Saturday night, after attending Urban Opera's The Witch of Endor, Penelope and I joined a coven of other bloggers and music lovers, went over to Davies to hear Alice Sarah Ott and check Pablo Heras-Casado's conducting debut with the San Francisco Symphony. Though I hate to write about this so many days after the fact, the concert is worth commenting on. First of all, if SFS can't land Vasily Petrenko as MTT's successor, Heras-Casado would be an excellent second choice and certainly no runner-up.
His skills were obvious from the opener, Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave overture. Conducting without a score, the orchestra sounded fabulously rich and lush under his leadership during this rather odd bit of programming. A largely forgettable work in its own right, not bad, but nothing exceptional, it came across as vivid and meaningful.
Alice Sarah Ott was on hand to perform Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1. There's nothing subtle about it, but Ott gave a graceful performance that gave it a sophistication that rarely comes through. Looking splendid in a white gown and shoeless, Ott impressed, though I'd like to see her perform something more elegant the next time she comes to town. Perhaps Schumann?
After intermission, spent with the coven of bloggers, we heard Gygory Kurtag's Grabstein fur Stephen, which almost seemed like an attempt at "and now for something completely different" programming. It worked beautifully in the hands of Heras-Casado. With a minimal amount of musicians onstage, heavily weighted with percussion, this sensitive, deeply personal work by the reclusive composer, anchored in an acoustic guitar no less, proved to be the evening's mesmerizing highlight.
The last piece of the night was Shostakovitch's 12th Symphony, which I was surprised to learn has never before been performed by SFS. After hearing it, I have a better understanding of why. It is certainly not on of his better works, but again, in the hands of Heras-Casado, the orchestra made a silk purse out of this repetitive, bombastic work. There were a lot of new faces in the orchestra this evening, who gave stellar accounts of a work we probably won't hear again in the hall any time soon.