Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Amateur Night

January 28, 2009

The San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas
Photo: mine 2009

It occurs to me that if one wishes to be treated like an adult, then perhaps it is best to act like one. Or at least this is the cliché on my mind after Tuesday’s second performance from the San Francisco Symphony at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The hall was filled with a youthful exuberance, which speaks of many unsold seats and a plethora of rush tickets distributed to individuals excited to find another use for their semi-formal garb and all too eager to splash on cologne. Now I’m not one to dive into the whole hackneyed debate over clapping between movements. But let it be said that it was a distinct pleasure to find a group of young adults so profoundly moved by the first two movements of Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra that they could not help but express their joy through applause neatly delineating these movements from one another. In fact the excitement was so contagious that they continued this effusive behavior into all the silent spaces between movements of the Brahms’ First Symphony, which followed despite the admonishments of conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.

Ah, youth. Of course juvenile behavior may have been in order given that the concert often seemed like more of a class than a concert. MTT gave an extended introductory talk from the stage in the middle of the show on the Berg piece complete with samples played right then and there by the orchestra before actually embarking on the performance. Sometimes, even when you try to avoid the pre-concert lecture, it follows you into the show anyway. I’m not sure if it was this didactic introduction that made the performance sound more like Stravinsky than Berg in the end, but, for me at least, the edges seemed blunted and soft. As for the Brahms, I’m not a big fan so it could have been great for all I know, but I suspect it wasn’t. Copland’s film music from Our Town kicked things off with it’s introspective Americana. So, it wasn’t a completely awful show, but it never seemed to connect for me. But that doesn’t necessarily appear to be the fault of the conductor or the orchestra. They are a fine group of musicians and gave a whiz-bang performance of Mahler’s Sixth just three or so years ago here. It’s a shame that tonight they didn’t get the audience they deserved.


If you're not a big fan of Brahms, then don't listen, and don't review it either. It's so strange that music critics can get away with such a comment. If you were writing for the sports section and identified yourself as knowing nothing about football or baseball, it's unlikely that you would have either credibility or a job.....in this case, only the credibility is lost, and with it any chance that the rest of your "reviews" might be taken seriously....including the TOSCA review below which is very nearly laughable in its ignorance.
You have a point. Not a strong or well argued one, but a point nonetheless. I listen to Brahms in the hope that one day I'll come across a performance that will explain to me exactly why anyone ever thought his music was important to begin with. Obviously people do, and maybe someday I'll get it. But it hasn't happened yet.

As far as my "reviews" making you laugh, I'm pleased you enjoy them. I'm by no means a professional and have never claimed to be. By all means I encourage people in search of knowledgeable, well-written opinions to look elsewhere. Of course given that few people seem willing to pay for that kind of knowledge these days....
Sorry I didn't post this sooner, yet the first night with the Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony was much better than your write-up on the Brahms program.
However, MTT could have chosen a pair of more exciting programs than either of these.
Maybe another Mahler 6th, which as you said, was thrilling a few years back.
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