Saturday, March 13, 2010

For Whom The (Joshua) Bell Tolled: Concert @San Diego Symphony (12Mar2010)

Friday night in San Diego is a good time to hop downtown to catch a concert with the San Diego Symphony at Copley Hall, and this past Friday (yesterday, that is) was even more than usual. The SDSO is celebrating its 100th season and has packed their concerts with A-list artists from practically every classical music sub-genre. I can't be happier with the line-up.... except perhaps had they been able to score a Kasarova recital (but then one can't have all the cakes and then eat them too.... or perhaps one can but shouldn't. It's bad for the teeth or something!).

As a side note, though, I went by old Wahrenbrock's Book House on Broadway on the way there. The beloved collectible/used book dealer has been out of business for more than 6 months now, though the place is still boarded up... If anyone feels any compulsion to erect a monument to the disastrous economic near-collapse of 2008, it doesn't get any more sorrowfully surreal and effective than the way that building looks now. A business that had anchored that stretch of downtown since 1935, man... I miss all the hours spent browsing through its cavernous space and double filled book shelves.

Anyhow, Friday's concert at Copley Hall featured music by Antonin Dvorak, Max Bruch, and Peter Tchaikovsky. I was well familiar with Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, of course, though Bruch's folk songs inspired Scottish Fantasy and Tchaikovsky's supposedly Mozart-minded Strings Serenade were mostly foreign to me and to many in the packed auditorium.

Philip Mann was at the podium last night and opened the show with only two selections from Dvorak's Slavonic Dance op. 72 (the B major and E minor dances); a bombastic opening with the smoothly melancholy follow up, though, in this performance, both were rushed through in such no nonsense manner that most of the endearing Slavic flavor in them was lost in the swift whirlwind of his baton.

It was just as well since virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell (in a somewhat elegant maroon shirt with a big black center stripe) then came on the stage and proved the merit of all his accolades. His 1713 Gibson Strad wasn't very loud, but man, it sang with a sweet and sleek sound that commanded attention! The entire auditorium was soon acoustically transported to ruggedly beautiful Scotland (the piece is Bruch's symphonic setting of Scottish songs) as Bell and his hypnotically colorful violin conjured up a hall-filling Scottish soul with beautiful tones and musically imaginative phrasing.
His conviction and lyricism drew real life out of the orchestra, which suddenly found itself engaged in a lively musical dialogue with Bell's solo. Special praise should go to the principal flutist, Demarre McGill, for his virtuosic ease that exquisite matched up with Bell in their brief in-piece duet.

At the end of the last note the auditorium erupted into a prolonged and enthusiastic standing ovation that brought the violinist back out for four curtain calls. The third of which was punctuated by a solo encore of Henri Vieuxtemps' wittily humorous and stupendously virtuosic 'Souvenir d'Amerique: Variations on Yankee Doodle.'

(This Youtube clip is from another performance up at Sala Sao Paolo)
It was an awesome show of technical virtuoso as well as communicative artistry as his Gibson Stradivarius sang, snarled, cajoled, and even whistled the massively over-ornamented (in a most entertaining way, that is) beloved American tune to the delighted audience.

It was something of a programming blunder to not have the Joshua Bell act end the night. Having spent the intermission recomposing ourselves from the absolutely bedazzled state, the final half of the performance with Philip Mann conducting Tchaikovsky's Strings Serenade in C Major was anti-climatic to say the least and sleep-inducing to say the worst. Or perhaps the worst was the fact that by the 3rd movement of the thing many were so bored by it that they were compelled to find quietly distracting things to do while sitting through the seemingly never-ending music (not a compliment here, many of us really couldn't wait for it to be over with!). In my row of 10 people or so 3 were actually re-reading their program booklet from front to back just to past the time. It was a strange thing since the SDSO is usually so dependably good. Last night it was just lacklustering...

There are many more potentially spectacular concerts to catch at the San Diego Symphony this year, though. If you're in town, be sure to drop in at their website and see if you can score a ticket! In the meanwhile, the San Diego Opera is opening a 4 shows run of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette at the Civic Theater a few blocks to the east. I'd love to catch the 2PM performance of Tchaikovsky's 1st piano concerto at the symphony on Sunday, but I'm already rather worn out. Will see what state I'll be in after the opera tonight!


Nance said...

Thank you for posting the "Vieuxtemps" and thank you for dropping by my blog to leave a nice comment!

I agree that Mann galloped them too briskly through the Dvorak and I figured on a workmanlike, but uninspired, performance the rest of the night. They found their inspiration, though, with Bell...and that is his genius: he has a love affair with that Strad and we all get swept up with him. At the ovations, I saw one rather burly violinist drop a few tears. Then, back to work on Tchaikovsky...a poor choice of focus on strings at that point, since it provided too clear a contrast.

Enjoyed your post and will be back!

waking said...

Thanks for your comments in my blog. Yes, totally agree the sound is soooo sweet that all the auditorium was like in a dream. However the sound wasn't loud, I didn't know if it was because I sat too far away... anyway, I couldn't judge the sound effect of the concert hall still.

Smorg said...

Hi Nance & Waking,
Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you both enjoyed the concert (at least JB's part of it). :oD

I think the acoustic there is quite better up in the upper balcony (I was on the main floor and the strings don't sound as good down there. Got a good visual of the stage, though :o) ).

Hope you'll enjoy the next concerts at Copley Hall, too. They really loaded up the schedule with A-list names this season. I'm really looking forward to a slew of Beethoven in the spring. :oD


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