Wolff is the first of six guest conductors who are auditioning for the post of music director. He conducted a concert that seems typical of the orchestra: two newish pieces, one 20th century classic, and a 19th century classic.
Neither of the two newish pieces made much of an impression on me. Both are energetic, amiable, and forgettable. Wolff is a longtime advocate of Aaron Jay Kernis's music, and opened the concert with Kernis's Overture in Feet and Meters. The conductor's introductory remarks ended with "Hold on to your hats," but mine stayed firmly on my head. The overture is an orchestration of the first movement of Kernis's Second String Quartet, and I'm willing to bet that it works better in the quartet format. Mahler created wonderful string orchestra versions of Schubert's Death and the Maiden quartet and Beethoven's Op. 95, both works with a good bit of grandeur to them. Kernis's piece has charm and cleverness, but not enough weight to survive being inflated for performance by a full orchestra.
I haven't got much to say about Osvaldo Golijov's Night of the Flying Horses, a movement of his song cycle Three Songs, which in itself is damning - but it did bring the wonderful soprano Heidi Melton, a San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, on stage.
She had a far bigger part, along with tenor Thomas Glenn and mezzo Katherine Tier, for Shostakovich's From Jewish Folk Poetry, settings of Yiddish poems. All three gave fine performances, with Melton's mighty dramatic soprano making a fine match for Tier's velvety, dark mezzo and Glenn's well-focussed tenor. Glenn's diction was superior to that of the women; each had fine moments in their solos.
The work was performed using the original Yiddish, though the published score has the words in Russian. The English translations must have been from the Russian, because they deviated significantly from the Yiddish in the program: too bad!
After the intermission, Wolff led a rousing performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony; apotheosis of the dance, indeed.
My only complaint about the concert - besides the slightness of the Kernis and Golijov works - is about the poor acoustics of Zellerbach. The orchestral sound was flat in the first half of the concert, more nuanced in the second. I don't know if the technicians tuned the
[Joshua Kosman's review nailed this concert, as far as I'm concerned.]