Tuesday, August 05, 2014

"20th Season of Risk-Taking:" San Francisco Symphony 2014-15

Yeah, sure it is.
 Front door of Davies Symphony Hall, June 20, 2014

As anyone reading this blog must know, I am woefully behind in reviewing season announcements for the upcoming season, which starts in about a month. Well, so it goes.

But San Francisco Symphony sent out a press the other day with the first couple of months of concerts, so my dander is now up. Here's the thing: there's quite a lot of music this SFS season that I'd like to hear, but, unfortunately, the season is also so heavily loaded with Beethoven and other top-10 composers that I'm tearing my hair out. There'll be one piece, new or unusual, that I want to hear, but it's sandwiched between stuff I'm just not very excited about.

Jeff Dunn did a composer count after the season announcement, and kindly agreed to my posting it here:

Beethoven 25
Stravinsky 11
Mozart 10
Bach 9
Brahms 9
Haydn 8
Prokofiev 7
Ravel 7
Tchaikovsky 6
Rachmaninoff 4
Shostakovich 4
Bartók 3
Debussy 3
Handel 3
Mendelssohn 3
Sibelius 3
Adams, John 2
Adams, Sam 2
Barber 2
Britten 2
Cage 2
Dvořák 2
Gershwin 2
Ives 2
Liszt 2
Mahler 2
Schubert 2
Adams, John Luther 1
Berg 1
Bernstein 1
Brant 1
Bruckner 1
Chopin  1
Colin Matthews  1
Copland 1
Duruflé 1
Elgar 1
Esa-Pekka Salonen 1
Falla 1
Feldman 1
Foss 1
Griffes 1
Ligeti 1
Lindberg 1
Mason Bates  1
Milhaud 1
Monteverdi 1
Mussorgsky/Ravel 1
Rota 1
Schoenberg 1
Schumann 1
Steven Stucky 1
Strauss 1
Strauss, J. 1
Suk 1
Tan Dun 1
Thomas Adès 1
Vivaldi 1
Wagner 1

So, right: more than twice as much Beethoven as the next two composers combined. And if you're alive, being named Adams will go a long way to getting your work performed in San Francisco. The Adamses, father John Coolidge and son Samuel Carl, have two works each. (John Luther Adams also has a piece programmed.) No other living composer has more than one.

The reason there's all that Beethoven is that the season ends with a three-week Beethoven Festival. This is a close follow-on to this past season's Beethoven and Bates concert. (This past season, Mason Bates was the living composer who had more than one work performed.) There's some fun stuff on the LvB Fest, including a recreation of the four-hour program that introduced a couple of Beethoven's symphonies, a piano concerto, and a few other odd ends, plus a well-cast Fidelio that, for all I know, will match June's incredible Peter Grimes. No, wait, not going to happen, because even the best-performed Fidelio isn't as good a work as Grimes. Still!

Now, Terry Teachout quite rightly reminded people a while back on his blog that there are newcomers to this music who've never heard the Beethoven or any of the other guys listed above. (I'm pointing a figure at you, SFS: another all-male season.) Yes, symphony orchestras have to play a little, or even more than a little, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikowsky, etc. Still: see the photo above. There's plenty of music I'd like to hear, but how much risk is involved in a season like the upcoming season??

Enough of the complaining. There are some programs I'm at least a little excited about. There's the Brahms program, conducted mostly by Herbert Blomstedt and featuring the German Requiem with Christian Gerhaher as the baritone soloist. Okay, this is not exactly exotic music, but Blomstedt was so great the last time I saw him that I have to attend this program. Also, I love the piece, and Gerhaher (who is also giving a recital in September, through San Francisco Performances) has a gigantic reputation.

Most of the way through September, we get to one of the programs that...well....I'm not spending money on. The work I want to see is Henry Brant's Ice Field. The works I don't want to see are Brandenburg No. 3 and Tchaikowsky Symphony No. 5. There's another in October: a work by Steven Stucky, followed by Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin (played just a few seasons back) and Rach 3 with Garrick Ohlsson.

I will get a ticket to the second of Vladimir Jurowski's programs with the LSO: Lindberg, Rach Paganini, Shos 8, although that week is jammed workwise and it's a Monday program, so...maybe not? Then Stéphane Deneve comes in to SFS with Isabella Faust playing the Britten Violin Concerto...though I don't care much about the other works on the program. Christian Zacharias's program has a Mozart piano concerto and Feldman's Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety but oh god it leads off with Appalachian Spring, which I hate.

MTT tackles Mahler 7, which didn't work so well the last time I heard it; then there's a week with a confusing repertory. The date to attend is November 8, when you get to hear Sam Adams's Drift and Providence and Gil Shaham in Prokofiev...but wait. Is that the concerto Shaham just played in June, on the Prince of the Pagodas program?

Susanna Malkki returns, this time in a short week, but it's a good program: a Griffes tone poem (and when did you last hear one of those live?), Bartok Third Piano Concerto (Denk - but could we hear the First some time?), and Brahms 2nd Symphony. We then hit December, when there is rarely much I'd like to hear; the last time I went to a December SFS program, it was Salonen leading Sibelius, his own Violin Concerto, and some Wagner.

Emmanuel Ax gives a tasty-looking piano recital, then we get to the MTT 70th Birthday Celebration. The whole program hasn't been announced, but it will include a crazy Liszt piece for six pianos and orchestra, and those six will be Jeremy Denk, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yuja Wang, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Emmanuel Ax, and a pianist to be named later (maybe MTT himself?). That's a lot of talent in one place.

