, first and foremost out of a desire to find new audiences and bring some more multimedia elements to the symphony experience. Around this time, many of the independent producers we work with were beginning to develop symphonic film projects, so it seemed possible to put a stake in the ground around films with orchestra as an "evergreen" project. There were a critical mass of Hitchcock titles back in 2013, so that was a great place to start. Hitchcock was also famous for making the music a central character in his narratives, which comes off beautifully in this context. The available titles have only grown since then, so it's an exciting project every year to whittle them down into the ones we select for our audiences.
What is the place of a film series like this in the larger scope of the San Francisco Symphony season? Is it meant to draw a different audience than the typical classical music concert goer?
We do hope to find new audiences with this series, and so far, it seems we have! The way I see it, for people who are unfamiliar with symphonic repertoire, connecting our wonderful orchestra to a beloved film with a great score is a perfect "first step" for someone to come and see us. We know they'll come away with a great experience and a familiarity with what a visit to the Symphony entails, which leads to less of a "threshold fear" about visiting us in the future.
Are there specific reasons you are revisiting Vertigo beyond the obvious fact that it is set in San Francisco?
Its San Francisco setting is the main reason it's coming back so soon! It's also one of the best film scores of all time and a great film overall, but much like we revisit favorite classical masterworks from time to time, I think it's appropriate to have a few local favorite films reappear. I'm certainly excited to see and hear it again!
Are there particular technical challenges with having the Symphony play with a film that isn't silent and usually isn't accompanied by a live orchestra?
There's a lot of technical wizardry involved in scrubbing the soundtrack from the film print so that we are just left with the dialogue and sound effects, and honestly, I'm far from the best person to articulate exactly how that is achieved! But once you have a "clean" print, there are a series of visual signals the conductor follows on a special screen by the podium (you can watch for these during the performances), in addition to a "click track" (or metronome pulse) in the ears of all the players for certain projects. These technologies were all developed to help synchronize the orchestra with the film and are in fact very similar to how films scores are recorded in the studio as well.
It's delightful that Kim Novak is going to be at Davies for a pre-concert conversation with Steven Winn. How did you convince her to speak before the presentation?
She approached us, actually! She doesn't live too far from the Bay Area, and so she got in touch about attending the screenings (the second performance falls on her birthday). Our conversation evolved into sharing some of her experiences with our audiences, and Steven Winn is the perfect moderator for that conversation. We all think it will be great fun and an exciting opportunity to hear from a legendary actress about an iconic film.
* Notes *
San Francisco Symphony is in the midst giving the West Coast premiere of Ted Hearne's Dispatches as part of its New Voices initiative. The opening performance on Wednesday night was engaging, Hearne's music is richly textured and highlights percussion and celli. The cello players in fact each had to place wine corks between the G and D strings for the middle movement.
The new music was paired with Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Soprano Susanna Phillips gave a crystalline account of the piece, her voice was never overwhelming, but has a brightness that cuts through the orchestra without being harsh. Her face is very expressive.
The concert concluded with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, known as Pathétique. Clarinetist Carey Bell played especially well, sounding lovely from top to bottom.
* Tattling *
The people around us on the left side of the orchestra level were fairly quiet. Among those seated nearby was composer John Adams.
Ted Hearne's Dispatches is having a West Coast premiere at San Francisco Symphony next week starting Wednesday night as part of the New Voices project which fosters the careers of emerging composers. Hearne (pictured left, photograph by Nathan Lee Bush) is perhaps best known for setting U.S. Army private WikiLeaks leaker Chelsea Manning's words to music in a piece entitled The Source. Christian Reif conducts Dispatches, each of the five movements takes music that Hearne first heard in various settings and filters it through his musical language.
The program also features Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with soprano Susanna Phillips and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Pathétique. Both of these pieces will be conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.
* Notes *
Michael Tilson Thomas and San Francisco Symphony are concluding a three-week Beethoven Festival with a semi-staged Fidelio. The opening performance last night featured grand singing and an austere, but effective staging.
The opera boasts a stunning cast. Nina Stemme is a searing Leonore, her sound is luminous and clear. She pierces to the core but is not harsh. Brandon Jovanovich is a robust Florestan. His first notes in Act II had much vibrato but he seemed to settle in and his performance was strong. Alan Held is a gripping villain and he sang Don Pizarro with power.
Kevin Langan is a believable Rocco, he has a tendency to creak, but it works for this role. Nicolas Phan (Jaquino) has a warm sound and Joelle Harvey (Marzelline) is bright and pure. Luca Pisaroni sings Don Fernando with authority.
The orchestra played with enthusiasm as the production unfolded around them. The staging makes cunning use of upstage platforms, the terraces, and the small portion of the downstage area available. The chorus sounded together and did a wonderful job with the choreography, filing in with a great deal of intention and opening scores in a well-timed and deliberate fashion.
Dialogue from Tatjana Gürbaca was included, and thus begins with Nina Stemme's Leonore speaking rather than the duet between Jaquino and Marzelline. Stemme's speaking voice is resounding and rather deep. The spoken parts do help tell the story, given the lack of set or elaborate costuming. The supertitles also spelled out locations and other relevant information. The humanity of this opera came through in the simplicity of the production and the beauty of the singing.
* Tattling *
The person next to me in Row A Seat 112 was an avid and excited viewer, so much so he would occasionally lean over me to try to see what was going on upstage.