I don't have a good reason for having never seen Kurt Masur conduct the San Francisco Symphony before last night. He makes an annual visit and has for years, so one would think my appreciation for the Romantic rep and his prowess in it would have caused an earlier encounter than last night's all Mendelssohn program at Davies Symphony Hall. To make me feel even more like a rube, it wasn't even Masur or the Mendelssohn which prompted my interest in this particular program. No, it was the participation of Maya Lahyani and Susannah Biller, two young opera singers whose talents have caught my interest, as well as the Davies After Hours event scheduled to follow the performance.
The first half of the performance was the Symphony No. 4 in A major, aka Italian. Masur, using the perhaps the most minimal gestures I've ever seen a conductor use, led the orchestra through a superb performance of the work. Though his gestures were almost imperceptible except when signaling an entrance, the orchestra was with him every step of the way. Re-arranged to emphasize the violins, with the six basses forming an aesthetically pleasing backdrop almost center stage instead of the timpani (which was placed at the far right-side of the stage), the SFS musicians sounded like an entirely different orchestra for this piece. It was a pleasure from the first note through the last.
After the intermission came the the complete A Midsummer Night's Dream. Most of us know only parts of this work- the Overture and the Wedding March, and to hear the entire thing is a rarity. I, for one, now know why. It's an incredibly tedious piece. Despite the game efforts of the orchestra, especially the flutes of Tim Day and Linda Lukas, and a truly outstanding turn by Itay Tiran as the narrator, the piece is just didn't work for me in a concert setting. The music starts and then suddenly stops, as the narrator constantly interjects between passages that increasingly seems like merely repetitve snippets which grow shorter as the works gets longer. Perhaps this is my fault for going into it unfamiliar with its entirety, but I'm certain my response wasn't unique. Biller's two solo turns were nice, and in her brief almost thankless moment in the spotlight Lahyani sounded gorgeous as usual. The San Francisco Girl's Chorus sounded positively angelic. It's just too bad all of the talent was invested in a work that yielded so little to enjoy.
Agreeing to attend with me at almost the last minute after Chad Newsome unconscionably cancelled, Herr Feldheim and I decided to skip the After Hours event and head to a less crowded locale for conversation and drinks. We chose the completely empty Blue Muse, where we once again encountered another seriously bad bartender. I won't speak for Axel, who seems less particular about these things than I (read less bitchy, yes), but I doubt I'll go back. Why? For starters, turn the TV down. Better yet, turn the TV off completely and put on some music. Two, if you've never tried what we're drinking, my drink is not where you should get your first taste from- try your own, or at least ask me before you dip a straw into mine. Unless you're buying the round. Three, if we're talking, you really don't need to interrupt us. Truly, you don't. Thankfully another couple came and diverted her attention until her friend showed up with a dog the size of a horse. After I was molested by the dog we took our leave and looked for another locale. We ended up continuing our conversation in the 101- two middle-aged guys now anonymous in the crowd of 20-somethings, left alone, and free to chat.
After we took our leave, I made my way home through the Gulch- the first time in awhile I've strolled through it at 1:00 am on a Friday night. It's more crowded than ever with young people packing the sidewalks outside the bars and generally being obnoxious. Walking past Divas I was surprised to see an entirely unfamiliar group of hookers working the street- a new generation apparently taking over the neighborhood. Standing at the corner of Larkin and Post, I spotted Veronica a block away at her usual spot under the streetlight at Hemlock, where she's been doing her thing for years. I found her presence strangely reassuring. Not everything changes.