Wednesday night's San Francisco Symphony performance conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy was pretty much a failure by every measure. I can't recall the last time I left Davies with such an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. This was particularly acute because the last performance of the SF Ballet's very well received last performance of Program 4 was taking place across the street at the War Memorial and the only thing that kept me from changing my ticket and going across the street was the extremely long line to get tickets and the ridiculous 7:30 starting time for the ballet. Once again, I made the wrong decision based on hope and convenience.
Was there anything good about this evening's performance? No. For the entire evening Ashkenazy seemed out of sorts, as if he had just gotten off a plane an hour earlier and really had no idea wtf he was going to do with this mess of a program. Who put this program together? More importantly, wtf was I thinking when I bought a ticket? Oh yeah, I remember now- the idea of Ashkenazy conducting Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto along with two other pieces, both of which I've never heard, one commissioned by Ashkenzay himself, at one point held the prospect of a great evening of music.
Sometimes life disappoints us, no?
The evening started with a train wreck by Steven Gerber called Music in Dark Times. Has there ever been a more appropriately titled new piece to premier? I think not. Sadly, the most memorable part made me think of Bernard Hermann's score for Psycho set to a shuffle beat. I'll bet my 401k that after Saturday this piece will never be heard from again.
Next up was the Beethoven, featuring young pianist Yevgeny Sudbin as the soloist. Friends and acquaintances had previously told me this young man was a terrific talent. Not tonight. He gave a leaden, pedestrian account of this most beautiful of Beethoven's piano concertos and turned it into something mediocre and worse, uninteresting. Sadly, there was absolutely no assistance coming to the audience's rescue from the orchestra nor Ashkenazy.
During the intermission I met SF Mike, who told me the next piece, Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, was fun in a kind of ridiculous way. Unfortunately tonight it was just ridiculous. Based on the performance I heard, I cannot even fathom why this work was even programmed. Poor John Relyea, the lone soloist, who sat there forlornly on the stage and from my vantage point in the first tier wore a constant expression on his face that said "what the fuck did I just do to my career when I agreed to sing this piece of shit?" Friends in the orchestra later suggested he was wearing his "character face."
Even the orchestra looked bored. One of the French horn players sat with her elbow propped against her instrument and her hand to her face- with an expression and body language one expects to see from someone waiting for a bus, not their cue. Other members of the orchestra looked around at each other with looks of disbelief and ennui, as if to say, "Damn, we blew the doors off this place three weeks ago when Argerich and Mutter were here and what the hell is happening to us now?" I have never seen this orchestra look so bored and confused and play so poorly.
As for the chorus, Walton's piece, or at least this performance of it, was so sub par I won't even bother passing judgement on their contribution to the whole, unmemorable as it was. All of this is especially disappointing in light of the SF Symphony's recent run of extraordinarily great and even thrilling performances over the past month.
The evening wasn't a total loss however. I did run into the Opera Tattler and her very charming friend Stephanie D. The Tattler also introduced me SF Mike, author of the Civic Center blog, and the Belgian gentleman behind the erudite Summer is Coming In, who will soon be returning to Europe. Check them out, but skip this show.