Monday, November 20, 2023

Smith and Stravinsky at San Francisco Symphony


Davies Symphony Hall
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

Reviews of From the Edge, the second San Francisco Symphony installment in the California Festival.
Joshua Kosman and I are on the same page about both Breathing Forests (fabulous) and Les Noces (dubious about the Stucky orchestral arrangement). Here I can mention a line that I didn't manage to squeeze into the review, in response to Smith saying that an organ is a forest of pipes: The wood-clad pipes of the Rosales organ in Walt Disney Concert Hall look a lot more like a forest than the austere white pipes of the Ruffatti organ in Davies.

I am more bluntly critical about the arrangement and the godawful videos accompanying Les Noces, a choral work that I know as well as anything that I've never actually sung. It is among my favorite works by Stravinsky, and in college I was lucky enough to turn pages for the first piano for a couple of performances of it. At the time, I figured I would get to sing it someday - I was in the chamber chorus that also performed on that program - but now, many years later, it remains elusive. It is a very great work, and, really, you want to hear it in the four-piano version.

There's an advantage to having first heard it, and internalized it, in English: I had a good idea of what was going on even when I wasn't looking at the animations. I mentioned that the sense of developing drunken revelry was somewhat lost Friday night, and how I knew this was because Paul Appleby's exhortation "Raise your voices!" didn't register as a command to the guests, and "Black her brows and beautiful!", which the half-drunk chorus men sing just flew by with little impact.


Michael Good said...

Excellent review! For those of us less familiar with Les noces from only having heard it in its prior SFS performance, there was no story at all. You couldn't make out a story from the libretto fragments in that horrendous animation. I do know the Octet having performed it, and any ensemble mishaps you heard on Friday were gone by Saturday.

McVinnie started with one forearm doing the clusters but later used both forearms. I don't think I've heard organ tone clusters before; it worked wonderfully in this context.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thank you!

David Bratman said...

I have seen comments likening the pipes at Disney to a bag of french fries. They look to me more like a cluster of quills, but not like a forest.

The one time I heard Les Noces in concert it sounded dull, the way L'Historie du Soldat is dull. But maybe I should try it again. Just not this version.

The organ concerto sounds good, though.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I hope you like it better the next time.

CruzSF said...

I really liked Breathing Forests, though it seemed to me more of tone poem with organ than a concerto, but categories aren't really important here, I guess, except in terms of my expectations. I was very impressed with the variety of sounds she was able to elicit from the instrumentalists - the crackling fire was amazing - and I often wondered how she learned how to make those sounds, and how did she notate them.

I was annoyed with Les Noces, when I could focus on just the music, I enjoyed it. But it was almost impossible for me to ignore the animation, especially since that was the only place with the libretto. Overall, I was disappointed in the presentation and came close to deciding to avoid all future programs with video accompaniment. I agree with your assessment of Lauren Snouffer and David Soar. Let's hear more from them.