SF Symphony - Hearty Homecoming
The San Francisco Symphony’s jubilant centennial celebration has already proved very impressive in scope, ambition and sheer energy, and there is plenty of party left to come. Major concert programs, guest artists and tantalizing special events still remain before the festivities are officially ended.
Some of the most pleasurable highlights up to now have offered an opportunity to enjoy again the talents of two distinguished former SFS Music Directors. Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt brought the faithful to their feet with a fortnight of concerts in early February, reminding us of our affection for his decade of leadership. Most recently, Edo de Waart returned to the podium at Davies Symphony Hall and jolted us back to an appreciation of his pivotal tenure from 1977 to 1985.
It was de Waart who inaugurated DSH with the orchestra in 1980, organized the SFS Youth Orchestra, started a policy of annual touring, conducted the orchestra’s first national telecast, secured a recording contract, and perhaps most remarkably, created the legendary New and Unusual Music Series. An early champion of composer John Adams, Edo appointed him the first composer-in-residence of the SFS in 1982. Exciting years filled with accomplishment made up for his relative lack of stage presence (at least by comparison to his predecessor Seiji Ozawa), and his legacy still resonates in the forward-thinking policies of the SFS.
The chance to see de Waart for the first time since 1997 brought a lot of familiar faces back for a concert that felt like old home week. Conducting Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3, Organ (which he recorded with the orchestra in 1990), was another nostalgic touch.
The first part of the bill was given to the first SFS performances of Franz Schreker’s Prelude to Act I of Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized). It was a lush rendition of a fascinating piece, clearly a forerunner of the old Hollywood film score tradition (think Korngold and Rosza). With characteristic restraint, de Waart never let the orchestra wallow in Schreker’s dense sonorities. He maintained a certain delicacy amidst the symphonic grandeur.
He applied the same control in the support given to the evening’s guest soloist Simon Trpceski and his thrilling performance of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor. The pianist supplied all the showmanship required to sell the composer’s challenging score. The Macedonian virtuoso also gave an encore, prepared with concertmaster Alexander Barantschik, Dancing Fantasy by Koco Petrovski, arranged by Damir Imeri. Trpceski introduced the American premiere with an acknowledgement of his love for accordion music and a shout-out to the Romanian girls he has met in San Francisco. It was unexpected but thoroughly amusing.
With the concluding Saint-Saens Organ Symphony (Jonathan Dimmock an expert soloist) powerfully lifting the roof of the hall he helped to build, Edo de Waart certainly made the most of his homecoming visit in honor of the centennial.