Friday, October 4, 2019

Books I'm reading: Violin Virtuosos

I picked up this slim (120-page) volume at a recent San Francisco Symphony performance, in the Symphony store. Violin Virtuosos (Back Stage Books, 2000) is a collection of short essays about 11 top violinists: Joshua Bell, Leila Josefowicz, Joseph Silverstein, Jorja Fleezanis, Victoria Mullova, Mark Kaplan, Chee-Yun, Christian Tetzlaff, Hilary Hahn, Vadim Repin, and Kung-wha Chung. Quite a range. Some of these are mostly solo performers, a couple are concertmasters. Some are younger, some are older. Some are men, some are women. I have heard a number of them perform live: Bell, Josefowicz, Chee-Yun, Tetzlaff, Hahn, and Chung. I've met several of them at after-concert signings (Bell, Josfowicz, Chee-Yun, Hahn, and Chung). I've even had dinner with one of them—Kyung Wha Chung, in Tokyo, years ago. Others I had never even heard of (Fleezanis and Kaplan). So, it was a rounded introduction to a cast of some of the best living violinists.

As this was published in 2000, much has changed since the essays were written. Hilary Hahn, for example, was only 21 at the time and had just released only her third CD (today her discography includes more than 20 discs). Josefowicz was relatively new to the scene. Bell, on the cover, looks like a little boy. These are interesting snapshots and interesting for the variety of experience of the various artists discussed. I especially enjoyed the little blurbs for each violinist that tells not only what kind of instrument they play but even what brand of strings they use. Violin Virtuosos is bried, but worth the small amount of time it takes to read.

Music I'm Listening To: Start of the 2019-2020 Season

After the performance, a tired MTT
I attended the September 13 performance of the San Francisco Symphony, my first concert of the 2019-2020 season. MTT conducted Mahler's Symphony No. 6. It was the only piece on the program, played straight through without intermission. It must have been exhausting for the performers.

As I've noted here before, I generally don't care for MTT as a conductor, as, in my experience, he often seems aloof and unengaged in the music. Mahler has been the exception. This is the second time I've heard him conduct a live performance of one of the Mahler Symphonies, having heard him at the helm for Symphony No. 5 in March last year. That was a breathtaking performance.

While I enjoyed this latest concert, it wasn't quite as exciting. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I thought the third movement a little uncertain in places and thought the tempo variations in the second were a bit too exaggerated. That said, the orchestra members played well (as they virtually always do), the first movement seemed perfect and the finale was fun to watch.

I've always wondered how they do the hammer blows toward the end of the piece. A large wooden structure with a small platform on top was built high behind the percussion session for this performance making it accessible from the front row of the balcony seats behind the stage (which were empty, which is unusual). A member of the percussion team appeared for each of the blows above the wooden platform wielding a large wooden sledgehammer. He looked rather menacing and a bit surreal. It must be hard to time the blow, given how heavy the hammer seemed, but he got it right. As in the case of the March performance. The orchestra was seated in the antiphonal arrangement.

The Santa Rosa Symphony season opens tomorrow, October 5. I'll be doing backstage photography for the symphony again this year. Garrick Ohlsson will be playing the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 and Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra is also on the program.
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