Ivan Fischer comes in with the Budapest Festival Orchestra; first program is Brahms 1 and 3, second is Mendelssohn, Violin Concert (Zuckerman) and excerpts from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Blomstedt's first program with SFS is Mozart and Sibelius; his second includes a couple of other Brahms works, then the Requiem. Yannick Nezet-Seguin brings the Rotterdam Philharmonic; first program is Brahms piano concerto no. 1 (Grimaud) and Tchaik 5th symphony, second is the Ravel piano concerto and Prokofiev symphony no. 5. Hmm.

Toward the end of February, MTT has a program that includes John Luther Adams's The Light that Fills the World, with (alas) the Brahms violin concerto and Schumann's First. Okay, I like both those pieces, but wot? 

Thomas Ades's program in early March is a real standout, and includes Kirill Gerstein and Dawn Upshaw:

Ives                    The Unanswered Question
Milhaud                 La Création du monde, Opus 81
Sibelius                        Luonnotar, Opus 70
Thomas Adès             In Seven Days [with video] [SFS Premiere]

Jeremy Denk conducts the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in two programs I plan to skip; he plays four J.S. Bach keyboard concertos - which I am a philistine to miss, I know - leavened with Suk and Dvorak on one program, a pair of Stravinsky works on the other. Bookending these two programs, Ton Koopman at SFS, and, again, no.

Then the mighty LSO drops by, with.....Michael Tilson Thomas and Yuja Wang, a pairing we never see together in San Francisco. They're both pretty good programs, though, and one includes the Sibelius 2nd, which Herbert Blomstedt conducts earlier with the SFS, so you've got your hot & cold running Sibelius 2 right there, along with the Tchaik 5.

Semyon Bychkov then has an SFS program, unfortunately it's Bruckner. He's a great conductor, but I've gotta take a pass. (For the Bruckner fans among us, I note that Chora Nova, with which I used to sing, is performing his Mass in E Minor this fall.) Pablo Heras-Casado has an Adams, Schoenberg, Beethoven program, where I might spring for a rush ticket to the first half. I don't love the Beethoven violin concerto and if I hear it live again soon, I want a more muscular performance than it's likely to get from Joshua Bell. I'm just going to pass on Heras-Casado's second program of Haydn, Mozart, Debussy, and Stravinsky. H-C also conducts a SoundBox concert, which is likely to be interesting. He's the only big-league orchestra conductor just now who conducts early music programs as well as standard stuff and new music.

Myung-Wun Chung brings in the Seoul Philharmonic for a 19th c. program of Wagner (Tristan prelude), Beethoven Emperor concerto, and Brahms 4. Then Vassily Petrenko leads SFS in a Barber overture, Rach 2, and Shos 12. John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists perform Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, which is a must-see for me despite the venue. Esa-Pekka Salonen comes by to lead Ravel (Mother Goose Suite, blech), his own Nyx, and the complete Firebird. I just hate the Ravel; I would love to hear SFS and Salonen in Nyx, which I heard a couple of months ago at Berkeley Symphony. I don't feel a great need to hear the Stravinsky! So....

Then MTT comes back from wherever he has been - probably Miami - with a Bernstein/Mahler pairing. It only sounds like a Mitteleuropean law firm; he's conducting The Age of Anxiety and Mahler 4, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Susanna Phillips. His next couple of programs look great: Cage, Mendelssohn, and Stravinsky, followed by Cage, Cage. Ragnar Bohlin takes the SFS Chorus for a spin in the Stravinsky Mass, Durufle Requiem, and Part Te Deum. Too bad the concert is on a Sunday at 5 p.m., in the middle of my jujitsu class.

The last few weeks of the season pick up considerably in interest even though the concentration of LvB increases. First, MTT conducts S. Adams (new work), a Mozart sinfonia concertante with Barantschik and Vinocour, and the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. Charles Dutoit makes his annual appearance with Stravinsky, the Elgar Cello Concerto, and (big sigh) Pictures at an Exhibition.  But here's his second program:

Ravel                   Alborado del gracioso
Falla                   Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Ravel                   L’Heure espagnole [SFS Premiere]

I don't know most of the singers or the pianist, but whatever. Great program, by me.

Then we get the third go-round with the Missa Solemnis, and by now there is some hope that MTT has it under his belt better than the first time, back in 2011, which had both me and JK grimacing a lot. Soloists include Joelle Harvey and Sasha Cooke. It all ends with a bang; there are a pair of concerts that each have half the marathon, the marathon itself, and the grand finale of Fidelio. The marathon program is really nuts and will cost a lot in overtime; I can't resist it, though.

Here are most of those programs:

Saturday, June 20, 2015 at 7 pm (Marathon Concert)

Michael Tilson Thomas conductor
Karita Mattila soprano
Jonathan Biss piano
San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Ragnar Bohlin director
San Francisco Symphony

Beethoven               Symphony No. 6 in F major, Opus 68, Pastoral
Beethoven               Ah! perfido, Opus 65
Beethoven               Kyrie and Gloria from Mass in C major, Opus 86
Beethoven               Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Opus 58
Beethoven               Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Opus 67
Beethoven               Sanctus from Mass in C major, Opus 86
Beethoven               Fantasy in G minor, Opus 77
Beethoven               Choral Fantasy, Opus 80

Ø       Beethoven Festival
Thursday, June 25, 2015 at 8 pm
Friday, June 26, 2015 at 8 pm
Sunday, June 28, 2015 at 7:30 pm

Michael Tilson Thomas conductor
Nina Stemme soprano (Leonore)
Brandon Jovanovich tenor (Florestan)
Vocal Soloists TBA
San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Ragnar Bohlin director
San Francisco Symphony

Beethoven               Fidelio, Opus 72 [concert performance]

 Then there's a program of which only LvB Fifth Symphony was announced as of the season announcement.


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