|Here's to Beethoven and porn!|
Here's a what you might call a dilemma:
A year and a half ago, I wrote a particularly snarky post reviewing a concert featuring pianist Jeremy Denk as the soloist in a performance of Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto. It was so snarky Mr. Denk wrote to me about it and seriously gave me a piece of his mind. Denk himself has a blog, which though erudite and entertaining, is not what one could call a snark-free zone, so I called kettle to his pot. We settled the matter like gentlemen- with my extending an offer to buy him a drink the next time he was in town provided he didn't throw it in my face. I also asked him if he minded if I publish our exchange, to which he preferred I not and I honored his request because I wasn't trying to antagonize him. I like to pretend I have boundaries.
Last fall I saw he was on the schedule to perform a recital at Cal Performances so I sent him an email along the lines of "Hey Jeremy, how about that drink?"
So the Femme Fatale and I attended the recital and many of the elements I found worthy of previous snark were present in that concert as well. It was difficult to hold back, but I think I did a reasonable job of not taking Denk to task for not only failing to deliver what was promised (program-wise) and not revisiting what I found so ridiculous about his previous performance.
Whatever. Denk is a well-respected performer and my quibbles with his performing style aren't going to effect nor affect his career one way or the other. But then he showed up on the San Francisco Symphony schedule as the pianist in Beethoven's Triple Concerto with none other than cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Weilerstein is immensely popular with classical audiences, but I can't stand her because like Denk, her performances seem over-mannered to me to the point of parody. I remember the second time I saw her walk onstage for a concert and thinking to myself, "Oh my god, it's her! Is she going to do that whole Pete Townsend bit again?" And yes, she most certainly did.
So you see, how could I not go? I mean how often does a classical music concert have the same lurid attraction as an evening at Lucha VaVoom? And yet I knew I was going to hate this part of the concert.
So how can I "review" this fairly? That's my dilemma.
Well, they made it easy on me in deciding which way to go.
But first, I should probably write about what was good, since the train-wreck was only 1/3 of what was on the bill, even though it took up half the show. Guest conductor Marek Janowski led the orchestra in tight, if not revelatory, accounts of Beethoven's first two symphonies, which bookended the porn. The first, which finds LVB in his "still rebelling against Haydyn" mode, was well played but lacked a forcefulness until the third movement, when the wind section all of a sudden made the menuetto soar into something quite beautiful. The finale featured a fleet performance by the string section and I can say unequivocally that while I heard nothing new in the work, it was quite enjoyable to experience.
The Second is a different beast than the first, and features many elements that eventually mark Beethoven as the rebel we all know and love. It was forceful, it was clean, it was delightful. Janowski led both without a score, usually a bad sign for me, but his account was assured and never faltered during either, even though there was some asshole with a red flash camera taking pictures of him during the first. The simple fact that this didn't cause him any visible distraction nor discomfort only attests to Janowski's mastery of these works. If it were me, I would have screamed at the guy from the podium.
So that leaves us with the "Triple Concerto." Oh what to say, what to say?
First of all, I love this work, though many consider it lightweight fluff. I think the themes are as great as any Beethoven composed, and when performed well the piece is an inspiring delight. But this wasn't good. The soloists all come on stage with the score. Besides Denk and Weilerstein, violinist Chee-Yun is also on hand. Okay, this bit with soloists performing with scores isn't unprecedented, but it's not a good sign- this is usually reserved for things like Berg or Ligeti- not Beethoven. My take on it is that no one has really committed this to memory and they're just here for a one-off, easy-money gig. The opening sections are a hash. Janowski isn't in control of the orchestra's volume (with the score in front of him no less), and the soloists seem unsure of where to enter and do so with trepidation.
And then Weilerstein, having to play nice with two other soloists, ditches her Pete Townsend-ish bowing movements in favor of giving the audience a "this music moves me so much I'm about to have an orgasm" face. When she's not making the "O" face she's looking over salaciously at Chee-Yun as if to say "you go, you tasty little snack, you!" Chee-Yun is much less animated than Denk and Weilerstain and plays without making sexy-face grimaces, but is giving the audience a distraction of a different kind. Both the Femme and I thought if she kept on leaning into her bowing so forcefully she was going to pop right out of her halter-top, fetching fuschia dress. I was in fact was anxiously awaiting this moment, but it never came. Jeremy Denk, however, it seemed, judging by the expression on his face, did quite a few times, without even having to look over his shoulder at the two women playing behind him. On top of all this jizz, I mean jazz, Weilerstein, who had the largest challenges among the three soloists as far as the score is concerned, chunked it on many sections, rendering the whole thing a sloppy mess.
And then what happened? Naturally the audience went wild over it, giving the trio a rapturous ovation. Weilerstein looked angry when they came back out onstage. Who knows why? Who cares? The terse look on her face didn't eclipse the look on the orchestra's face as they sat there during the solos, almost everyone one of them bearing this expression on their face as it to say "Really? And I never made it as a soloist?" I guess they just weren't willing to do the Beethoven "sexy face" when it mattered most.
As the Femme and I were leaving the hall, the trio came strutting up the stairs in street clothes to the main lobby level to do a CD signing. Here I was torn for a moment. Should I say "hello" to Denk and ask him why he ignores me? Should I tell Weilerstein I now feel like I know what she's like in bed? Should I recommend to Chee-Yun "don't be undone by your undergarments?"
Naw, we left because really, who cares what I think? Although the Femme and I really did have many a good silent chuckle between us during the performance which made it all worhwhile. Weilerstein and Denk-please come back soon, and do come together. And the drinks are on us next time. Really! Just let us know beforehand so we can get a hotel room- and a Flip video recorder.