San Francisco is certainly a name that pops up in concert halls all around the world thanks to Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony Orchestra – well – on my visit to SF they were on their Asia Tour. With “the big boys” out of town I got the chance to see the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra play and what a treat that was!
The day before the concert I was lucky enough to do a Backstage Tour at the SF Opera next door and our guide – sadly I don’t remember his name – was just so great! I ended up chatting with him after the tour and he ended up showing my Symphony Hall as well – turns out he works there as an usher. The orchestra were just starting their rehearsal as we came into the auditorium and I was just blown away by the clarity of the acoutics in the hall – we were up with the gods and the tone was incredibly clear…. however, more on that acoustics later…
On sitting down in my seat I find myself next to the very proud dad of Peter Feher, one of the flutes of the orchestra. This was just great as I got a little more insight into the orchestra. Therefore, I found myself keeping an ear and an eye out on him – doesn’t help that I play flute myself (nowhere near orchestra level though!!).
This concert marked Christian Reif’s debut with the SFSYO. Having been mentored by MTT in Miami he just joined as Resident Conductor. He is very charismatic and has a great presence and his slightly American, yet distinct German accent makes him only even more likable.
The afternoon started off with Maenads’ Dance fomr The Bassarids by Hans Werner Henze. Though I have come across the name a few times myself it was actually the first ever time I heard one of his pieces. Reif took the time to explain a little about the piece as the composer certainly is no household name in the New World. With a full blown orchestra on stage you could tell that it certainly was not going to be a quiet affair! It was definitely an exciting 4 minutes of ferocious music… The piece is only 12 years old but actually surprisingly pleasant to listen to!
Sibelius’ Violin Concerto was next on the programme. Alexi Kenney joined the orchestra on stage. And once he started playing – you were just blown away! At 22 years old he certainly is a force to be reckoned with and a name to watch out for! The vibrancy in his play was just beautiful! Him and the orchestra were in such harmony and the young energy clearly shone through in this beautiful piece of music. One was drawn into the dynamic play of both soloist and orchestra. Sibelius being one of my favourite composers it is very easy for me to get lost in his music. The depth within his music is not always the easiest to capture but the SFSYO did a fantastic job. For such young players to be able to put such a passion into the music is just remarkable. Especially the third movement had a great playful and light air to it, yet it was driven with dark and intense passion.
After the interval it was another one of my favourite composers: Shostakovich and his 6th Symphony. Here it was a very similar story – the orchestras play was just spectacular! Woodwinds and brass deserve a special mention! It really is incredible to think that these young musicians are so talented and are able to play these quite challenging pieces with such vigor. I have heard professional, grown up orchestras struggle with Russian composers. Everything was spot on and in total harmony. And of course in our row was the odd bit of held breath in certain piccolo solo parts which were all handled perfectly!
So now – back to the acoustics I mentioned earlier… when Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall originally opened the acoustics was less than ideal and it took another $10 million to improve this… sounds a bit like Royal Albert Hall where the “mushrooms” needed to be hang up… I was sitting in the middle section of the Loge so in a very good spot and the sound of the orchestra was spectacular – however, in my personal opinion the hall is a little too sensitive to audience noises! You could hear the tinest bit of noise clearly where I was sat and this did disturb the concert for me a little… the noises didn’t come from any people around me but from a totally different part of the hall and in the quieter parts of the concert it was a little distracting… for my next visit I will make sure to choose a more louder programme rather than something on the quiet side.
Regardless, it was an outstanding afternoon and I will certainly remember the SFSYO and keep an eye out for a few more names.