Thursday, January 15, 2009

MTT conducts Berg & Brahms

San Francisco Symphony
Fri, Jan 9, 2009 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Michael Tilson Thomas

COPLAND: Our Town, Music from the Film Score
BERG: Three Pieces for Orchestra, Opus 6
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Opus 68

This concert was billed as "MTT conducts Brahms's First", but I was here for the Berg. However, it took a bit of time to get there & back. The Copland film music sounds very much like film music. A simple, repeated motive in the strings easily established a mood of peacefulness & laziness. It was the most conscientiously conducted piece of the evening.

The Copland lulled us into an only temporary sense of comfort. As if to reassure us, MTT talked for a good 5 minute before the Three Pieces. I fear that he inadvertently used language that disparaged the composition. He described the primordial opening as "noise", then quickly corrected himself, so as not to offend the actual percussion section. He then went on to label the melodic fragments as "flotsam & jetsam" & "aimless", which makes them sound like trash or wreckage. I think the opposite process is happening here; the music is being built up & coalescing.

I found myself in the front row of the orchestra for this concert. This is not an ideal seat, but it did work nicely for the Berg in one way. It allowed me to hear all the string parts, which are easily buried by the heavy brass & percussion orchestration. Technically correct execution of this work must be difficult to pull off, but this performance sounded very straight-forward. An audience member belched perfectly in time with the end of the 2nd movement. Perhaps after a century we can say that the 2nd Viennese School has been a flop with audiences.

With the Brahms, everyone was back on familiar ground. MTT started the 1st movement at an alarmingly fast tempo. Through the whole piece, he seemed to be conducting along with the orchestra, as opposed to being ahead of it. The result was a somewhat loose interpretation with not much dynamic range. Even though I found the evening a bit slack, it was a program of first-rate music. I am looking forward to the Berg/Schubert programs later in the season.

But what I really want to know is, who were those guys with the great mustaches in the left terrace?

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