September 4, 2012

Fresh Orchestra Concerts For Fall

By Jeff Dunn

You don’t want a visit to a symphony concert to feel like a stale old motel room: You need a place where the window can open and let in some fresh air. Below are my picks for some of the best aerated programs of the upcoming season.

Adams Family, Funeral: San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas and Samuel Carl AdamsGustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 is no stranger to San Francisco, but like Beethoven’s Fifth, which inspired its opening trumpet fanfare, it is one of the old glories of the repertoire, especially when conducted by one of the finest Mahler interpreters on the planet. Michael Tilson Thomas is one of the few conductors I know who can make sense of the problematic second movement that follows a gargantuan funeral march. And to start the program, Samuel Carl Adams, son of Nixon in China’s John Adams, contributes a new work, Drift and Providence, which he calls “a narrative about the stability of place.” He can’t mean the Bay Area, with its San Andreas et. al., but perhaps you can tell from attending the concert and listening to excerpts on his website.

San Francisco Symphony, Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, Sept. 28-29, 8 p.m.; Sept. 30, 2 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $34-$146, (415) 864-6000.

ATerrible Concert: San Francisco Symphony

Vladimir JurowskiMany are familiar with Serge Prokofiev’s strikingly descriptive music for Serge Eisentstein’s film Alexander Nevsky. He also wrote equally expansive music, with vocal soloists and chorus, for another Eisenstein film extravaganza, Ivan the Terrible (1944). Vladimir Jurowski, who has been described as affecting his London Symphony patrons with “open-mouthed engagement,” will be making his debut appearance here. The all-Russian program also includes Alexander Scriabin’s first orchestral work, Reverie, and the ever-favorite second piano concerto of Rachmaninov with soloist Khatia Buniatishvili, who impressed San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Joshua Kosman with her “dynamic and imaginative” artistry at her debut here in January.

San Francisco Symphony, Ivan the Terrible, Oct. 18-20, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $34-$146, (415) 864-6000.

Deuces Wild: San Francisco Symphony

Yuja WangTwo superstars will be playing two No. 2 concertos too difficult for most other mortals. You’ll have to watch them on two different days, but you get to hear Rachmaninov’s tuneful Symphony No. 2 twice. Yuja Wang does Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on October 31; then Lang Lang comes on board to perform the boisterous Bartók Piano Concerto No. 2 on November 1-2.

San Francisco Symphony, MTT and Yuja Wang, Oct. 31, 8 p.m., and MTT and Lang Lang, Nov. 1-2, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall, $34-$146, (415) 864-6000.

Celebrating Democracy: Oakland East Bay Symphony

The Oakland East Bay Symphony concludes the national election work week with all American composers. One of the most beautiful melodies ever written for clarinet begins Aaron Copland’s Concerto, which will be performed by OEBS’s new principal clarinetist, Bill Kalinkos.

Music Director Michael Morgan has also programmed attractive but less familiar works by Augustus Hailstork (An American Fanfare) and Olly Wilson (Episodes for Orchestra). The OEBS will finish with the Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s West Side Story.

Oakland East Bay Symphony, Celebrating Democracy, Nov. 9, 8 p.m.,

Signs of Their Times, Berkeley Symphony

Joana CarneiroBerkeley Symphony and their music director, Joana Carneiro deeply engage contemporary symphonic music in all its diversity. The amazing piano concerto of Gyögy Ligeti (1923-2006) still challenges performers and audience alike. The world premiere commission by 21-year-old John Adams’ protégé Dylan Mattingly, who befriended a Cabrillo Festival audience with his I was a Stranger this summer, will provide a contrasting idea of what “contemporary” music means. Then you can reflect on how different both of them are from Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2. The dynamic Israeli pianist Shai Wosner solos in the Ligeti.

Berkeley Symphony, The Rebels, Dec. 6, 8 p.m., Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, $15-$68, (510) 841-2800.

Jeff Dunn is a freelance critic with a B.A. in music and a Ph.D. in geologic education. A composer of piano and vocal music, he is a member of the National Association of Composers, USA, a former president of Composers, Inc., and has served on the Board of New Music Bay Area. A photomontage enthusiast, he illustrates his own reviews.