Chad Newsome and I had dinner and drinks and caught up before heading over to Davies for more of their season long experiment in conservative programming. This week's concert may represent the epitome (or nadir, depending on your preferences) of a lot of very conservative programs on this year's San Francisco Symphony schedule. Last week's concert easily overcame this challenge but tonight's did not. To put it plainly, I found it tedious in the same way some people would react to a Phillip Glass marathon. Itzhak Perlman made his annual visit as soloist and guest conductor. A few years ago I attended another of these visits and left with the impression that having the soloist also conduct is just a bad idea. Some endeavors should just not be available for multi-tasking. But I decided to give it another shot because I like to think I can be wrong or maybe I just was there on "an off night." After tonight, I remain firm in my opinion, but maybe Davies is just too big a house for this type of performance. In a more intimate hall it may have worked better. But there won't be a third time- I could have watched "Glee" tonight.
The program began with Bach's Violin Concerto No. 2, featuring Perlman in the roles mentioned above, a harpsichord, and twenty-some odd strings. Perlman's playing never really excelled and he didn't really stand out from the orchestra- instead, it seemed like a nice performance of Bach in its most rote, perfunctory form. After this, more strings came out to perform Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and String Orchestra. The Symphony hasn't performed this work since 1930 and it has some interesting elements, including an engaging fugue, and I liked the piece though its placement on the program lent it the air of a novelty rather than something more serious. It proved to be the highlight of the night from where I sat though it didn't leave me with a desire to experience it again anytime soon.
After intermission came Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, Pathetique. Let me state that the audience appeared to love this, gave the orchestra and Perlman a standing ovation and the orchestra applauded Perlman vigorously as well. However, what I heard a total mess of hasty, fast tempos, mushy horns, an unfocused string section, bombast from the percussion and some very nice solos from Carey Bell and Stephen Paulson. The concert wasn't terrible, like Ashkenazy's visit last season, but it was boring. The entire month features guest conductors, and I'm hoping things pick up in the next couple of weeks with Osmo Vanska's and Seymon Bychkov's arrival. They too, will be conducting more of the standard fare, but at least it's Beethoven, Sibelius and Rachmaninoff, along with Adams, Salinen, Schumann and Dutileaux. Coupled with some prominent and promising soloists and some debuts, there's plenty of great music to look forward to in the next few weeks.