Friday, October 7, 2011

Music I'm Listening to: Joshua Bell with Vasily Petrenko Conducting the San Francisco Symphony (October 6, 2011)

Last night I attended a concert featuring Joshua Bell with Vasily Petrenko conducting the San Francisco Symphony. The concert opened with Shostakovich's Festival Overture. According to the program, that was to be followed by Tchaikovsky's M├ęditation from Souvenir d'un lieu cher, and then Glazunov's Violin Concerto in A minor, both featuring Joshua Bell on violin, but the order of these two pieces was reversed--which was a good thing given that the short, romantic M├ęditation probably would have sounded anti-climactic following the Glazunov. After intermission, the Symphony performed Elgar's Symphony No. 1.

Vasily Petrenko was new to me, but I very much enjoyed his readings of the Shostakovich and the Glazunov pieces. Tall, thin, and with very long, expressive arms and hands, Petrenko looked sometimes like a large ocean-going bird gesturing with wings. At other times, during slow or delicate passages, his indications became something quite the opposite--minimalist (a slight nod of the head, a subtle gesture with one finger, or simply a look), but the performers seemed highly engaged and in top form throughout the concert. Petrenko--young, confident (almost cocky) was a pleasure to watch. According to the program notes, Petrenko has studied with Mariss Jansons, Yuri Temirkanoff, and Esa-Pekka Salonen, among others. He will become the Chief Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra starting in the 2013-2014 season, but is currently Principal Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orcehstra.

Shostakovich's Festival Overture is not one of my favorite pieces by that composer, but it's familiar and fun and rousing. It's not a bad way to open a concert, as it gets both the audience and the performers warmed up. Actually, it was a lot of fun to hear, even if it's not very challenging music to listen to (I'm not sure how the orchestra feels about playing it). The Tchaikovsky piece was not exactly my style either, but it was a lovely selection to show off the sound of Joshua Bell's violin, which is the 1713 Stradivarius known as "The Gibson."* This is the second time I've heard Bell play in person. It's almost enough just to listen to the tone of his instrument.... Also in the Glazunov, much of the pleasure was hearing the violin with the clarity of a live performance. I'm used to this concerto in the form of two rather old LPs in my collection, a Nathan Milstein record on Capitol, with William Steinberg conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Captiol SP8382) and an RCA Gold Seal Heifetz recording (RCA Gold Seal AGL1-4929). The latter is rather worn and fuzzy. Petrenko seemed particularly good at accentuating the various accents in the orchestral part, especially toward the end of the final movement. His reading gave the whole thing a very attractive sparkle. I recently happened to hear what seemed to me a rather idiosyncratic but highly persuasive  performance of this concerto on the radio, with Gil Shaham playing the violin (it appears to be a Deutsche Grammophon recording with Mikhail Pletnev conducting the Russian National Orchestra). I suppose it's time to acquire this concerto on CD. The Gil Shaham interpretation may be a good choice. Bell was given a warm standing ovation for both of his performances, but he wasn't sufficiently moved to play an encore.

After intermission, the Sympony played the Elgar piece, which I can't say I enjoyed a great deal. Petrenko succeeded in eliciting a crisp, energetic performance, but the music itself is rather repetitive and much longer than I'd say it needs to be to explore the ideas it presents. Simply put, it was dull and taxing. This is not Elgar at his best. I can't understand why the piece was chosen for a program of music that was otherwise Russian. Something Russian (and shorter) would have been more appropriate. Several people near me fell asleep. The audience was palpably restless by the end of the performance. That said, I very much enjoyed the evening just to hear Joshua Bell play the Glazunov concerto.

*For more about the violin, see my thoughts on one of Joshua Bell's 2010 performances with the San Francisco Symphony here.

[Update: I happened upon an online review of this concert today (November 26, 2011) by Jeff Dunn in "San Francisco Classical Voice." Dunn suggests the Elgar sounded so ponderous because of Petrenko's too-rigid tempos. While the work is undoubtedly rather long, it may have been unsuccessful in this case more because of the conducting than because of any fault in the music itself. I'll have to listen to this piece again....]

