Sunday, February 28, 2010

Strauss, Mozart, and Debussy' La Mer At San Diego Symphony

Well, what do you know it actually rains in San Diego, California! Actually, it has been raining a bit more than usual here this winter courtesy of El Nino. Your smorginess was out all day and much of last night roaming around downtown area. Having somehow managed to complete the crossword puzzle in this week's issue of the San Diego Reader, I swung by Little Italy (via the trolley) to drop off my bid for a free t-shirt (if you complete the week's puzzle before the Monday after, they'll put you in for a draw for a free t-shirt) at their office on India Street.

This being a Saturday, the Mercanto (Farmers' Market) was on along Date Street. Naturally I dropped in to inhale the atmosphere and was rewarded when I ran into this stall-ful of happy Thai cooks watching over a mouth watering pan of hot kanom krok!

They were selling them at 5 pieces for $1. A superb steal since Thai restaurants don't make these. I've been looking for them for years (had them for breakfast almost every morning when I visited Thailand in the mid 90's. They are positively addictive in a most purr-ific way!). Unfortunately this vendor isn't from any local restaurant but from Chef Woods, which only does farmers' market and catering.

Having indulged myself on the rare find of Thai street sweet, I felt like a spoiled brat walking past homeless folks squeezing themselves under the few roofed sidewalk areas in downtown they could park themselves at without getting shooed away for blocking local business. There simply isn't enough shelter space available and many have to brave the elements out on the streets in plain sight of others.

It is especially frustrating walking by those shivering and wet folks into the cavernous space of the Central Post Office... with all the indoor space that isn't in use (it closes at noon on Saturday and isn't open again until Monday morning). The place looks half empty even during weekday business hours. Being a historic building, though, they can't modify it to allow a more efficient use of its space. I wonder how bad could it really be to allow the homeless folks to take shelter there from the rain during the weekend (and providing them with the equipments to clean up after themselves)... That isn't going to happen though.

Anyhow, after coming home to dry off a bit I went out into the rain again and caught the bus downtown for the San Diego Symphony concert of Strauss, Mozart, and Debussy at Copley Hall. They advertised the evening on Debussy's La Mer, but the first half of the performance actually featured Richard Strauss' Don Juan and WA Mozart's beloved C minor concerto for flute and harp.

Maestro Nuvi Mehta, the "Voice of the San Diego Symphony", gave his customary witty and engaging pre-concert lecture complete with listening tips on Strauss' erotically suggestive tone poem (not quite as detailed and explicit as the first part of his overture to Der Rosenkavalier, but no less enthusiastic) and the ideas behind Debussy's famous impressionistically watery orchestral sketches.

After a brief delay Maestro Philip Mann took the podium and drove the San Diego Symphony into a frenzy and steamy reading of Strauss' romantically disillusioned musical portrayal of Don Juan, literature's most prowess womanizer. This is not as romantic a portrayal of this character as you'd find in the opera of Gluck or Mozart but a Faust-like philosopher who burns out his short life in pursuit of the perfect woman (who naturally doesn't exist). The energetic horn section practically blew dry all the wet and damp suits in the auditorium with its enthusiasm. By the final thrust of Don Pedro's sword our clothes were practically steaming.

After a short intermission we were treated to Mozart's beloved C minor concerto for flute and harp, featuring Demarre McGill (flute) and Julie Ann Smith (harp). Both are the principal player of their instrumental section of the San Diego Symphony. I don't think they matched up all that well as concert soloists, though. Mr. McGill was into smooth legato phrasing (a lot easier to do on a wind instrument than on plucked strings like the harp) and delivered his solos in a super fluid flow while Ms. Smith plucked every note she played so clear and cleanly that they sort of got in the way of the melody. It was a good thing that the briskly paced orchestra was somewhere in the middle and the supportive string section proved an apt moderator for the pair.

The final part of the concert was Debussy's three part symphonic sketches, La mer, depicting the senses you get during a day spent by the ever-changing ocean. I don't know how accomplished Maestro Mann and the San Diego Symphony are at painting, but in music making their brass and percussion sections hammered the barometer so far to the ground that my ears popped from the acoustic low pressure system that developed from it. With the windy strings keeping the tempest finale so well fed it was a surprised to learn at the end of the concert that the tsunami from the Chile earthquake had actually missed our coast.

Maestro Mann (who was quite into tsunami warning jokes this evening) then demonstrated how it does pay to keep clapping after a good orchestral performance by indulging the audience with a Bloch number for an encore. The added few minutes ensured that I missed the 10PM bus back home, but it was quite worth the extra 30 wet minutes waiting for the next one!

On another note, the SDSO is into having three of its instrumentalists out in the lobby handing out their fun photocards to symphony-goers before the show. One of the players out last night caught my attention when I read his card and noticed that his hometown is Stara Zagora, Bulgaria! Naturally I had a smorg moment and blurted out to the poor man, bassoonist Valentin Martchev, who was stuck in his line of duty and couldn't very well have ran away from the opera-crazed me, that my favorite singer, Vesselina Kasarova, came from the same town he does. To my delight, Mr. Martchev told me that he knows her quite well (they attended the same music academy) and is very pleased that her artistry is appreciated.

Honestly... there is something special about that Bulgarian town. It produces disproportional number of wonderful musicians!


berenice said...

oh mister Smorg, i should've been with you at that concert!! not sure why i missed it, the program sounds delightful!! so your review... i had my eyes on the LA concert so i sort of gave up... but didn't realize we had the similar program in San Diego, oh well, i missed but hey!! i got to read your review

i do hope we can meet for Beethoven in April! in April is my b-day too, so it would be great!! i am going to check for tix now, before i space-out again!

Purity McCall said...

Hi Smorgy - great post and totally agree that the site of homeless folks on the streets while huge swathes of property lie empty is appalling. In the 80s here in the UK we solved the problem with the practice of squatting... needless to say that idea was killed during the 'property greed' madness years!!

Purity McCall said...

And needless to say that should read sight not site! Though come to think of it - does site work in US??

Smorg said...

Hiya Bere: I hope we'll get to meet up in April, too! I'll insist on buying you a Thai iced tea (or coffee?) to celebrate your anniversary. ;o) I'm looking at the Apr 29th concert (Beethoven's 4th piano concerto is one of my all time favorites). Cheers!

Hiya PM: I'd say 'site' works just fine in that sentence here, matie. :o) Do you guys also have big homeless problem in the big cities? I remember Prince William had a go at spending a night out with the homeless on a London street not long ago. Wonder if homeless there have better hope than here.

It is a big problem here in the city of San Diego mostly because the climate draws homeless in from the more inhospitable parts of the country. You aren't as likely to freeze to death or overheat living on the streets here. I have a feeling that makes it too bearable for a few who could work themselves out of that living condition but don't. Two weeks was the maximum I could handle. The lack of privacy drove me nuts. :oP

Thanks a bunch for stopping by, maties! :oD

berenice said...

April the 29th, Beethoven's 4th, and Thai Iced tea sounds delightful mister Smorg! am getting my ticket (to the cheap areas heh heh) and see you there!