This past Saturday we were off to the San Francisco Symphony! This was my first ride on the Muni: the J line to Vann Ness and Market, which is a block south of Davies Symphony Hall. We ate at Il Borgo, one of our favorite pre-symphony eateries. The walk, however, was a little less than pleasant because it was raining. But, I won’t complain. The Pacific coast needs the rain. Everything is so green now!
Steve was proud of himself for remembering to pack the symphony tickets. He was proud for remembering to set them out for us to remember to take them with us on concert night. They remained on the counter when we actually needed them at symphony hall. But the box office kindly printed an extra pair for us.
This concert was not part of our original series, and we sat in Box V, which is on the opposite side from our usual seats. I felt I could actually hear the piano better from this side and hear the brass a bit less—a good thing!
As we were making our way into the hall for the pre-concert talk, some man was tinkering at the piano. Well, not exactly tinkering. Who was that? Damn! The technique! Oh good heavens! Once my eyes were more adjusted to the light I realized it was Emanuel Ax himself! He must not have arrived in town early enough to get a feel for the instrument. As he got up to leave the bench, those who had gathered for the pre-concert talk roundly applauded!
Our speaker for the evening, Alexandra Amati-Camperi, I had not heard before. She was really excellent—the best of them all frankly. Two highlights: Beethoven was almost completely deaf at the time he composed the Emperor piano concerto and therefore couldn’t perform it; so, he extensively annotated it. We know more about exactly how he wished the piece to be performed because of this.
Dvorak didn’t borrow specific melodies from American spirituals, just idioms. The one, Going Home, that is directly “quoted” was actually written by Dvorak first, and then, because it was so “American,” became a spiritual when words were to be added later!
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5, Emperor
Emanuel Ax performed the last Beethoven Piano Concerto. He was flawless! Flawless!! Just stunningly flawless! The performance was sensational.
The synergy between the pianist, the conductor, and the orchestra couldn’t have been any better. This was simple, clean, musical perfection.
The concert hall was enraptured. I’ve never seen this audience applaud so effusively, demanding an encore, to which we were treated after our applause brought him back to the stage 4 times.
Dvořák‘s Symphony No. 9, From the New World
The second half was the Dvořák New World. The conductor, Krzysztof Urbaniski, is only 34 and astonishingly gifted. His musical accomplishments at his age are impressive. I was enchanted watching him conduct and heard things in the symphony I had never heard before—things he brought out from the orchestral texture with his fingertips, as he sculpted intricate nuances of phrases with his hands.
The San Francisco Symphony seemed to delight in giving this young conductor exactly what he was asking for—the softest pianissimos, a subtle hint of the triangle that didn’t pierce through the orchestral fabric, only delicately accentuated it, et. al. His conducting style was fresh, clear, and precise. He knew exactly what he wanted musically and gave clear direction about that musical execution. The result was a stunning performance.
Both halves of the concert commanded extensive and relentless applause. Urbaniski, with his electrified hair style, had to make several appearances after the second half. Tonight’s audience, a seasoned and older collection of patrons, loved him, no, adored him—as they should have. Goodness, what an exquisite evening at the symphony.