Sunday, February 05, 2023

emergency shelter intake form at San Francisco Sypmphony


Photo. Three singers, two men in informal clothing and one woman in a gown, standing in front of an orchestra, reading music from music stands and singing.

The Chorus of Inconvenient Statistics
Photo: Kristen Loken, care of San Francisco Symphony
Official caption:
Edwin Outwater conducts the SF Symphony, Conrad Tao, Gabriel Kahane, Alicia Hall Moran, Kristen Toedtman, Holcombe Waller, Community Music Center Choir, and Skywatchers Ensemble in a performance of emergency shelter intake form at Davies Symphony Hall on Thursday, February 2, 2023. Photo credit: Kristen Loken.

Somewhat unusually, I reviewed San Francisco Symphony for the San Francisco Chronicle the other day. This is my third review for the Chron since fall, 2014. Joshua Kosman is available almost all of the time, and his usual backup is Steven Winn, who was a critic for the Chron for many years.

This was quite a program, with Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F (Conrad Tao, piano) paired with Gabriel Kahane's emergency shelter intake form. The latter has been described as a song cycle and as an oratorio, and I went with oratorio, given the forces involved and the give-and-take between the mezzo soloist Alicia Hall Moran and the Chorus of Inconvenient Statistics.

I admit to being a little surprised by the pairing, but eventually settled on "works crossing genres," considering that Kahane's music is pop-, Broadway-, folk-, and blues-inflected, while Gershwin definitely blended genres. Tao's performance was spectacularly good, and because I saw the program twice - I had a subscription ticket and my partner also went Friday - I can report that Friday night he played and sang an encore, Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," which was fabulous. I am now extremely sorry that I missed Tao's SoundBox program last month.

There are a few things that I could not squeeze into my review; the Chron has a fairly strict word limit, in my experience, and I did my best to stick to it. (My SFCV reviews have ranged from 650 words to 1200 words, and they've never dinged me on length.) Maybe I should have asked for another fifty to one hundred words? Here's what didn't make it in:

  • Somewhere along the way, I cut the phrase "Tom Lehrer-esque" to describe the hilarious "certainly we all can agree". I mentioned this on Twitter and Kahane said that he thought of the song as an homage to a dear friend, now deceased. I gotta say that knowing Kahane's demographic and that of father, pianist/conductor Jeffrey Kahane, I bet that there was Lehrer in the household. Okay, turns out that I am privileged to introduce the Kahane family to Tom Lehrer.
  • I know that a couple of the songs sounded influenced by minimalism; there are significant ostinatos, etc.
  • There was gorgeous solo playing from Robert Ward (French horn) and Mark Inouye (trumpet). In the third song, there is a big French horn solo at the start, and the second time around I realized that it picked up on melody in the second song.
  • Keyboard player Marc Shapiro worked very hard and very brilliantly, way at the back and alternating between celesta and piano.
  • Kahane's text-setting is really good.
  • I wish I'd squeezed in something about the many times the words reflect the heartless impersonality and brutality of the miserable system we have for providing even the barest of bones of housing to the unhoused. emergency shelter intake form is utterly heartbreaking, and I should have included these points.
  • My partner, the public health researcher, wishes that there had been more inconvenient statistics.
  • Lisa Hirsch, SF Chronicle
  • Patrick Vaz, The Reverberate Hills
  • Simon Cohen, SFCV. I'm interested to see that the writer uses a lede that I abandoned after three sentences: a comment on the utter failure of SF to provide adequate housing for those in need and how that plays out in Civic Center.

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