The San Francisco Symphony performs regularly at Davies Symphony Hall and has come up with Project San Francisco, which features artists that connect listeners to music with their unique background. One of them consists of this all-Russian program, two first performances and an all-Soviet cast of soloists. I would highly recommend giving them a listen, if you haven't done it recently. They're also on the Classical Radio station at 8 PM on Tuesday evenings (tune into FM 90.3) and KDFC.com.
Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto
Prokofiev Ivan the Terrible
Scriabin's Reverie, a First San Francisco Symphony performance, was a short 10 minute introduction of a soothing collection of sounds before the grand entrance of diva pianist, Khatia Buniatishvili Khatia's dress was blindingly white with the bottom half made with ruffled feathers. I expected the opening chords to increase intensity in sound more gradually, but she already seemed anxious to get to the loud parts. Applause ensued after the First Movement. As a classical musician myself, I knew the rules to not clap in between movements, but I felt the energy of the zealous listeners couldn't have been contained. I must say, I've listened to this Concerto countless times, most times interpretations with which I agreed and that followed the mainstream protocol for rubato, voicing, and pacing. While tonight's rendition was too impulsively driven for my taste, I couldn't help, but think of how many beautiful, yet how safely and traditionally romantic the other interpretations have been. I admired this young woman's originality and unleashed adrenaline. Sometimes the inner voice surges were gag worthy, but there's nothing static about this work anyway. Prize Winner of the Arthur Rubenstein International Competition and only 25, she has made a mark for herself with the San Francisco Symphony already, this being her second guest performance.
With the predictable cadential hair flip and model-like over-curved back, her exaggerated stage presence reminded me of Lang Lang. The showmanship was entertaining so much that I could see the audience exchange glances and chuckle every time she was about to make a final cadence or loud chord. That hair flip was coming! Musically speaking, she would fade the sound away from the highest notes or top of the melodic line until some notes were inaudible. She would even stretch the tempo so much it sounded like a different movement. These stark contrasts in tempo were obvious and taken to extremes, but they were clearly intentional and emotionally fiery.
With a headache that started in the afternoon to a mind-twisting interpretation of Rachmaninov's Second Concerto, I was thinking of excuses to leave during intermission. I also thought I would fall asleep during the 45 minute production. I actually attended the pre-concert talk at 7 pm to learn about Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible, arranged by LT. Atovmyan. Prokofiev composed the score for both parts of Sergei Eisenstein's film Ivan the Terrible in 1924 and 1945. Ivan was historically important in his role of Tsar in Moscow in 1547 and in the unification of Russia as a nation. He founded a group of loyal torture-and-murder teams, the oprichniks, who rampaged the streets and terrorized the lives of everyone. This painted Ivan in a negative light, and the film was meant to clean up his not-so-stellar image and focus on his unification of Russia. Prokofiev was told that the music "must sound like a mother tearing her own child to pieces". I can see where that comes in..bombastic interjections on piano, cymbals, and trumpets, whipping from the oprichniks (acted out by the baritone) and screeching sounds added to that effect. Atovmyan reworked Prokofiev's original music and fully used the potential capacity of the 116 person, four part choir with a mezzo-soprano and baritone and full orchestra. A first North American performance, I was fortunate enough to experience it. The first time this arrangement and orchestration had been heard was just on January 28, 2012 in London, only ten months ago. What I love about the San Francisco Symphony is they constantly refresh each season with something new, and truly unique. Last year marked their 100th Anniversary, so they invited orchestras all over the world to perform on the Davies Symphony Hall stage throughout the year to celebrate this joyous milestone.