Davies Symphony Hall has turned 25 years old, and the San Francisco
Symphony threw a free Silver Anniversary Party on the occasion tonight,
inviting 2,800 of the subscribing faithful. Besides a two-hour reception,
there was also music, in a surprising way.
Instead of "some music" to go with the festivities, the Symphony presented
a full-length concert: Copland's "Orchestral Variations," the Adagio
from Mahler's Symphony No. 10, and Dvorak's Symphony No. 8.
Also, this was "music to go" - if you're in Hong Kong or Shanghai next
week, you will be able to hear the touring SFS play the same concert at
the Feb. 9 opening of the HK Arts Festival
(http://www.hk.artsfestival.org/eng/homepage), repeating it on Feb. 11;
presenting Ives, Schumann, and Brahms in the HK Cultural Centre on Feb.
10, and in Shanghai Grand Theater, on Feb. 12.
The occasion and performances were excellent, the Mahler extraordinary,
one of the best I heard among the many, many Mahler offerings here from
Michael Tilson Thomas.
From the opening theme on the violas, to the great tutti of the violins,
to the song of the woodwinds, and the powerful but self-effacing brass
chorale, the Mahler Adagio is one of the most clearly articulated,
well-delineated works of music. Those pivotal aspects of clarity,
separation and coming together were ever-present tonight, in a glorious
MTT's direction was patient and both precise and light. The two contesting
elements of the piece - Mahler's death-welcoming serenity and death-fearing
anxiety - came into play with equal impact, blending rather than
contrasting, creating exactly the kind of resolving gestalt for which
Mahler strived. Serenity was served to perfection, some of the barely
suppressed tragic undertones could have had more intensity or pathos,
but MTT "did it his way," brilliantly.
One may wonder how the musicians will do on this strangely compressed
long-distance trip (four concerts on four days, sandwiched between two
12-hour flights), but tonight, the orchestra was at its best, every
section firing on all cylinders, concertmaster Alexander Barantschik
and principal violist Yun Jie Liu playing affecting solos.
During the mercifully short speeches, 38 of the musicians were recognized
for playing with the orchestra since Davies went up, and some considerably
longer, but no one could have held a candle to the chronological feat
accomplished by Ava Jean Brumbaum. Symphony President John Goldman
recognized her for having served on the board for 60 years - and the
ovation from the full hall she received didn't even take into consideration
the concurrent 60 years she has devoted to the SF Conservatory of Music.
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