Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti, 1st Night

SF Symphony, 02.14.2012 San Francisco Symphony patron viewing exhibit on the Symphony's history in the 1st tier lobby.As part of their Centennial Season, the SF Symphony is presenting 2 concerts of the Chicago Symphony, conducted by Riccardo Muti. A huge orchestra with lots of percussion was on stage for the 1st half of Tuesday night's program. It began with Honegger's Pacific 231. It was short but raucous. The chugging rhythms clearly evoke the locomotive the piece is named after. The orchestra showed off its blended brass sound, & the strings made driving & astringent sounds. I was impressed by Maestro Muti's springy motions on the podium. It was a breathless way to start.

This was followed by Alternative Energy, a large 4 movement work by Mason Bates, Chicago Symphony's composer-in-residence. The piece has a detailed program about industrial landscapes. The 1st section features a funky metallic percussion section & a ratchety car motor crank, which the player turns at various speeds. There's also a hoedown-like violin solo which returns at the end of the piece. Pre-recorded sounds enter in the 2nd movement. The speakers are placed around the stage, so the samples have a spatial dimension & swoop around the orchestra. We hear factory noises, hydraulic lifts & warning buzzers, launched in jazzy, syncopated rhythms. The 3rd movement introduces mysterious high-pitched crackling, & chirping birds emerge in the 4th movement. The recorded sounds interweave with the orchestra, which plays colorful musical fragments in stomping rhythyms reminiscent of house music. The whole thing has a youthful, optimistic feel & was great fun to listen to. There was a huge response from the audience & bravos for Mr. Bates. The appearance of Mr. Bates confused the woman seated next to me, who said that she had expected the composer to be a woman. She showed me Anna Clyne's name in the program, & I pointed out that she was looking at the pieces for the following night. I guess she was not surprised that an Entr'acte by Schubert sounded like the 20th century Honegger.

The 2nd half was contrastingly restrained. Maestro Muti led a controlled, muted performance of the Franck Symphony. The orchestral balances were very even & soft. There was one shimmering climax in the final movement, but otherwise it was a reticent interpretation. The audience responded warmly, & there was a scattered standing ovation. Someone near me shouted for an encore. However, after conferring with the 1st chair players, Maestro Muti waved goodbye to us & walked off the stage, followed by the orchestra.

§ Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti
Riccardo Muti, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Honegger: Pacific 231
Mason Bates: Alternative Energy (CSO commission)
Franck: Symphony in D minor 

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall


sfmike said...

Consider me an outsider to the crowd on this occasion, because I thought the Mason Bates piece was silly and a waste of a great orchestra on tour. I enjoyed the first piece I heard by him last year with the SF Symphony, "B Sides," but this was exactly the same piece only both more ambitious and stupider, accompanied by a ridiculous global-warming-end-of-the-world "program."

The first movement sounded like Copland filtered through early John Adams. The second movement started out interesting with all its varied sampled sounds, but got dull fast. The third movement, supposedly set in a polluted China 100 years in the future struck me as absurd, with its opening Oriental kitsch followed by gruesome techno house music played too loud on the surroundsound speakers, where my only thought was "Are people still listening to that boring shit 100 years in the future?" The fourth movement set in "the rainforest in Reyjkjavik" 200 years in the future, with its mixture of recorded bird sounds and Jamaican steel drums was just Gruesome Kitsch.

By the end, I was praying for the world to end.

Axel Feldheim said...

Before this, I'd only ever heard short pieces by Mason Bates, & I thought Alternative Energy was fun & youthful. I did not read up on the detailed program until after. Mr. Bates is an earnest young man.

I definitely heard the Copland, John Adams, & techno music, as well as Antheil & Bartok. The chirping birds reminded me of the Respighi's Pines of Rome. At least he didn't use whale songs! I find the use of electronic music & amplification in the concert hall to be obnoxious, but I let Mr. Bates get away with it this time because there's no other way to get the effects he wanted.

David Lasson said...

I can assure you that Muti's reticence about the Franck symphony is nothing compared to mine: indeed, I am afraid to be within a mile radius of where it's being performed, for fear of being swept up into its whirlwind of banality. What a waste of the CSO's magnificence.

Axel Feldheim said...

Even though I loved the opportunity to hear CSO in my home town, I did not feel like either program really showed off the orchestra to best effect.