Thursday, June 11, 2009

MTT and Gil Shaham

Dawn to Twilight
A Schubert/Berg Festival
MTT and Gil Shaham
Wed, Jun 10, 2009 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas - conductor

Gil Shaham - violin

Laura Aikin - soprano
Kelley O’Connor - mezzo-soprano
Bruce Sledge - tenor
Nicholas Phan - tenor
Jeremy Galyon - baritone

San Francisco Symphony Chorus
Ragnar Bohlin - director

BERG: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
SCHUBERT: Mass No. 6 in E-flat major, D.950

I attended this program looking forward to the Berg Violin Concerto, though I remain skeptical about these Schubert/Berg pairings, which result in programs with a pronounced split personality. After MTT & the soloist Gil Shaham came on stage, MTT turned to us, reiterated his theme of the composers' belief in the "power of notes", & gave a lengthy tour of the Violin Concerto, complete with excerpts played by the orchestra & the soloist. Mr. Shaham gave an extroverted & assured performance of what must be a very technically challenging concerto. I liked watching him adeptly execute the finger-tangling left hand pizzicatos. He had the music on stage with him, though he didn't seem to refer to it much. Instead, he made a good deal of flirtatious eye contact with the conductor & concert mistress Nadya Tichman. MTT worked to make the orchestral counter-melodies clear. I think this is a very sad piece, but Mr, Shaham's interpretation was far from sad. I was close enough to the stage to enjoy the mellow & burnished sound of his instrument, especially in its extreme lower & upper ranges.

I don't believe I had heard the Schubert Mass before. It is a major work, lasting around an hour & dominated by the chorus. It is melodic & sometimes grand, though it seems to replace symphonic development with much repetition. The soloists sing for only a few minutes each. Schubert doesn't really give them enough material to justify their presence as a separate on-stage force. The large number of personnel kept together well, though I felt that more could have been done to give the performance an over-all musical shape.

As far as the whole Schubert/Berg concept goes, I stay unconvinced. However, I am very glad for the chance to hear Berg's tight & overwrought music.

More Opinions (06.12.2009)
The Opera Tattler posted an exceedingly polite reaction. The Ambassador had a very satisfactory experience. Joshua Kosman definitely got more out of the evening than I did. SFMike was impressed (& captured yet another revealing photo of yours truly). Cedric was an attentive listener.

In my original post I failed to mention that this week's performances of the Schubert Mass are dedicated to the memory of Peter Shelton, a member of the cello section for many years & a very nice guy. I met him once many years ago when he was my sister's coach.


Gavin Plumley said...

The problem with the pairing here is that Schubert is decidedly un-Bachian. Given the distinct homage in Berg's second movement to the Meister from Leipzig, wouldn't it have made more sense to pair it with some of his work. Schubert's innately classical posturing in the choral music must have rung very false next to Berg's earnest chorale setting.

Axel Feldheim said...

Thanks for the astute observations on this evening's program. I totally agree that it would have been cool to figure out a way to get more Bach in the concert... but then it wouldn't be a "Berg/Schubert Festival" anymore, would it?

The Schubert Mass may have appealed to MTT simply because he wanted to end with something that has a lot of people on stage. Unfortunately, this comparison between the 2 composers is making me think that I don't like Schubert that much, which is surely the wrong take-away.

Ced said...

I would argue that the Mass is as Bach-ian as anything Schubert would write. It's all fugue all the way through, and it even borrows some themes from the Wohltemperierte Klavier. That was the best pairing of the 3 concerts I attended. It did feel MTT was trying to match red wine with fish though. I love Schubert, but in a more intimate setting. And MTT seemed more comfortable chatting about and conducting Berg.

Axel Feldheim said...

Thanks for your red-wine-and-fish analogy, Cedric. I confess that I have no qualms about drinking vin rouge with my fish, but I remain unconvinced by the pairing this evening. Indeed, MTT certainly enjoys talking to the audience about Berg.