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Recital
SLAM BANG SONORITY IN HAOCHEN ZHANG'S SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Piano Competition winners are in ample supply, and it’s often a hit and miss proposition as to their sterling interpretative qualities. However, the quadrennial Van Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth has continually produced top-level artists, and the 2009 winner Haochen Zhang proved a formidable per...
Symphony
FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHARACTERS OF THE BAROQUE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known as Akamus, played a Weill Hall concert March 12 in a program called "Foreign Affairs -Characters of the Baroque.” The ensemble, that began in 1984, has 15 musicians led by concert master Bernhard Forck. Attired in elegant black with red accents, ranging from tie...
Recital
MUSCULAR PIANISM DOMINATES MILL VALLEY CHAMBER SOCIETY RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Piano recitals since the beginning of the genre open with finger pieces - Scarlatti or Soler Sonatas, Bach, a Mendelssohn Prelude and Fugue or perhaps Mozart or Haydn. Sarah Daneshpour’s March 12 opening work at the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society series abruptly avoided the norm with the 10-minut...
Recital
NOVEL HAYDN AND SCHUMANN IN YARDEN'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, March 09, 2017
Israeli pianist Einav Yarden has been a frequent Sonoma County visitor, playing private recitals for Spring Lake Village and Concerts Grand, and twice performing for Music at Oakmont. The Berlin-based artist returned to Oakmont’s Berger Auditorium March 9 with a program that was neither for connois...
Chamber
CONSUMMATE ENSEMBLE FROM THE MIRÓ IN WEILL
by Sonia Tubridy and Nicki Bell
Sunday, March 05, 2017
A March 5 Weill hall audience of 350 leaned in to share an intimate musical space and to hear the Miró String Quartet’s sterling concert. Starting with Haydn's Op. 20, No. 4, the four musicians seemed to want listeners to be enveloped in their music. The Miró plays with the feat of being four dist...
Recital
BRILLIANT VIOLIN AND PIANO ARTISTRY CHARMS SCHROEDER HALL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 26, 2017
A tiny Schroeder Hall audience heard a flawless recital Feb. 26 by Yu-Chien Tseng, arguably the best recent local violin recital since Gil Shaham’s transversal of the complete Bach Suites in Weill and Frank Almond’s Oakmont recital in 2015. Muscular playing was the afternoon’s norm, and with pianis...
Chamber
MUSIC AND ART MELD IN ZUCKERMAN TRIO CONCERT
by Nicki Bell
Friday, February 24, 2017
A Feb. 24 Weill Hall concert by the Pinchas Zuckerman Trio juxtaposed formidable music making with palpable associations about visual art. Brahms’ C Minor "Sonatensatz” (Scherzo) is a short youthful work for violin and piano, and was an opening call to action. Lively and vigorous playing alternated...
Chamber
THREE BEETHOVEN TRIOS BEGUILE AUDIENCE IN FEB. 19 WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Chamber music concerts featuring one composer can be tricky, but the Han/Setzer/Finckel trio made a Feb. 19 Weill Hall audience of 500 hear and to a degree see the boundless creativity of Beethoven. The G Major Trio, Op. 1, No. 2, opened the afternoon’s Beethoven odyssey and one wonders why it is t...
Chamber
AUTHORITATIVE BARTOK HIGHLIGHTS TETZLAFF VIOLIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Christian Tetzlaff’s Feb. 18 violin recital rolled along with lively and fresh readings of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert when the specter of Bartok’s granitic Second Sonata intervened. The sonic shock to the audience of 250 in Weill was palpable. Composed in 1923 the 20-minute two-movement work i...
Symphony
WHAT SOUND DO STAR-CROSSED LOVERS MAKE?
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so the Santa Rosa Symphony feted the occasion by telling and retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet, a tale ever the more poignant during our era of stark divisions. The first telling was from Berlioz; the second from Prokofiev. In between was Brahms’ monu...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
San Francisco Symphony / Thursday, May 23, 2013
David Robertson, conductor. Marc-Andre Hamelin, piano

Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin

FIVE FINGERS WITH THE STRENGTH OF TEN

by Steve Osborn
Thursday, May 23, 2013

"My name is David, and I'm going to be your conductor for this evening." With that corny but amusing opening line, guest conductor David Robertson introduced himself and the San Francisco Symphony to a less than full house at the Green Music Center on May 23. It was hard to understand why the place wasn't packed. The soloist, Marc-Andre Hamelin, is one of the top pianists in the world, and the program featured Gershwin's ever-popular "Rhapsody in Blue," along with two crowd-pleasers from Ravel: the Concerto for the Left Hand and "La Valse."

