San Francisco Symphony Associate Conductor James Gaffigan is getting ready to move on to other musical parts. Before leaving us, he's at the helm for the summer concert series programs taking place through most of July. Based on a terrific performance I saw him conduct earlier this past season and his overall reputation, I wanted to check him out a couple of more times before we say goodbye.

For the past few years I've avoided these concerts as they're geared toward a slightly different audience-the more casual listener or one who may not have attended many (or any) concerts in the past. Many of the orchestra's key players are off for the summer and there isn't a a piece of music on the schedule you haven't heard many, many times before. However, they do serve as a valuable introduction to Symphony and I used to see many of them when I first started going to Davies. If you're a newbie or just curious about attending a classical concert for the first time, these concerts are likely to please you.

Gaffigan led off by taking the orchestra through a beefy account of the Corolian Overture. This piece wouldn't be on my personal list of Beethoven favorites, but I did notice for the first time how many of the best parts of Verdi's Un Ballo en Maschera seem to have more than a passing resemblance to much of the music here. Or maybe it was just my imagination.

Next up was an actual favorite of mine, the "Emperor" Piano Concerto (aka the 5th). The featured soloist was Jeremy Denk, whom I haven't seen before. Personally, I didn't care for Denk's playing at all- he twisted some of the slower parts of the melody into what sounded like parody to me and I actually have to stifle a laugh at a couple of points. His mannerisms reminded me of Liberace-lite, or that part in The Seven Year Itch where Tom Ewell breaks out the Rach 2nd and imagines himself seducing Marilyn Monroe with it. My companion and I both thought it was terrible, but Denk received a hearty standing ovation nonetheless. I'm going to reserve the right to not comment on the audience's reaction. Enough said.
After intermission came Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Here was the opportunity to let Gaffigan take charge and show us what he could do with this warhorse. The orchestra sounded under-rehearsed and seemed to be playing more from the head than the heart, though it was still a nice enough account from the string sections. The brass on the other hand, had a really off night and sounded dreadful. No matter, once again the audience loved it, Gaffigan got the standing ovation this time around and everyone went home happy.
Summertime... and the audience's easy.