This past Friday I attended the Chris Botti concert here with the San Francisco Symphony. I have had Chris’ Boston DVD for years and love it. My cousin introduced me to it. I was expecting a similar concert last night, maybe with the addition of some holiday music. Boy was I to be surprised!
We were seated 15 rows from the front: close. I never heard a single acoustic sound from Chris’ horn. Everything I heard all night long was amplified, everything. Even when Botti walked a few rows into the audience, I still never heard his horn, at all—just the amplified sound from his trumpet. Having grown accustomed to only hearing the clarity endemic to acoustic performances in Davies Hall, this was disappointing. But, it got worse…
The concert began with a dreadful buzz in the sound system from some audio line not being properly grounded. Unacceptable. This should have been fixed in a sound check prior to the concert ever starting! Additionally, the sound mix was of such poor quality: just a large wall of sound without any clarity or voicing, at all. Extremely disappointing!
I have never attended a live performance in which the music ground to a dead stop. It did Friday night. The guest conductor lost his place. At an important orchestral cue, he did nothing, and those world class musicians followed him exactly and did nothing. Finally, after several awkward looks from the conductor to Botti, Botti had to tell them to play. The conductor started frantically flipped pages of the score. I’m not convinced he ever found his place. I think he just gave a generic cue and the orchestra continued.
And speaking of the symphony, they were so dreadfully underutilized in the concert. The orchestra parts were poorly, poorly written. The violins would play a sustained note for what seemed like weeks on end, a note that added nothing to the soundscape. Who arranged this stuff?! Botti was performing with one of the best orchestras on the planet, and they were wasting their time. On a per note basis, I believe the orchestra got paid a whale of a lot more than Chris!
The final number of the concert prompted our leaving before the encores were performed. I know most casual consumers of music think louder is better. But, when the sound is so loud my ears are ringing, hearing mostly nothing but distortion, the amplification is way, way too loud!
I suspect that the reason no program was printed was because the program was decided at the last minute. The selection left me rather cold. I was expecting many more of the lyric and beautiful jazz standards found on his Boston DVD. No. Now, I wasn’t expecting Yo Yo Ma, or Josh Groban, or Sting, or John Mayer, or even Catherine McPhee, or Steven Tyler, etc. But what of some of those standards?! Instead, we got a lot of trumpet “riffing” and blasting, and such.
But then the violinist appeared.
I don’t recall her name. She was strikingly gorgeous, thin, tall, dressed in a very long sequined blue gown and (oddly) barefoot. She appeared taller than Chris and kept her knees flexed most of the time. At first I assumed this was not to upstage the main performer.
I will be quick to tell you that I enjoy a performance with some bravado over nothing but clean technical precision. But… Her performing was beyond anything I thought I would ever see on a concert stage. She writhed, thrust, undulated, thrashed, twisted… Her facial expressions were of unfettered, orgasmic ecstasy. I was horrified her hair would get caught in her bow work. This was soooo over the top it just seemed like soft porn!
Frankly, I’m sad to say that I didn’t much enjoy the concert. The lady sitting to my right didn’t seem to either. She left before we did!
So, last night, we watched the DVD of Botti’s Boston concert from a couple of years ago. It was so much better! You could hear and enjoy the music and Botti’s tremendous musicianship. And, to my surprise, I noticed that the violinist on that DVD was also barefoot! (I guess marketing says this sells tickets?!) But the violinist on the DVD presented a vastly less sexualized performance.
I know, I know: sex sells; but, so does quality musicianship.
I know Chris and his band are on the road 300 days a year. But they can never sound like they do that. I rarely say this about a performance, but yes, I was disappointed with this loud wall of sound.