Friday, September 13, 2013

Music I'm Listening to: The San Francisco Symphony at the Green Music Center (September 12, 2013)

Last night was the first concert in the 2013-2014 subscription concert series that features the San Francisco Symphony at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted Zosha di Castri's Lineage, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 3. Pianist Yefim Bronfman was soloist in the Tchaikovsky.

The highlight of the concert was the Di Castri piece, which is brand new (having been premiered only a few months ago). Describing highly abstract modern music is an impossible task, but it was an engaging expanse of shifting colors and textures that I enjoyed very much. It seemed a bit nostalgic and melancholy on the whole, but somehow forward-looking in mood at the same time. The long droning notes in some places put me in mind of ancient Japanese court music (gagaku) or Noh music. I would have asked the composer (who was in attendance) about whether she was familiar with gagaku, but she was pinned down throughout intermission by well-wishers and others asking questions, so I didn't bother her.

This year, we're sitting in new seats, having chosen to look down on the performers from the upper balcony. It's quite a different experience. I enjoyed being able to watch the conductor and the mechanics of the performance--the turning of pages on the music stands, the taking up and putting down of mutes, the quiet cleaning of instruments, the sometimes frantic activity in the percussion section. Lineage keeps no fewer than seven percussionists busy. According to the program notes, they were handling timpani, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, snare drum, bass drum, ocean drum, suspended cymbals, crash cymbal, china cymbal, nipple gongs, tubular bells, almglocken, tam-tams, woodblocks, and rainstick--not to mention a piano and a celesta. Viewing from above is a compromise. The sound is a little muddy. During the Tchaikovsky, there were times when the piano was inaudible over the orchestra. During the Prokofiev, sometimes the harps were inaudible. That said, the sound isn't bad up top and it's a lot of fun to be able to see everything that goes on during a performance. Watching from the balcony makes a concert a much more visual experience.

One unexpected visual was a half-empty concert hall. No one seemed to know why so many seats were unsold (I asked several ushers). We subscribed to the San Francisco concerts at the Green Music Center last year, and I remember a full house on every occasion. Another change from last year--a very positive change--is the parking situation. They are no longer creating long traffic jams in Rohnert Park by charging for parking. Parking has been folded into the ticket prices--as it should have been from the outset. Bravo!

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