Renowned violinist Robert McDuffie is currently touring the country with the acclaimed Venice Baroque Orchestra performing a program call the The Seasons Project, which pairs Vivaldi's The Four Seasons with a new violin concerto by Phillip Glass, written for McDuffie, called The American Four Seasons or Violin Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra.
The first half was the Vivaldi we all know and love and to put it bluntly, it was an ugly massacre. Vivaldi should never sound like a Bernard Hermann score. Nor should a lute sound like a banjo. Cellos should not sound like rusty saws, and it's generally a good idea for the violin section to play together and in tune. I haven't seen a poorer performance in a couple of years. I guess it was just an off night for them.
Glass' work fared much better, but it has the advantage of being unfamiliar- one's attention is divided between absorbing its newness and listening to how it's being played. Glass' second concerto is absorbing, at times mesmerizing in its propulsive rhythms , though in other sections it reminds one too much of "film" music. It begins with a motive highly reminiscent of The Godfather theme, which I found highly amusing in an American-themed piece. There are no breaks in the music and Glass leaves it to the listener to decide when the seasons have changed. I'm not sure it works as a companion piece to Vivaldi's masterpiece, nor do I detect anything distinctly "American" in it, but I would love to hear it again, preferably by an orchestra which plays a lot tighter than the Venice Baroque Orchestra- which sounded a lot better in this piece, but still had some sloppy moments. In the second half however, I must tip my hat to McDuffie, who has obviously committed this difficult virtuoso work to memory and delivered it with conviction.
Beforehand, it was very nice to have dinner at Zuni with the Opera Tattler and the erudite, svelte pernicious Belgian, who has returned to San Francisco for a vacation. Sadly, we forgot to order fries.