Photo of Vasily Petrenko by Mark McNulty, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tidbits: RIP--Steve Jobs

I was surprised and saddened to hear this afternoon that Steve Jobs has died. We all knew he wasn't well, but I hadn't believed him so close to death. I still vividly remember the first time I saw a Macintosh in action. My best friend at the time worked for a company that used Apple computers in its publications department. In my own work, I had been stuck using computers running DOS (this would have been around 1987). I remember the thrill of watching my friend select a group of icons on the screen with a flourish of his mouse. No text commands with meaningless abstract elements like " *.*" were required. That was all I needed to see. Although it was another three years before I bought my own Apple computer, I was hooked. Since then I have purchased 12 Apple computers, including gifts--not to mention my iPhone. Thank you, Mr. Jobs, for all you did. You will be missed. RIP

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rain: 0.65 Inches (October 3, 2011)

Real rain today. We got 0.65 inches, which is good for the garden but bad for people growing grapes, like me. It's supposed to be cool and dry tomorrow but another storm is forecast for Wednesday the 5th and that's to be followed by cool temperatures. The grapes will not ripen much in such cool weather. Raccoons have been stealing grapes again--having made a big new hole in the nets. If any grapes survive, they'll need another week or two to ripen..... Very frustrating.

[Update: Overnight, another 0.25 inches fell and we had about that much a couple of weeks back, so I'd say the total for the current season so far is about 0.70 inches.]

[Update: On the night of the 4th, we got another 0.85 inches of rain, bringing the total so far for the 2011-2012 rainy season to 1.55 inches. Average annual rainfall for Santa Rosa, California is 31.91 inches. On the 5th we got an additional 0.15 inches, bringing the total to 1.70 inches so far this season.]

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Places I'm Visiting: Chico, California--National Yo-Yo Championships

I spent the day yesterday in Chico, California, which is the home of the National Yo-Yo Museum (a modest affair in the back of a toy store, but interesting nonetheless) and since 1993 has been the site of the National Yo-Yo Championships. My son, an avid yo-yo fan, wanted to go. All the sport's celebrities were there. He collected many autographs, learned new tricks, and got to hang out with about 200 kids that spoke the language. He was in yo-yo heaven. I hadn't been looking forward to the long (about three hours) drive to Chico and back. I brought a book with me and even my camera and binoculars, thinking I might slip away and do some bird watching if things got tedious, but I ended up watching all the qualifying rounds and the finals.

The yo-yo has come a long way since I was fooling with them in the mid-1970s--about the time when plastic Duncan butterfly-style yo-yos were something new (butterfly designs have the traditional rounded halves mounted backwards to create a large, flared opening for the string rather than a thin slot). Today, that butterfly shape is the norm, yo-yos are mostly made of metal rather than wood or plastic (sometimes very fancy metals, but usually aluminum), and they have sophisticated bearings around the axle; they are mostly designed not to return to the hand, but rather to spin free as long as possible, allowing a variety of tricks--sometimes quite spectacular tricks.

About 50 contestants, winners and strong placers at regional championships, competed in five classes. The most popular 1A class is also called "freestyle," where anything goes (this is what most of us think of when fancy yo-yo work comes to mind). The 2A class involves looping tricks with two yo-yos. The 3A class uses two yo-yos at the same time to do freestyle tricks. The 4A class is called "off-string," because the yo-yo is free to leave the string. The 5A class uses yo-yos with a counterweight on the end of the string that's usually tied to the players finger. The counterweight allows a unique range of tricks and effects.

I'm no expert, but it's easy to appreciate the skill of the best performers, to see their individual quirks on the one hand, and stylistic trends on the other that suggest schools within the official classes. Some performers seemed to excel at speed and daring, willing to risk misses in the hope of landing something spectacular, like getting the yo-yo to land back on its string after shooting it up into the air and doing a backwards somersault on the ground. Others focused on precision--doing rapid series of string tricks mostly standing in one spot. The off-string yo-yoers give the impression of jugglers. The work of the counterweight yo-yoers is slower and more liquid and sometimes seemingly animated; as momentum is transferred back and forth between the yo-yo and the counterweight, the string can appear to be moving on its own. The performers using two yo-yos simultaneously, one in each hand, put me in mind of wild west gunslingers twirling their guns. All in all, there was a lot to watch. Pictured here is a proud Harold Owens III, of Indiana, the 2011 1A Champion. In the first shot above, Tyler Goldenburg, of Phoenix, Arizona competes in the finals. The yo-yos are some of the historical examples preserved at The Yo-Yo Museum.
Related Posts with Thumbnails