February 15, 2016
Last weekend, word came from Philadelphia and Berlin of musicians prominent in the Bay Area: San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, S.F. Symphony Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt, and (are you listening Crowden School?) Noah Bendix-Balgley, concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic.
MTT, 71, came to the rescue of the Philadelphia Orchestra on a short notice when the scheduled Metropolitan Opera Music Director James Levine, 72, long ailing, canceled a series of concerts. There is also news for San Francisco where MTT last conducted in November, not due to return until March 30: He had been "on a composing break and had reportedly finished his work early," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Inquirer notes MTT "expressed admiration for Levine's 'unmatched musicianship,' and wished him a speedy return to conducting." He will lead some of the original program on Feb. 18-20, retaining the Brahms Serenade No. 2 from Levine's program, but adding Ives' "Decoration Day" from A Symphony: New England Holidays and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2 ("Little Russian").
Levine is currently undergoing a modification of his medical regimen to minimize adverse physical effects of Parkinson’s disease. "Results of his recent therapy are positive," Levine's doctor said, "but the physical demands of travel, rehearsal, and concert performance would be detrimental to his current medical treatment."
On Saturday, the New York Times reported that Metropolitan Opera executives are debating how and when Levine should bid farewell to the position he has held for four decades because "continuing health problems have made it difficult for many performers to follow his conducting."
Blomstedt, in robust health at age 88, is due in Davies Hall for a Beethoven-Bruckner series of concerts, Feb. 25-27, and all-Mozart concerts, March 2-5. Last week, he led the Berlin Philharmonic and traveling Berkeley concert-goer Ed Gordon emailed:
They absolutely love him in Berlin. Friday night, Blomstedt led the BPO in [Franz] Berwald's rarely-performed Symphony No. 3 in C major (Sinfonie Singulière) and the Dvorak Seventh. During one of the final curtain calls, Blomstedt walked far into the orchestra to shake hands with all of the wind principals as the audience shouted its agreement.
Then, after several more rounds of applause, concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley led the orchestra members off the stage. Much of the audience was unsatisfied as the applause continued. Finally, Blomstedt made a last appearance on the otherwise empty stage to a thundering ovation. As usual, he conducted the entire concert from memory, unopened score on the stand.