Though I’ve seen Marc-Andre Hamelin perform a couple of times in the past two years I had yet to be swayed that he was really all that, as so many claim. My opinion changed after hearing him perform with the San Francisco Symphony last month in a terrific concert which featured the pianist soloing in Ravel’s Concerto For the Left Hand as well as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Hamelin performed with nuanced beauty and a heady authority during the Ravel and if the Rhapsody didn’t quite reach the same heights it was due to conductor David Robertson’s less than wholly convincing control over the jazz elements in the score, which resulted in a performance which sang but didn’t quite swing. The concert also featured a knockout opener of Elliot Carter’s Variations for Orchestra and closed with Ravel’s La Valse.
I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again- it’s inexplicable to me that Ravel is not given more respect as a composer- he was as good and often better than any of his contemporaries. During the intermission Lisa Hirsch and I had fun trying to determine the identity of the timpanist, Michael Israelievitch, who was terrific and hopefully is being considered for the seat being vacated by what-his-name.
In the second of three concerts in their inaugural season, Curious Flights celebrated the Britten Centennial with a diverse program featuring the Valinor Winds performing the Movement for Wind Sextet, the Friction Quartet with violist Jason Pyzowski performing the Phantasy in F Minor for String Quintet, tenor Brian Thorsett in a stunningly gorgeous Canticle III¸and best of all, Movements for a Clarinet Concerto - a work cobbled together from an unfinished concerto originally intended for Benny Goodman. This was performed by what was essentially a 50-odd piece pick-up orchestra featuring Curious Flights founder and prime mover Brenden Guy as the soloist, and led by Marin Symphony Music Director Alasdair Neale. Hearing this orchestra one would have never guessed they were organized for this particular concert- they sounded well-rehearsed and played at an exceptional level all around.
Last weekend at The Lab in San Francisco’s Mission District, the Other Minds Festival brought Rhys Chatham to town as a warm-up of sorts for the November West Coast premiere of A Secret Rose (100 Guitars). Chatham was one six people playing electric guitars (with all amps seemingly turned up to “11”), and with the phenomenal drummer Jordan Glenn and Liza Mezzacappa providing a booming Geezer Butler-ish bottom on the electric bass, they tore through an enthralling re-working of his Guitar Trio, renamed G3 to reflect the additional instruments. It was the most exhilarating 30 minutes of music I’ve heard all year, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store come November 17th -- it promises to be a maximum pleasure, maybe even the event of the year. See video of the Lab gig here.