Saturday night's installment of San Francisco Symphony's Schubert/ Berg Festival "Dawn to Twilight" finally saw Schubert get the better of Berg in this battle royal of the Viennese School heavyweights of their respective eras, at least in how they were represented and performed. Now first, I must make a disclaimer that I have no formal musical training, cannot read music, and do not play an instrument. I am simply what you might call an enthusiast. Bearing that in mind, the reader who possesses the skills, talents and abilities I just mentioned may have a radically different take on this concert. "Caveat emptor" is really all I can say in my own defense.
Skipping the Ipod shuffle programming of the previous concert, this evening had only two pieces scheduled, one for each composer. First up was Berg's Chamber Concerto, written in honor of and containing a lot of musical references to his teacher Schoenberg as well as to Webern and Berg himself. Personally, I find this kind of musical version of "Where's Waldo" to be trite and boring and the fact that the musical notation spells out clues etc. bores me to death if the music is a) hard to follow or b) uninteresting. Unfortunately, I found the Chamber Concerto to be for the most part beyond my comprehension for almost its entirety. During the final rondo, when it all started to come together musically and I finally found a way into the work, alas, I was too slow and "got it" with about two minutes to spare. Yefim Bronfman and Julia Fischer gamely worked at flummoxing me with fourteen other wind instruments. They obviously worked hard to make it work, it just didn't work for me.
Schubert's final(?) symphony, commonly called "The Great," in reference to it's themes and duration, fared much better to my sensibilities and apparently to the audience's as well. I would have preferred a version with cuts, but that's my only quibble for a piece that was performed brilliantly, with absolutely outstanding contributions from the horns and woodwinds sections. How MTT, who previously gave us a limp version of the "Unfinished" earlier in this festival, manged to throw down this balls-out, bravado, uber-romantic display of sheer Germanic musical might is somewhat beyond me, but there you have it. Maybe it was something he ate for dinner, because his conducting quirks and mannerisms were definitely different this evening. New physical gestures, body language, etc. Whatever it was, it worked. Even the orchestra seemed extremely pleased with itself when the performance ended, as it to collectively say, "You bet your ass, we knew we had it in us."
Well done, everyone.