The week after the brilliant performance of the Rite of Spring during the Ojai North! Festival, the San Francisco Symphony got into to the Stravinsky spirit with a couple of different programs, both of which featured the Rite on all-Stravinsky programs. I chose the one featuring Gil Shaham performing the Violin Concerto, figuring that would just be an additional bonus, and this proved to be true. Shaham has always impressed me and this performance was no exception, maintaining his perfect track record. However, what I’d never noticed before were the similarities between the concerto’s Aria II and the Adagio from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez . A quick search online didn’t reveal anyone else discussing it, but surely I’m not the first to notice. It’s an odd association to be sure, but the performance from all onstage was beautifully played. The first half began with the somewhat rarely performed Agon, composed for ballet, which loses much of its allure without dancers onstage, as the music isn’t as emblematic of the title as one would hope and only with choreography does it really make sense.
The Rite was superb- Stephen Paulson’s bassoon led the way with a graceful entry, with the rest of the winds following suit. With the abduction, MTT and the orchestra began to double-down on the rhythm and volume, sounding like a propulsive machine driving from one brilliant moment to another, downshifting into the changes of tempo without a hitch. Timpanist David Herbert’s performance was exceptional, and collectively the orchestra turned in what may have been my favorite performance I attended during this season. Of course it was an entirely different performance from the one put on by the Bad Plus the previous week, but it rocked with equal fervor, and the absence of dancers didn't even cross my mind until just now.
Photo of Gil Shaham by IMG Artists.