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Wonderful Tchaikovsky in Michael Tilson Thomas’s return to San Francisco Symphony – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United States Stravinsky, Danny Elfman, Tchaikovsky: Gautier Capuçon (cello), San Francisco Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor). Davies Symphony Corridor, San Francisco, 11.11.2022. (HS)

Gauthier Capuçon performs Danny Elfman’s Cello Concerto © Brittany Hosea-Small

StravinskySymphonies of Wind Devices
Danny Elfman – Cello Concerto (San Francisco Symphony Fee, U.S. premiere)
TchaikovskySerenade for Strings

The spotlight of San Francisco Symphony’s program was to have been the U.S. premiere of Danny Elfman’s Cello Concerto. It was certainly excellent, however the memorable second got here with the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. Michael Tilson Thomas had not been on the rostrum right here since a short look final spring as he continues therapy for a mind tumor. He drew such a wealthy and distinctive sound from the strings that it appeared to raise the maestro (and us) into the clouds.

In his 25 years as music director, MTT and this orchestra developed a particular synergy, and it confirmed in a radiant efficiency of the acquainted Tchaikovsky suite. Delicate particulars, reminiscent of light diminuendos and hesitations inside lengthy melodic phrases and a delicate spring to the rhythmic parts within the second motion waltz, added depth to the sheer fantastic thing about the sound.

And that sound has its personal character. After a run of live shows earlier this fall by Esa-Pekka Salonen, who succeeded Tilson Thomas in 2020, the variations have been fascinating to ponder. Salonen appears to favor a brighter, steelier sound in opposition to a driving rhythmic sense. This efficiency showcased a hotter, fleshier texture from the orchestra’s strings (and never simply within the Tchaikovsky). It was plush however sleeker than the clearly effulgent sound of top-tier American orchestras within the east and in Europe. MTT’s rhythms had extra bounce than drive, however possibly that was merely extra applicable for this music.

As soon as previous the luxurious colours of the opening phrases, the primary motion got here to life with a tempo simply versatile sufficient to let the music unfurl naturally. The second-movement waltz danced with delicacy and a stunning wink with every shift in perspective. The serene Elégie rose and fell like a sailboat on the open sea on a fantastic day. The finale opened with a wistful reflection earlier than launching into the Russian tune’s livelier rhythms and completed with a haunting diminuendo that gained momentum seamlessly right into a crisp end.

Michael Tilson Thomas embraces the Serenade for Strings rating © Brittany Hosea-Small

Out for his second curtain name in entrance of an outpouring of appreciation from the viewers, MTT picked up the rating and wrestled it right into a demonstrative hug. He clearly has a particular feeling for this piece. The wordless communication on stage and within the corridor was magnificent to behold.

The Elfman concerto, commissioned by San Francisco Symphony and written for the French cellist Gautier Capuçon, had its premiere postponed by the pandemic. The debut occurred earlier this 12 months with the Vienna Philharmonic, David Robertson conducting, however it was Tilson Thomas who consulted personally with the composer on orchestral issues because the piece took form.

Nonetheless youthful 69, Elfman boasts a protracted listing of film scores for lots of the largest movies of the previous three a long time (and the theme track for The Simpsons). He attained some notoriety within the pop world within the late Nineteen Seventies and Nineteen Eighties as chief of the brand new wave band, Oingo Boingo. His latest forays into classical music have produced a number of symphonic works, amongst them two crowd-pleasing concertos, one for violinist Sandy Cameron and one for percussionist Colin Currie.

To swimsuit Capuçon’s preferences, this 20-minute cello concerto deliberately leans extra on melody than rhythm, which was most evident within the gradual motion. Titled ‘Meditation’, it sang with lengthy, supple traces in opposition to a kaleidoscope of subtly intertwining chords, following a second motion – ‘Molto (nearly) perpetuo’ – which had the cellist dig into bursts of zippy, rapid-fire enjoying.

Melodies wandered uncertainly over often pungent harmonies in each these and the outer actions, however it made for a properly compact showcase by the cellist, with sufficient complexity within the orchestral contributions to maintain issues attention-grabbing. Lacking, for me, was a well-defined arc of the place the (at all times nice) music was coming from and the place it was going.

Credit score each Capuçon and Tilson Thomas for his or her unanimity of strategy to every factor of the piece. It gained over the viewers, which gave Elfman a roar of appreciation when he bounded onto the stage.

If the strings obtained their highlight within the second half of the live performance, the winds and percussion obtained issues off to a pleasant begin with Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Devices. Right here once more, the ensemble sound had a heat that introduced out sonorities lurking throughout the composer’s pungent harmonies and delivered them with a tender glove over the punchy rhythms.

Most impressively, the bits of chorale music appeared, reappeared and gained momentum in opposition to the shrills of clarinets and punctuations by bells all through the 10-minute piece till they coalesced right into a soulful, comforting, full-scale assertion of the chorale within the piece’s ultimate moments.

Harvey Steiman

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