It was an unusual scene outside Davies Hall last night: a capacity
audience (2,850) squeezing through the doors, a long "standby" line
awaiting returned tickets, and actual "scalping" on the sidewalk, with
demand exceeding supply. The attraction: a San Francisco Symphony summer
concert, featuring the music of Piazzolla and other tango composers, the
great bandoneon master Daniel Binelli in person, a pair of stunning tango
dancers, and conductor JoAnn Falletta making her Symphony debut here.
A DEBUT for Falletta? But this is the city where she headed the (late)
Women's Philharmonic for a decade, beginning in 1986; the region where
she conducted orchestras from Sacramento to San Jose over the years.
Still, it was a first for Falletta with SFS, although there is even a
local music award in her name (with SF Opera's Sara Jobin being the
The concert - under Falletta's fluid, focussed, effortless direction -
was exceptional, Piazzolla's huge, rambling "Aconcagua" bandoneon concerto
at the core, Binelli drawing breathtaking sounds from his instrument,
Polly Ferman contributing lyrical piano solos. There was nothing
off-season about the Symphony's playing, as solid and soaring as ever.
Salgan's "Don Augustin Bardi" featured Binelli and Ferman again, adding
a pair of sinuously athletic dancers - Pilar Alvarez and Claudio Hoffmann
- who performed miracles on a narrow strip of the stage between the
podium and the five-foot drop to the audience level: artistic, graceful,
bravura... and death-defying.
Piazzolla's "Tangazo" anchored the second half, between Marquez's Danzon
No. 2, Ibarra's Symphony No. 2 ("La Antesalas del Sueno"), and Ginastera's
seductive "Estancia" Suite. All in all, an event that gives "summer
concerts" a very good name indeed.
Falletta is very busy these days: she is music director of the Buffalo
Philharmonic (since 1999) and the Virginia Symphony (since 1991), getting
rave reviews for guest conducting with major orchestras, having produced
more than 30 CD's. She is also artistic advisor to the Honolulu Symphony,
which is without a conductor these days, so Falletta will take up the
slack for three pairs of concerts next season (other visiting conductors
include Rossen Milanov, Alexander Mickelthwate, Roberto Minczuk, former
music director Samuel Wong, Heiichiro Ohyama, Norichika Iimori, Jacques
Lacombe and Naoto Otomo).
Asked for comment about the story of Marin Alsop's pending appointment
to head the Baltimore Symphony, Falletta said she'd hope the business
about "women conductors" (of which she was in the forefront two decades
ago) will soon "go away," as "more people become aware of all the good
work done by women musicians for so long, in so many places." In the
past, she said, the image of a conductor was usually one of an autocrat,
someone who would hire and fire at will, yell at musicians, and throw
temper tantrums. "That kind of leadership from a woman has never been
really comfortable. Today, of course, conductors work in a different
way. We're not generally like that anymore and I think the door has
opened up for women. I think we'll see more women (conductors) in the
Clearly evident in Davies Hall Thursday night was that Falletta is
the very opposite of an "autocrat." In addition to working smoothly and
kindly with musicians, whose expressions (and playing) indicated enjoyment
of making music together, Falletta was unpretentiously generous to the
soloists in the orchestra, and the featured artists, taking no solo bow.
She applauded Binelli hard and long, not with the usual "air kiss" of
the baton, but with two-handed, loud, fan-to-the-max celebration that
just wouldn't stop, in tandem with the audience. Surely there are some
"men conductors" like that... but not many.
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