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Recital
DEMANDING VIOLIN SONATAS CONQUERED BY BEILMAN-WEISS DUO IN SCHROEDER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Violinist Benjamin Beilman’s ravishing Mozart performance at last summer’s Weill Hall ChamberFest finale lured an enthusiastic crowd to Schroeder Hall May 14 to hear if his secure virtuosity was up to a program of demanding sonatas. He did not disappoint. With the powerful pianist Orion Weiss in t...
Symphony
SOVIETS INVADE WEILL HALL, TAKE NO PRISONERS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 07, 2017
Bruno Ferrandis may be French, but he excels in Soviet repertoire. His Slavonic expertise was more than amply demonstrated at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s May 7 concert, where the program began joyfully with Khachaturian’s ballet suite from “Masquerade,” surged forward with Prokofiev’s second violin co...
Recital
MASTERFUL PIANISM IN GOODE'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, May 05, 2017
Pianist Richard Goode programmed an evening of treasures May 5 from four great composers, and is an artist of intimacy and intelligence, power and passion, able to go deep and to soar. Hearing Mr. Goode play this literature was a reminder of how music does indeed bridge worlds and time. Bach’s E m...
Recital
ELEGANT ORGAN SALUTE TO THE REFORMATION
by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Organist Jonathan Dimmock presented an April 30 recital in homage to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, playing Schroeder Hall’s wonderful Brombaugh instrument. Mr. Dimmock is the organist for the San Francisco Symphony, principal organist for the Palace of the Legion of Honor and teaches at...
Chamber
NOTES AND BARS DO NOT A PRISON MAKE
by Nicki Bell
Saturday, April 29, 2017
The Hermitage Piano Trio brought exuberant musicality and sumptuous sound to a packed house April 29 in Occidental's Performing Arts Center for the last concert in the Redwood Arts Council’s 37th season. With a wide interpretive range--from lush to delicate to passionate--these three young Russian v...
Recital
SCHUMANN AND BARTOK HIGHLIGHT BRONFMAN RECITAL IN WEILL
by Lee Ormasa
Friday, April 21, 2017
Those people once addicted to the “Angry Birds” game application likely suffered an auditory flashback during the opening measures of the allegro from Bartok’s Suite, Op. 14, the opening work in Yefim Bronfman’s April 21 recital at Weill Hall. The repetitive opening figures of the Bartok were...
Symphony
HULKING MAHLER "TITAN" AT SO CO PHIL'S SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 08, 2017
A composer’s first symphony rarely gives a clear indication of what beautiful complexities will follow over the years. Early Mozart and Tchaikovsky are examples, and the big exceptions to this axiom are the “firsts” of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Mahler. Tackling Mahler ‘s D Major Symphony (No. 1,...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY STAYS CLOSE TO HOME
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Santa Rosa Symphony concerts usually feature high-powered soloists imported from afar, but for their recent “Bring on the Strings” concert set, they stuck close to home, thrusting their principal violin, viola and cello into the limelight. The violinist (Joseph Edelberg) and the violist (Elizabeth P...
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
San Francisco Symphony / Thursday, November 21, 2013
Semyon Bychkov, conductor. Till Fellner, piano

Conductor Semyon Bychkov

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

by Steve Osborn
Thursday, November 21, 2013

One way to get a free glass of wine is to buy a ticket to a San Francisco Symphony concert at the Green Music Center, wait for a dark and stormy night, then stroll into Weill Hall and behold a nearly empty stage, with only a solitary cellist tuning his instrument.

That's what happened on Thursday evening, Nov. 21, when the Symphony's buses were delayed on Highway 101 by a fallen tree and a massive traffic jam. Promptly at 8, a Symphony representative walked on stage and announced that the concert would be postponed until 8:30, at which point GMC Executive Director Larry Furukawa-Schlereth announced that everyone would get a free glass of wine. A mass exodus ensued.

The stormy night provided a fitting context for the eventual program, which did begin as promised. The first half offered the brooding Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24, one of his few concertos in a minor key (C minor), and perhaps his most introspective. Mozart's anguish then gave way in the second half to Richard Strauss's ebullient "An Alpine Symphony," a veritable avalanche of sound, complete with wind and thunder machines.

Austrian pianist Till Fellner played the role of Mozart, who premiered his C minor concerto in April 1786 to a presumably befuddled Viennese audience. Unlike almost all his other concertos, the C minor is neither happy, nor flashy, nor crowd-pleasing. It's also not so much a piano concerto as a sinfonia concertante for woodwinds, who are featured throughout the work.

Fellner is an exceedingly correct pianist. He sits ramrod-straight on the piano bench, with nary a wasted motion. When playing, his elbows are just slightly bent, but somehow his fingers act as spring-loaded triggers, striking the keys with the utmost precision and fortitude.

Gently urged forward by guest conductor Semyon Bychkov, a reduced band of Symphony players intoned the concerto's doleful introduction, which sounds like the beginning of a march to the scaffold. The tempo was luxuriant, the motion fluid, the texture polished. Upon entry, Fellner was a model of restraint, playing his line with the utmost precision and extolling the virtues of quietude. His only release came during the operatic cadenza, which he played to perfection.

The restraint continued into the second movement, where Fellner offered an almost staccato approach to the deceptively simple melody (one note, then two, then three ascending, then five descending) that recurs throughout the Rondo form. His touch was feather-light, his timing impeccable.

The tempo was again luxurious in the finale, a set of variations with occasional glimpses of a major key within an ultimately triumphant minor mode. Fellner's left hand was particularly strong in bringing out the grim rhythms and moods that dominate the work. At the end, the applause from the nearly full house was subdued, without the customary ovation--but then it's hard to imagine anyone jumping up and cheering after such a somber work.

The ovation came at the end of the program, after an impassioned reading of Richard Strauss's "Alpine Symphony," the last in his long series of tone poems. The term "symphony" is actually a misnomer in this case because the work is just one long movement with 22 separate episodes, with little of the thematic development that one encounters in a typical symphony. Instead, it's all about painting pictures with sound.

Strauss works on a massive canvas with an inordinate number of brushes and colors. His score calls for about 130 players on a stupefying array of instruments, including not only the aforementioned wind and thunder machines, but also a heckelphone (bass oboe), four Wagner horns, innumerable percussion instruments, an organ, two harps and an offstage brass ensemble.

Keeping this menagerie under control is more than a challenge, but Bychkov seemed utterly unperturbed. He kept his feet firmly planted on the podium, compelling the orchestra to do his bidding through graceful movements of his baton and occasional shakes of his curly hair. The low, slow beginning ("Night") seemed almost frozen, with the violins barely moving their bows. In time, this gave way to a massive crescendo ("Sunrise") that threatened to break the windows.

And so it went throughout the misnamed symphony. Each of the 22 episodes came into being, offered its specific sonic image ("At the Waterfall," "On Flowering Meadows," "On the Glacier"), then either faded out or butted heads with the next. Within the episodes, the sound was often shimmering, iridescent and luminous, the spectacular result of Strauss's finely crafted orchestration.

Inevitably, the climax came toward the end, with a thoroughly convincing "Thunderstorm and Tempest." Everyone on stage played at top volume, and the percussionist manning the wind machine nearly tore his arm out of its socket while winding the contraption around and around. This prodigious display of force gradually morphed into a truly magical section beginning with the organ invoking the blessed silence of a church, followed by magisterial and gradually waning tones from the rest of the mighty ensemble. At the end, Bychkov held his hands aloft for a long moment before summoning the thunderous applause.