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1.4.08

Alan Gilbert and San Francisco Symphony

Photo of Conductor Alan Gilbert by Mats Lundquist
Conductor Alan Gilbert, photo by Mats Lundquist
Last Wednesday evening, Alan Gilbert, the New York Philharmonic's Music Director-designate, led the San Francisco Symphony in the works of Steven Stucky, Mozart, and Nielsen at Davies Hall. Arriving on the heels of (Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director-designate Gustavo Dudamel’s performances with the orchestra the weekend before, Gilbert brought the sober, yet stylish stability consistent with what was recently experienced in his Curtis Symphony performance. Why were Dudamel’s performances sold out, and Gilbert’s not?

Dudamel reportedly had the orchestra eating out of his hand, though they generally did not sound markedly better than what Gilbert achieved. Hence, besides a full house and cooperative musicians, what does Dudamel have that Gilbert lacks? Dudamel’s impassioned raw charisma must be truly inspiring for all audiences, yet Gilbert’s objective, northern-European manner and mastery of structural phrasing must not be discounted. Regardless, it is fantastic that a new generation of promising conductors will soon be cultivating their respective American orchestras.

Pianist Richard Goode’s reading (with a score) of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat, K. 456, was truly magical. The potential for the sonic melting of piano and orchestral strings was fully exploited through the subtle shadings of Goode and the orchestra. Flexibility was found only within strict larger beats, while volume and tempi were always reserved, inviting the audience to listen closely. Since themes in the second and third movements both begin with four repeated notes, Goode was sure to vary the inflection of each note. The wind section – in particular the hopping bassoons – impressed in the second movement. It was a pleasure to be able to observe the approach to the keyboard, where each note was struck with the finger first touching the key. Accuracy and control of tone are increased by never striking from above. Goode’s perpetual contortions of his mouth, however, reminded one of a hungry goldfish.

Other Reviews:

Joshua Kosman, Gilbert brings out fierceness, fun in Nielsen's Second Symphony (San Francisco Chronicle, March 28)

Richard Scheinin, Getting the most out of Mozart (San Jose Mercury News, March 28)
Nielsen’s Symphony No. 2 (“The Four Temperaments”) musically explores how an excess of four bodily fluids – yellow bile (choleric), phlegm (phlegmatic), black bile (melancholic), and blood (sanguine) – may affect mood based on theories traced to Greek times. The supposedly irritable first movement featured bursts of color, brilliant brass, and a thrilling tempo with Gilbert constructing large shapes and phrases. The phlegmatic second movement contained a cautious, worrying disposition, which never broke free from anxiety. The oboe solos in the tragic third movement were poignant, while optimistic string material was devastated by harsh chords from the low brass. Nielsen allowed the timpanist to have too much fun in the bouncy, manic final movement.

Gilbert, always deft at seeing the big picture while holding together immediate details and nuance, tapped into the full power of Nielsen’s music and the SF Symphony’s confident musicians. Additionally, after years as Chief Conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Gilbert seemingly has an affinity for Nielsen's music. The program opened with Steven Stucky’s Son et lumière (1988), a brief string of percussive jolts and clever orchestral textures.

1 comment:

Joe and Betsy said...

mike! it's joe & betsy... just wanted to say hi, this blog looks great! not sure if you have our blog address, but its:

web.mac.com/joeandbetsy7

Hope all is going well in D.C., we'll see you next Christmas for the big trip - if not before then!