Friday, May 4, 2018

Music I'm Listening To: Christian Reif and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet with the San Francisco Symphony

I attended the April 27 performance of the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. Guest conductor Christian Reif led performances of Wagner's "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" from Götterdämerung, Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2, and Holst's The Planets. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet was soloist in the concerto. Ragnar Bohlin directed women of The San Francisco Symphony Chorus in the Holst.

I hadn't heard of either conductor Reif or pianist Bavouzet before the concert. Reif was a replacement for Charles Dutoit, with whom the Symphony has severed ties. Both Reif and Bavouzet appear to be most active in Europe, although, according to the program for the evening, Reif has been working with The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra since the 2016-2017 season. I was impressed by both.

In particular, Bavouzet,—dressed fairly casually for a classical soloist—managed to give a powerful, rapid-fire rendition of the Liszt while managing to look cool as a cucumber throughout. He had a commanding presence on stage, handling the technically challenging concerto with an air of utter confidence. Meeting him briefly after the concert to get an autograph on a copy of Volume I of his recordings of the Beethoven piano sonatas (Chandos), he achieved the same effect—seeming completely relaxed yet deeply engaged at the same time.

This was the first time I'd heard the very familiar The Planets live. It's always fun to see how the sounds of a familiar piece of music are produced. The Planets gives all parts of the orchestra lots to do, particularly the two harps and a celesta among the less common instruments. Virtually the entire audience turned around to look behind them for the source of the wordless voices coming from somewhere in the upper balconies as the ethereal end of the "Neptune" section faded to a close.

Photo of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet by Paul Mitchell. Phoo of Christian Reif by Terrence McCarthy. Photos courtesy of San Francisco Symphony. 

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