The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra took a residency in Ann Arbor this weekend, with two performances at Hill Auditorium and numerous master classes being given around town (Gil Shaham’s violin master class being one of them). This artistic residency would not be possible without the help of the University Musical Society, which coordinates functions such as these several times a season.
Michael Tilson Thomas received great applause as he first stepped on the stage at Hill this Thursday, raising his baton before a close-to-capacity crowd. With no hesitation, he gave a downbeat to start the nocturnal stroll in the park that is Mahler’s seventh. The SFSO played at a very high level, albeit with some faults that only the musically inclined would have caught. Michael Tilson Thomas, however, put on a show. From stomping his foot at the apex of the fourth movement to his fluid body movements in the andante portion of the work, MTT was definitely a sight to see. It must be noted, as well, that MTT is known for playing Mahler well, and Thursday’s performance was a testament to that notion.
Something must also be said about the choice to play Mahler’s seventh in a college town such as Ann Arbor. Mahler was the product of the late German romantic period, meaning that his works (along with Bruckner and late Brahms) involved some form of intricacy and musical abstractionism that only veterans of the symphony could appreciate. Now, the brand of the SFSO definitely attracted a lot of patrons to Hill, but the ambient-nocturnal nature of the particular piece was not captivating enough for much of the student body. The students that were in attendance, however, were either symphony fans or die-hard Mahler fans. Fortunately, the author is both.
Discrepancies aside, the SFSO played a wonderful show Thursday night. From what I heard, Friday night was also a spectacular performance (they played Mephisto Waltz!). The SFSO received grand standing ovations both nights, and have been very well received throughout their residency here in Ann Arbor.