I heard the SF Symphony last Friday, and as usual, it was spectacular. It was the last performance I’ll hear this season, so it was also a little bittersweet. I have to remind myself that anticipation can be a good thing. I can’t wait for next season!
The program only consisted of two pieces, but they were both blockbusters. The first was the world premiere of XII/The Grand Encounter, a timpani concerto (!) commissioned for MTT‘s birthday. It was written by by William Kraft, one of the instrument’s true authorities. He was the LA Philharmonic‘s principal timpanist for decades, and his resume boasts a list of performance chairs, fellowships, and commissions longer than my arm. Even so, I was skeptical that a timpani could hold the spotlight for an entire concerto.
Kraft convinced me. He used a massive percussion section, sliding tones from the strings, and a timpani rack custom-built for the piece. The piece itself was an emphatically modern soundscape. What it lacked in melody, it more than made up for in tonality and ambience. The timpani solo part and the orchestra blended very organically. The end result was striking, unsettling, and achingly beautiful. I can’t wait to get my hands on a recording.
The headliner was Beethoven’s Ninth, which never fails to bring down the house. For me, Beethoven is one of a handful of composers who truly define the Romantic period. The first movent of the Ninth is stirring, and seminal, but you’ll barely remember it after the adrenaline from the second movement hits your veins. It must be a blast to play that part with a world-class orchestra. Even better, the SFS Chorus is over 150 voices strong, so the last movement resonates in person with a richness that can only be experienced in person.
For my money, though, the third movement’s andante was by far the most compelling part. During the variations, the counterpart between the violin and cello seemed effortless, almost lighter than air. The audience was spellbound long after the final notes faded away. They definitely took my breath away.
Even so, this season didn’t quite measure up to last season. First, I lost my regular symphony date, whom I miss horribly. The symphony, like everything else in life, isn’t the same with anyone else. Second, since I moved down to the peninsula, I got a package at Flint Center instead of Davies. It’s functional, and the commute is easier, but it just doesn’t do the music justice. Davies is a world-class venue, and I miss it. I’ll definitely have to head back to San Francisco next year!