Saturday, May 24, 2008

SFS Brahms Festival

San Francisco Symphony Brahms Festival
Thursday, May 22, 2008 at 8:00pm

Pre-concert Chamber Music
Brahms String Quartet No. 3 in B-flat major, Opus 67
Chen Zhao violin
Amy Hiraga violin
Nancy Ellis viola
Peter Wyrick cello

Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Laura Claycomb, soprano
Matthias Goerne, baritone
SFS Chorus

Brahms Geistliches Lied
Brahms Four Songs for Women's Chorus
Brahms A German Requiem

When I purchased my ticket early in the day, the box office told me that there would be chamber music at 7:00pm, so I returned in time for this very nice extra. We were asked to sit as close to the stage as possible, & the house lights were kept up for the 1/2 hour performance. The quartet sounded great. There was good communication between the players, the ensemble was taut, & they looked like they were having a great time. It even managed to feel intimate, as chamber music should. I ended up enjoying this unexpected treat more than the concert itself. The quartet seemed to like it too. We heard one of them give a victorious whoop once he was off-stage.

The concert itself belonged to the chorus. Indeed, for the short 1st half, MTT was standing in front of a nearly empty orchestra. The contrapuntal Geistliches Lied was an appropriate mood-setting curtain-raiser. The Four Songs for Women's Chorus, however, seemed not quite a good fit for the rest of the program. They are a bit frilly, & the music didn't seem to match the melancholy texts. The women's chorus is accompanied by 2 horns & a harp, all nicely played.

The Requiem had 2 excellent soloists. Laura Claycomb was steely voiced, & Goerne gave us his smooth, solid sound. Aside from a chance to hear the Requiem, he was the main reason I attended, even though I knew his contribution would be brief. Goerne was confident enough to use no music. There was some beautiful orchestral playing as well, especially from the woodwinds.

I sat in the side terrace, overlooking the orchestra. I'd never sat here before. The balance was sometimes odd, but it was fun to see the conductor from the orchestra's point of view. I felt like I was a behind the scenes. I was also close enough to wave to someone I recognized in the chorus.

From my vantage point, I caught the Mark Ruffalo lookalike violinist, though hidden behind the organ console, getting lost & bowing the wrong way in the final bars of Herr, lehre doc mich. He seems to be a chatty guy too.

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