13 March 2007

sounding brass, tinkling cymbal

I was a regular attendee at the Boston Symphony when I lived there, but ever since I moved back to the Bay Area I’d be tapped out by the end of the opera season and the Symphony season would slip away. We like to think it’s all about truth and beauty, but it’s really all about time and money. I’ve made more of an effort recently, but I still find that most of the programs I’ve gone to have featured singers. Maybe it’s just the physical aspect of singing that is so alluring. (It’s certainly not Davies Hall – although I’ve adjusted to the shock of going from Boston Symphony Hall to Davies, I don’t have to like it.) I was tempted by Robin Holloway’s Concerto for Orchestra, because he wrote an opera based on one of my favorite novels, Clarissa (not that I’ve had a chance to hear that, or much else he’s written – I did go to the Clarissa excerpts the symphony did a few years ago, but the soprano was sick and her place was taken at the last minute by a flute or violin so it wasn’t an entirely satisfactory evening, though I liked the music well enough). But my idea of economizing in the face of job loss is to buy tickets to five performances instead of six or seven, and Mr. Holloway had to go.

But early in the season I went to the Berlioz/Foss/Brahms concert, mostly because Dawn Upshaw was singing Foss’s Time Cycle. Since she ended up canceling her Cal Performances recital (be well, Dawn!) I was glad in retrospect I went, though the evening seemed a little odd. Usually I can see some connection among the various pieces, but this one seemed put together by the Random Concert Generator – first the zippy overture to Benvenuto Cellini, then the Foss, and then a very loud performance of the Brahms 4. There was the little speech to the audience before the Foss. Tilson Thomas has clearly not taken to heart my dislike for these little speeches. Fine, dude – whatever. Just don’t come crying to me if you overheard the man behind me say, “You know you’re in trouble when they have to talk about the piece first.” Yes, the Introductory Speech During the Concert is the new “You’ll love X – he has a great personality!”

Later on I was given tickets to Radu Lupu playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto 20, which was lovely, and preceded by lovely Haydn. After the intermission there was a composer new to me, Roberto Gerhard, and then de Falla’s familiar Dances from the Three-Cornered Hat. I was disappointed in the Gerhard. I don’t know quite what I was expecting after reading the excited program notes, but I just didn’t find it in his Concerto for Orchestra, which kind of went on, and of course the Davies audience thinks anything they haven’t heard before is something they can talk through, so that was irritating. But the de Falla ended the performance on a good note.

But with my usual knack for being in the right place but at the wrong time, I’d love to be at the Boston Symphony now – between the Schoenberg festivals and the Carter/Babbitt commissions I’d be standing in solidarity with Jimmy Levine, and I suspect he needs all the support for those programs that he can get, unless the Boston audience has changed a lot since I was there.

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