San Francisco Symphony, Elgar, Moussorgsky

SFS Principal ViolistThis concert was not part of our season tickets; we purchased it extra. I simply had to hear both of these pieces. I haven’t heard the Elgar Cello Concerto in forever, and, as shocking as it may be, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard any live performance of the Ravel orchestral version of Moussorgsky‘s Pictures at an Exhibition. That seems unbelievable to me because, like most people, it is on my list of favorite symphonic works.

Scott Foglesong
Scott Foglesong


I thoroughly enjoy the pre-concert Inside Music speaker series by Scott Foglesong1. He’s witty, charming, and always insightful. I learn about the history and form of the works to be performed as well as comparisons of previously recorded renditions of note2. I love the fact that he talks up to the audience, assuming everyone knows music theory and some music history. He is also very gracious and endearing in his manner. Excellent choice for this venue.


The concert began with Stravinsky’s Jeu de cartes (1936). But, for me, Stravinsky is, well…whatever. This piece is by far the most accessible thing Stravinsky ever wrote. Well done. Enough on that.

Gautier Capucon
Gautier Capuçon

Gautier Capuçon performed the Elgar Cello Concerto in e minor, Opus 85 (1919) on a 1701 Matteo Goffriller cello. Certainly the Elgar Cello Concerto is one of the most impassioned pieces written for that instrument, and Gautier Capuçon is, without any doubt, the most deeply intense cellist I have ever heard. In fact, though I have heard many passionate performers in my lifetime, I believe that Gautier Capuçon is the most intense performer I’ve ever heard and seen perform.

Gautier Capucon
Gautier Capuçon

A magnificent performance of epoch depth, resonance and intensity. When the work came to its stunning conclusion, the enraptured audience went absolutely crazy with frenzied enthusiasm for what we had just experienced. The cellist stood and immediately stepped over to conductor Charles Dutoit, who was standing on the podium facing Gautier acknowledging the soloist’s uproarious applause, and wholly buried his face in the conductor’s chest for several seconds before even acknowledging the audience’s effusive enthusiasm.

The work, the soloist, the conductor, and the orchestra brought the audience to a sacred moment in time. Stunning. God, I get chills recalling it!

Charles Dutoit
Conductor Charles Dutoit

While the Elgar was almost unbearably resonate with the audience, Charles appeared to have come to San Francisco for one reason only: to unleash Ravel’s orchestration of the Moussorgsky. All of the top tier players were on stage for this final performance of the season.

My God!

The entire work was indescribably transcending, but the climax: the brass section pealing the paint from the walls of City Hall across the street as the Great Gate of Kiev just slew us.

My God!

M.y  G.o.d!


And to the beautiful woman, sitting next to Steve, wearing at least a quarter of a million dollars worth of diamonds and gold who was talking on her phone until the first note of the concert and texting throughout the concert (until the Great Gate of Kiev): no one really cared, dear. Really. You’re just not that important. You are, however, that rude.

  1. Chair of Musicianship and Music Theory at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and faculty member at UC Berkeley and the Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning. Additionally, he writes the program notes for the SFS’s program guide as well as others. 

  2. Did you know there are over 100 orchestrations of Pictures, including one for a saxophone quintet?! 

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