I attended the Friday, May 11 San Francisco Symphony Concert at Davies Symphony Hall.
It was supposed to have featured Hilary Hahn playing the Brahms Violin Concerto
, with guest conductor Rafael Payare, but Hahn canceled her appearances for an unspecified illness. While I hope she is OK and I wish her a speedy and complete recovery, it was a great disappointment. I heard her recently in recital (in March), but it's been many years since I've had the chance to hear her with a full orchestra. I was very much looking forward to the Brahms.
Having said that,
with only one exception in going on 15 years of attending SFS concerts, I've never been disappointed by artists unknown to me that they've brought in. Pianist Bruce Liu, who in 2021 won the 18th Chopin International Piano Competition, replaced Hahn, performing the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3
. I had never heard of Liu, who now records with Deutsche Grammophon, or the guest conductor, Rafael Payare, but I enjoyed the concert, which opened with William Grant Still's Darker America
, before the Beethoven. Intermission was followed by Strauss's Ein Heldenleben
. Liu followed the concerto with a jazzy set of variations on Für Elise
that had the audience giggling. He received a prolonged standing ovation.
The conductor was a lot of fun to watch. Tall, thin, and with a great mop of hair that made him look a little top-heavy, he is about the most athletic conductor I've ever seen. He was virtually dancing on the podium. Despite all the activity, at times he would stand quite still, with his feet pressed together, stretched to his full height, gesturing grandly, letting only his upper body move, which made him look rather like one of those tubular plastic advertising figures animated from below by blasts of air that seem to live mostly on used car lots. By dwelling on his antics I don't mean to disparage his conducting. He got a very expressive, full-throated version of Heldenleben from the always-reliable SFS musicians. Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik was featured on the violin in the Strauss.