Night at the San Francisco Symphony

About that concert1 last night…

Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings, Opus 11 (1936)

This is among my favorite short symphonic works.

I think everyone in symphony hall literally stopped breathing as this performance came to an end.

Denève held the hall in complete silence for at least a minute as the last sound faded from this earth.

I was slane.

Isabelle Faust
Isabelle Faust

Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto, Opus 15 (1939)

Isabelle Faust performed the most virtuosic, grief-laden lamentation2 any violinist has ever ripped from the wooden soul of a stringed instrument—at least that I’ve ever heard.  The audience leapt to its feet demanding an encore, to which it was treated.

As Britten’s work drew to a close, I wondered if her instrument would survive the performance?!

I was quite simply astounded. My god!

Sergie Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances, Opus 45 (1940)

Sergei-RachmaninoffI never hear Rachmaninov performed that I don’t think of John, my brilliant roommate my Junior year at university. He thrived in his passionate love of classical music. His favorite composer: Sergie Rachmaninov.

We feasted on classical music. John had a sound system to die for, and while music was played at every opportunity, it was ever-present on weekends. I was fortunate to have John, a dear friend since high school, as a roommate. I would never have been exposed to such a large classical repertoire. His collection was carefully refined and magnificently extensive. I’m confident it has grown to the status of a nation treasure by now.

Regrettably I lost touch with John back in the early 90s. Last night I savored the memories of the many hours we spent steeping ourselves in the greatest performances of the greatest classics ever printed to vinyl. (CDs were just beginning to emerge to no little delight—no pops, hiss, or rumble!) Those times made my Junior year singularly special.

Tonight’s performance of the symphonic dances, Rachmaninoff‘s introspective celebration of his rich musical career, were food for the soul. Brilliantly performed, I wish John had heard this. He would have been in heaven.

Stephane Deneve
Stéphane Denève

Stéphane Denève

Tonight’s conductor didn’t just present a brilliantly prepared and masterfully executed musical feast: he presented it with great flare and presence.

Yes, when a man has that much hair in the style of a quasi-afro, and knows exactly how to use it to accentuate and amplify the musical moment, the audience is nothing less than delighted.

  1. alluded to in this video 

  2. Britten composed this work in homage to the 600,000 Spaniards murdered by Hitler in what was Hitler’s dress rehearsal for tactics he would later use in WWII.