I say, "This was a great concert," and you say, "You mean given the
circumstances?," and I say, "No, just great, period." And then you have
that "aren't you nice... and foolish" look on your face. And that's
because you were not there, not with an audience of 2,700 shouting its
approval, in a scene right out of the movies.
The truth is that it's becoming a bit awkward to "discover" and acclaim the
San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra over and over again (while recalling
nervously the nationally-known critic who compared it, favorably, with the
Chicago Symphony, anti-Solti writer that she is), but here's the thing:
The SFS Youth Orchestra is routinely exceptional.
But at today's concert, in Davies Hall, under the baton of its
miracle-working music director, Alasdair Neale, it was even better
than that, a 110-piece orchestra playing together and brilliantly.
From a bold, Wagnerian-huge Brahms Third Symphony, to the world premiere
of a major work by Mark Volkert, to a Triple-X "Dance of the Seven Veils"
from "Salome" (a teenager herself, if memory serves) -- today's concert
went from impressive to moving to thrilling... without caveats about age
Volkert, 49, assistant concertmaster of the senior San Francisco Symphony,
wrote "Songs from the Sea: Impressions of Poems by Reeves, Whitman and
Eliot for Large Orchestra" for Neale and the SFSYO. A 20-minute-long tone
poem, it's among the best works of the long-time composer, and his most
colorful and lyrical to date.
In the program notes, Volkert wrote about his hesitation enter the arena
where Debussy, Britten, Wagner, Delius and others have written "timeless
music inspired by the great oceans and have, to my ears, defined the `sound
of the sea'."
Turning for advice to his wife (the cellist Jan Volkert) as "La Mer,"
"Peter Grimes," etc. loomed large, Volkert was told: "So?" and he
understood the message: "Compose your piece. Paint your picture. Write
your poem or play. Enjoy the process and don't worry about being compared
to others. Why are we here, if not to be creative individuals?"
The result is gorgeous music, ranging from bold strokes to turbulance,
shimmering vistas, lush, majestic feelings -- without a single "standard
ocean reference" or cliche. All fresh, unique, beautiful, "Songs from the
Sea" is that rare new music that appeals on first hearing while making the
listener anxious to hear it again.
In the Volkert and the stunningly-performed Strauss, concertmaster Yixing
Xu and oboist Irami Osei-Frimpong stood out with exceptional solo work.
While the majority of SFSYO still consists of youngsters of immigrant
families from Asia, there is an increasingly varied ethnic representation,
The family of Osei-Frimpong comes from Ghana -- and "Ira" himself is a
foreigner (in San Francisco), having been born in Los Angeles. Based on
his experience with SFSYO, the UC-Berkeley philosophy senior has decided to
pursue the only career that may be more lucrative than philosophy (barely):
he will be an orchestra musician. Any manager attending this concert would
hire him on the spot.
This youth orchestra represents a fourth dimension of the San Francisco
music scene: in addition to the separate-and-equal symphony, opera and
ballet orchestras, there is this band of present and future musicians,
doing their routinely exceptional work, for our pleasure and benefit.
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