Maybe the opening piece, Elliott Carter's "Variations for Orchestra," is what kept them away. Written in 1955, the variations have all the characteristics of Carter's mature style: short, seemingly disconnected phrases; an abundance of dissonance; lack of anything hummable. Fifty years ago, those aspects may have turned off audiences, but these days they sound relatively tame. In truth, the performance on this occasion was lush, fluid and immensely rewarding.

Mr. Robertson clearly likes Carter, and he compared the composer's technique to the train of thought. "It's like the way we think," he said in his introduction: "Ideas jump off." As evidenced by the program notes, musicologists can have a field day picking apart Carter's formal structures, but the real strength of the piece lies with its impression on the listener. If your ears are open, there's a lot to hear. Beginning with short, pithy phrases from throughout the orchestra, the sound congeals into a kind of jagged unanimity, with notes scattered across several octaves at once.

Mr. Robertson kept all these disparate elements well under control, moving fluidly from one section to the next, occasionally using sweeping gestures to propel the Symphony forward. By the last of nine variations a palpable tension had been established, wonderfully resolved in the Allegro molto conclusion, complete with a fanfare from the brass and timpani.

After respectful applause and subsequent stage entry of a piano, Mr. Hamelin appeared with both arms seemingly intact to play Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand. The pianist alternately rested his right hand on his right knee or anchored it on the bench for particularly vigorous passages. He needed all the anchoring he could get, for his left hand shortly displayed itself as an anatomic marvel of tremendous power and agility. Leaning heavily on the pedal, he generated a phenomenal sound, more than equal to the Symphony's exertions.

Mr. Hamelin swayed gently with eyes closed as he played, seemingly inhabiting the music. On occasion he arched his fingers into a kind of claw and descended upon the keyboard like a diving falcon, ensnaring his prey with pinpoint accuracy. The melodies rang out and the articulation was superb. Though limited to only five digits, he wrapped the entire auditorium in a gossamer veil of sound. Most important, he etched the Ravel concerto, which can often seem muddy, into a surprisingly well-defined, coherent whole. It's not one of the great concertos, but it's close.

After intermission, the 52-year old Canadian artist returned to play "Rhapsody in Blue," which began with a startlingly good clarinet solo and equally great contributions from the trumpets. After the raucous orchestral buildup, Hamelin--using both hands--calmed everyone down with a delicate solo played with the utmost tenderness. As with the Ravel, he so inhabited the music that he gave the impression that he was making it up as he went along. Each phrase led inexorably into the next in a truly bewitching performance.

The effect of Hamelin's and the Symphony's playing was like hearing "Rhapsody in Blue" for the first time. All those United Airlines commercials were purged from the brain, replaced by a work of undeniable power and originality. The Rhapsody may be "in blue," but this performance drew from the entire spectrum.

Playing Ravel's "La Valse" might seem anticlimactic after the glories of Gershwin, but Mr. Robertson and the Symphony invested the performance with the same degree of panache, so the choice ultimately made sense.

"La Valse" begins almost as if under water, with muted sounds coming from all directions. The conductor unveiled them gradually, using supple but expressive motions. As the sound gained in intensity, he provoked sharp outbursts and then settled into a demonic but controlled frenzy. "La Valse," written in the wake of the First World War, is about as ironic as music gets, recasting the imperishably happy waltz motif into a dance of death. Mr. Robertson enacted this role with vigor, transforming himself into an expiring ballet dancer as he hurled his arms to and fro across the podium. The end arrived with a bang, followed by sustained applause.