Saturday, November 12, 2022

Music I'm listening to: Gautier Capuçon plays Danny Elfman's Cello Concerto, MTT conducting

I've been lazy the last year or so about noting the concerts I've been to (both the Santa Rosa and San Francisco Symphony concerts I regularly attend). I like to post comments here as it allows me later to remember exactly who I saw where and when. Several concerts have been "lost" because of my laziness, but a rather exciting San Francisco Symphony concert last night has spurred me to try to start at least making brief comments about concerts again going forward.

Michael Tilson Thomas returned to Davies Symphony Hall for the US premiere of Danny Elfman's Cello Concerto, written for Capuçon. Although it was a SFS commission (jointly with the Vienna Konzerthaus, Vienna Symphony, and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France) and it was to have been premiered in San Francisco, apparently the performance here was delayed and the world premiere ended up being in Vienna with Capuçon on the cello. The Elfman Cello Concerto was sandwiched between Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments, a piece without strings, and Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, Op. 48, a piece with strings only. MTT is looking pretty well. He's put on weight and he seems a trifle frail at times, but he had no trouble on the podium. The San Francisco audience loves him. He was very enthusiastically received, especially now that he's appearing much less often than he once did. 

I noticed the orchestra layout was reversed, with the violins split left and right, violas middle-right, cellos middle-left, and the basses on the left (all from the audience's perspective). I'm guessing that was for the Tchaikovsky, which involves a lot of intertwined first and second violin parts that are more effective if the sections are on opposite sides of the stage. 

The Elfman concerto was a lot of fun. I didn't know anything about Elfman until I Googled him this morning. I had heard his name and knew vaguely that he was a film composer, but I hadn't realized just how many well-known scores he's done, including for some very familiar films such as Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (the Johnny Depp version), Good Will Hunting, Mars Attacks!, and many more. He also appears to have been the front man for Oingo Boingo, a band I know nothing about, although I remember the name. 

Before hearing it, I was worried the music was going to sound like typical movie music, but, happily, the Cello Concerto, while in places it has the kind of sweeping melodic lines and details of orchestration (a lot of bells in the soft passages) that often say "movie music," Elfman has written more than cinematic filler (I say that recognizing that the very best movie music is always better than filler). The piece opens with a lot of moody glissandi in the strings that precede the entrance of the cello. The second movement is much more animated than the first, brisk with a lot of staccato scratching on the cello – the bow bouncing off the strings. Later there is a slower movement that has as its highlight an extended section with the cello playing in tandem with a solo violin (concertmaster Alexander Barantschik in this case). Overall, I thought it had a good balance of the lyrical on the one hand, rhythmic invention on the other. Very enjoyable. I wonder if Capuçon will record it? Elfman was in the audience. He joined Capuçon and MTT on stage after the performance to take bows.

The Tchaikovsky Serenade is a very familiar piece. By coincidence, one of the very first records I acquired in college, when just getting interested in classical music, was a recording of this piece with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting, so it was great fun to hear him do it live. It is lush, unabashedly romantic music full of infectious melody, and the SFS strings played it beautifully. It was a great evening capped off by a tasty meal at our favorite after-concert restaurant, Absinthe Brasserie and Bar, which, happily, is now serving late enough again (after a COVID hiatus) that you can get a reservation for after the concert. 

Last week was the second Santa Rosa Symphony concert of the season. Violinist Bella Hristova played Wynton Marsalis's Violin Concerto in D, which I enjoyed very much, and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 was also on the program. Both very solidly done. Hristova is one I will continue to watch. I hadn't heard of her before, but I was impressed.

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