REVIEW: San Fran Symphony

Photo Courtesy of UMS
Photo Courtesy of University Musical Society

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.

PREVIEW: San Fran Symphony

A young Michael Tilson Thomas. He turns 70 this week.
A young Michael Tilson Thomas. He turns 70 this week.

Who: The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas

What: Mahler’s Symphony No.7

Where: Hill Auditorium

When: Thursday, November 13th, 7:30 (alternate program on November 14 click here for details)

Price: $14-$85

The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra will be in Ann Arbor on the 13th and 14th, bringing the great Mahler’s 7th Symphony along with them. The SFSO is constantly regarded as one of the finest orchestras on the world circuit, and seeing them here at Hill Auditorium is nothing short of a treat.

Mahler’s 7th was written in 1904-05 and marks the composer’s return to his ‘progressive tonality.’ The symphony is roughly 80 minutes in length and is sometimes referred to as Lied der Nacht (lit. Song of the Night) due to its evocation of Nocturnal themes.

Review: ChristianTetzlaff and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

San Francisco Symphony- March 19,2010

They say each symphony orchestra is different than the other in many many ways. Until now, I was really into learning the basics that this concept escaped me. But when I saw the San Francisco Symphony in action, I finally got what they meant. The difference was not only in the arrangements, the music they chose but also in the way they performed as one. They were a more contained unit.

The program started with a piece called “Post-scriptum” by contemporary composer Kissine. No offense, but I didn’t like it. It had this dreading , urgent tone that was disturbing and annoying-a smorgasbord of notes (often jarring and out of place)- no rest for the musician, no rest for the listener. There was definitely an innovative use of the sounds of the entire orchestra. But the piece was abstract and felt purposeless, always aiming towards the dramatic, as if pandering to today’s love for things “abstract”. My frustration sprang from the fact that I couldn’t connect with it at all. There were “bravos” when the piece ended, to my surprise.

Intrigued by this, during the intermission, when I asked a couple of people if they liked it, one (an older person) said that it was uncomfortable and screechy) and the other (younger one)  said that she had liked it for the novelty in the tempo and musical arrangement.  So I guess there was a divided house, based on my pathetic sample size. <Shrug>.

But then the second piece, a definitely classic composition by Tchaikovsky, “Violin Concerto in D Major”  just gave me my ticket’s worth . Listening to the violin solo  felt like stepping out onto the fresh, dew-kissed grass while the smell of the earth lingers in the air after the first rain of spring. Christian Tetzlaff has  perfect technique and when he plays the high notes, especially in the recurrent melody in this piece, you can’t help but bow to his bow.

The brilliant Christian Tetzlaff
The brilliant Christian Tetzlaff. Master of the bow!

This piece touched so many moods but there was no despair of non-comprehension at the end, like the first one. The compelling beauty of the violin was hard to resist. Mr. Tetzlaff  totally owned the piece.

Ravel’s piece was interesting but didn’t leave me that impressed as his other works before. The Liszt work of “lament and triumph” was intriguing and sad. In this piece, I thought that the use of the trumpets and horns as ‘highlighters” in order to emphasize a musical sequence of importance was neat. It started off  on a gloomy note but grew on me.

Michael Tilson Thomas
Michael Tilson Thomas

Mr.Thomas breezed through these tough compositions and everything was executed so well. I think that kind of clockwork precision comes only with amazing natural talent as well as years of practice and hardwork. Overall, it was a great show.

That night, the triangle was used maybe seven times at the max. On my way back, I was wondering what the musician who played the triangle must feel. Maybe  it is pure discipline. Maybe it is the fact that they know that they are contributing, even though it is a small role. ” They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Krithika, for [art]seen

Preview: San Francisco Symphony Orchestra Today!

What beautiful weather we have been having! No longer does the sun disassociate its  twin functions of producing heat and light and to feel the lovely sunshine while you lay under the cerulean blue skies -it just makes you feel so alive!

Well , you can experience that same feeling of warmth and joy when you come to the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra performance under the direction of  the highly renowned Michael Tilson Thomas tonight. The performance will also feature Christian Tetzlaff, a violinist who is claimed to be the most important violinists in our times for his perfect technique and musical perception . Do I see you raising your eyebrows with disbelief? Then listen to this!

Christian Tetzlaff – Bach Sonata No. 3 (III. Largo)– Courtesy,

Tonight’s program features works of Kissine, Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Liszt- all masters with such distinct signatures.


San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Christian Tetzlaff, violin

When: Friday, March 19, 8 pm
Where: Hill Auditorium

Tickets at Box Office  before the show or the Michigan League Ticket Office.

Come bask in the Hill Auditorium as the lovely notes of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra lift you to your heaven!

For [art]seen,