San Francisco Symphony's Michael Tilson Thomas
Adams, Prokofiev, Ravel Swoop and Soar
By: Susan Hall - Nov 21, 2014
San Francisco Orchestra
Conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas
Gil Shaham, Violin
New York Choral Artists
Joseph Flummerfelt, Director
Samuel Adams, Drift and Providence
Sergei Prokofiev, Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
Maurice Ravel, Daphnis and Chloe
New York, New York
November 20, 2014
The sound of the evening was unusual and lushly thrilling. It suited the San Francisco Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas perfectly. Conventional wisdom places the newest pieces first so people don't exit after warhorses. On reflection, I liked hearing backwards and forward through Adams, Prokofiev and Ravel. Adams grew out of these composers, but what was novel about them in their time stood out having listened to Adams.
All three composers listen to sounds around them and translate them into a musical form. Adams talks about learning 'noise,' which is sometimes defined as "the sound something makes," but at other times more closely related to composition and called "unorganized sound."
Drift and Providence, the second Violin Concerto and Daphnes and Chloe are all organized. But some of the sounds are unusual. In the electronic part of Adams' piece, one critic heard silverware cascading. I heard rattling on an old-fashioned washboard. Adams was in back of the hall, capturing these sounds and then playing them again as the piece proceeded.
Place is also captured. Adams is in San Francisco, the city of wharfs and buoys and water lapping on the shore. Prokofiev had just returned to his native Russia and we hear its folk songs and dances in this Concerto. Ravel, on assignment for Diaghalev and opening his ear to the sounds of Greek myth and the flap of dancers limbs soaring through the air, suggests mythology and great breaths.
Long takes, wide swoops, characterize all three composers. The San Francisco Symphony performs with a seemingly reckless abandon, and yet the music is held together by precision and an incessant beat.
The Second violin concerto was performed by Gil Shaham, an American born, Israeli-trained dynamo. The lyrical passages of the concerto are like those of Romeo and Juliet. Buoyant, gay and lively. Pungent. The piece had originally been given to Robert Soetens, the French violinist, on a year's exclusive and together Prokofiev and Soetens toured Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisa.
None of the mocking, grotesque effects which had astonished listeners in the development section of the first concerto are present. There are fewer harsh timbres and harmonies. We heard a more restrained and gentle play of tone colors. It is written in a simpler more intimate style. This does not surprise, because Prokofiev had first intended it be in a sonata.