Friday, March 31, 2006

Rostropovich leads SF Symphony 1

On Friday 24th I went to the hear Rostropovich conduct his 1st of 2 Shostakovich programs with the SF symphony. I sat in the center section of the 1st tier.

The program opened with the Festive Overture, which was very loud & very fun. Almost too loud & too fun, which maybe is the point. Rostropovich likes lots of sound. He often let the brasses just play out, which covered everything else. It was evident that the orchestra was going to play very nicely for him. The ensemble was much cleaner than for any of the other programs I've heard this season. This first piece also put me at ease regarding the conductor's age. Rostropovich must be at least 80, but he walked on & off stage really fast & seemed to have no physical limitations on the podium.

Yefim Bronfman performed the 1st Piano Concerto. I liked his aggressive, almost crazed, approach. He has a really strong left hand & can play very fast & very clear. At every opportunity he just attacked the music. My favorite moment was when he actually stood up to play the chord that punctuates the long trumpet solo in the middle of the 3rd movement. He definitely got the extra sound by doing this!

The 2nd half of the program was the 5th Symphony. I don't think that Rostropovich is a great conductor, but at least he has a musical personality & was shaping the music. He created truly soft pianissimos that left the audience hushed. He can build up to a climax that is heavy, loud & gritty. Rostropovich was at least communicating some ideas about the music. None of the other conductors I've heard this season have managed to do just that.

At the end of the symphony Rostropovich received a huge ovation. When he came back for a bow, he made a point of shaking hands warmly with the leaders of each section. After his 3rd curtain call, he grabbed the concert master & pulled them off stage with him in order to end the evening.

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