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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, September 12, 2013
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor. Yefim Bronfman, piano

Michael Tilson Thomas' Curtain Call in Weill Sept. 12

CHALLENGING WORKS FROM A POWERHOUSE ORCHESTRA

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, September 12, 2013

Launching the first fall season concert in Weill Hall, the San Francisco Symphony played a peculiarly challenging program Sept. 12 to an audience that was happy to encounter more than just the popular Tchaikovsky B Flat Piano Concerto.

"Challenging" was the operative word for the Third Prokofiev Symphony, a work from 1928 that has few current podium champions. One conductor who loves the work is Michael Tilson Thomas, and he drew an inspired and brilliant performance from his orchestra. This is a corrosive piece, not as easily assimilated as the composer’s First and Fifth Symphonies, and the audience of 1,100 seemed dazed at the initial clangor and dissonance of the opening Moderato. Mr. Thomas adopted a quick march-like tempo, and balances were critical, as the piece needs sonic space and careful baton control to convey the prevailing mood of unrest. Brass and tympani playing were terrific, and a lonely note from bassoonist Stephen Paulson ended the movement.

A bucolic Andante led into the third movement’s intricate string passages, the long first section sans winds or brass. The scintillating playing brought the music to a caricature of a high-level film score. There were virtuoso brass, flute and piccolo solos throughout.

Mr. Thomas drove the finale like a determined massive machine, plodding at first and really pretty grim until ending with heavy percussion blows and blaring but crystal-clear brass. The applause was strong but not overwhelming, perhaps more in admiration for the orchestra’s sonic achievement than appreciation of the complicated and demanding music.

Tchaikovsky’s Op. 23 Concerto, with Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman, concluded the first half. As in Mr. Bronfman’s Beethoven concerto performance last season with the same orchestra, the playing was replete hallmarks of his artistry--secure scales, a strong left hand and octaves that never failed him in a concerto crammed with fast two-hand octave passages. But as in his first Weill Hall performance, Mr. Bronfman brought little that was individual in his interpretation, and his habit of half-pedaling descending runs hampered clarity. Solos from clarinetist Carey Bell and flutist Tim Say were splendid, as was beautiful oboe playing from acting Principal Jonathan Fischer

Though Mr. Bronfman had the requisite power for the Concerto, the acoustics in the wonderful Weill Hall favor a big orchestra, and one wonders if even the most orchestral of pianists--powerhouses like Horowitz, Hofmann and even Anton Rubinstein--could be clearly heard in fortissimo passages over Mr. Thomas’ resounding orchestra.

The concert opened with Canadian composer Zosha Di Castri's 12-minute exploration of eerie sound, Lineage (2013). Written for Miami’s New World Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony, the piece is a mournful and haunting set of recurring small themes, flitting about with sharp contrasting passages. Ms. Di Castri, in the audience and greeted by the conductor at the work’s conclusion, asks for a large orchestra to produce a ghostly tapestry of sound, and I counted five percussionists (with loud bells, chimes, and marimba), piano and celesta. It was daring music in its whirling and spooky way, a highlight of the evening, and received a glorious performance and a happily intrigued audience reaction. Lineage is a colorful candidate for entering the San Francisco Symphony’s repertoire.

Though the hall’s galleries were full, many orchestra-level seats were conspicuously empty at this concert, perhaps reflecting the husky ticket prices for prime seats.