May 18, 2012
The Barbary Coast concert at Davies Hall on Thursday, May 10th was completely different from what I’d expected. I’d anticipated classical music--quiet, refined and maybe a bit hard to stay awake during. Instead, the concert was a musical history of San Francisco from the Gold Rush to a decade after the 1906 earthquake.
There was a huge range of pieces, from a banjo rendition of Hard Times Come Again No More to Verdi. In Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, there was musical saw, by far my favorite part of the concert. It had a strange, wobbly vibrato sound, almost like an opera singer. I was also impressed by Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique. Cameron Carpenter, the organ soloist wore a vest which sparkled in the stage light. I’d never heard organ music before, and I liked it very much. The organ, with its complex harmonies and rhythms, was practically an entire orchestra all by itself.
The most fun part of the concert was Val Diamond’s narration. She had the best gossip on musicians from San Francisco history, told in a very funny style.
The concert ended with three sung pieces, Hello Frisco Hello, from Ziegfeld’s Follies, and two classic San Francisco songs, San Francisco, and California Here I Come. The audience was invited to sing along (and did, a little quietly). For Hello Frisco Hello, Val Diamond and the soloist Laura Claycomb sang together. It was strange to hear Val Diamond’s big brassy voice with Laura Claycomb’s delicate, pretty soprano. The audience didn’t know that song, but as Val Diamond said, “You’ll all be singing it in the shower tomorrow.”
Not every piece was equally strong (of course). A Mountain Vision, by the Danish violinist Ole Bull, went on too long, though violin soloist Vadim Glazman displayed impressive playing across his range. Saint-Saens’s combination of The Star Spangled Banner with The Marseillaise was overly loud, and the two songs didn’t fit well together. But overall, the concert was interesting and enjoyable, and not your usual night at the symphony.