Saturday, February 19, 2011

SFCO: Now or Never

San Francisco Chamber OrchestraIt's impressive that the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra can present all their concerts with free admission. This program required only a wind octet, yet it spanned 4 centuries of music, included 2 world premieres & featured a screening of Harold Lloyd's Now or Never. We sat in the 1st row of the balcony, which was sparsely populated. Downstairs was more crowded, but it was not competitive to find seats.

Conductor Ben Simon is a friendly presence, giving the pre-concert talk & making introductory remarks before each piece. The concert opened with a Gabrieli Canzona, the 2 trumpets & 2 trombones playing from the stage, without a conductor. Before the Stravinsky Octet, Maestro Simon introduced Painter in Residence Peggy Gyulai. 3 of her large, vertical, abstract canvases were on the stage next to the musicians. Each corresponds to a movement of the Octet & is inspired by a different artist: Chagall, Calder & Klee. Even though they were right on the stage, I found that I did not look at them during the actual performance.

Cindy Cox's Cañon is a companion piece to the Stravinsky Octet & uses the identical instrumentation. Maestro Simon demonstrated how the opening riff for 2 bassoons links it directly to the Octet. It is a 20 minute piece in 3 movements, convincingly evoking South American landscapes, often in a literal way, through the use of extended techniques such as multiphonics on the clarinet & bassoon or quiet whistling sounds from the flute. The 1st movement has a lot of dynamic contrast & an exciting ending with all the instruments winding higher & higher. In the 2nd movement the ensemble made comical whines & the flutist made sounds by clicking his keys. Something, perhaps the trombone, sounded like a didgeridoo. The 3rd movement used a motif based on the overtone series, making me think of an exotic version of the prelude to Das Rheingold. The piece ends softly. Ms. Cox was present & came on stage to take a bow.

After intermission, Maestro Simon jokingly told us, "I know you're really here to see the movie." Donald Sosin's movie score is so tightly synced to the film that the conductor wore headphones so he could hear a click track. The music has a period jazz feel, with references to classical pieces & children's songs thrown in. The music parallels all the action, sometimes changing with each cut. The musicians seemed very coordinated with the movie. Most of it takes place on a moving train, a prop I usually associate with Buston Keaton. It also stars a small toddler, whose excessive cuteness is part of the joke. Mr. Sosin was present & came on stage to shake hands with each musician.

§ San Francisco Chamber Orchestra
Main Stage Concert #2: Now or Never

Benjamin Simon, conductor

Flute: Tod Brody
Clarinet: Peter Josheff
Bassoons: Karla Ekholm & Carolyn Lockhart
Trumpets: Kale Cummings & John Freeman
Trombones: Craig McAmis & Bruce Chrisp

Giovanni Gabrieli: Canzona per Sonare #4
Igor Stravinsky: Octet for Wind Instruments (1923)
Cindy Cox: Cañon (2011) [SFCO Commission & World Premiere]
Donald Sosin: Now or Never (2011) [SFCO Commission & World Premiere]

Fri, Feb 18 @8:00pm
Herbst Theatre

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