For the last two weeks of this month, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) will present two programs based, respectively, in Italy and Russia. Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) will conduct both programs, each of which will feature multiple soloists. In addition, the Italian program will feature multiple centuries.
That program will be the first to be performed. It will begin in 1717, the year in which Alessandro Marcello published his Opus 1 concerto for oboe and strings in D minor. This music was so popular that Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed the score for solo harpsichord (BWV 974, also in D minor). It was subsequently published in several different editions, one of which transposed the key to C minor and has been credited to Marcello’s better-known brother Benedetto. This is the version that will be performed by SFS Principal Oboe Eugene Izotov, who will also lead the members of the string section.
The remainder of the program will involve a rather curious synthesis of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The twentieth-century composer will be Luciano Berio, represented primarily by “Sinfonia,” which he wrote on a commission for celebrating the 125th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic. Since Berio had an enthusiastic interest in linguistics, it is worth observing that the title is simply Italian for the conventional use of the noun “symphony,” rather than intended as “introductory” music, following the semantics of pre-Classical practices. The work is scored for full orchestra and eight amplified voices, but Berio had very specific voices in mind. They were the members of The Swingle Singers, a vocal octet founded by Ward Swingle in 1962, who became popular in this country through their scat-singing approach to Bach, performed with a jazz rhythm section. There are any number of “Swingle moments” in the score; but the vocalists are also required to speak, whisper, and shout words from a variety of text sources, including Samuel Beckett’s novel The Unnamable (the English edition), Le Cru et le Cuit (the raw and the cooked), Claude Lévi-Strauss’ first major study of mythology based on Ferdinand de Saussure’s theories of structural linguistics (declaimed in French), and instructions (in German) that Gustav Mahler added to the scores he conducted. Mahler also dominates the third movement of “Sinfonia,” since the scherzo (third movement) of his second (“Resurrection”) symphony provides the “spinal cord” of a free-for-all collage of both text and music (the latter definitely being in the guess-what-I-just-heard category). Swingle died in 2015, but The Swingle Singers continue to perform; and they will be the vocalists joining SFS.
Berio also had a passionate interest in transcription and arrangement. The program will include his arrangement of “Il poveretto” (the poor man), a song that Giuseppe Verdi composed in 1847 for voice and piano based on a poem by S. Manfredo Maggioni. The vocalist will be tenor Michael Fabiano, who will also sing arias from two Verdi operas, “Sento avvampar nell’anima” (my soul is set on fire) from Simon Boccanegra and “Si, di Corsari il fulmine” (yes, the Corsairs will strike) from Il corsaro. Fabiano will also sing one of the best-know bel canto tenor arias, “Una furtiva lagrima” (a furtive tear) from Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (the elixir of love). The program will conclude with the SFS Chorus (Ragnar Bohlin, director) joining SFS in a performance of Verdi’s setting of the “Te Deum” hymn, the last of Verdi’s Quattro pezzi sacri (four sacred pieces).
This concert will be given three performances, all at 8 p.m. on Thursday, September 22, Friday, September 23, and Saturday, September 24. There will be an Inside Music talk given by Alexandra Amati-Campari that will begin at 7 p.m., which will be free to all ticket holders. Doors open for this talk at 6:45 p.m. Ticket prices range from $30 to $162. They may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Box Office in Davies Symphony Hall, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.
The following week will shift attention to two twentieth-century Russian Composers. Dmitri Shostakovich will be represented by his Opus 35 (first) piano concerto in C minor. Shostakovich scored this for piano, trumpet, and string orchestra. Yuja Wang will be the pianist, and the trumpet part will be taken by SFS Principal Trumpet Mark Inouye. The program will also include two compositions written by Igor Stravinsky that reflect his Russian influences, “Le Chant du rossignol” (the song of the nightingale), a symphonic poem based on his 1914 three-act opera, Le rossignol, a staging of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Nightingale,” and the 1919 version of the suite extracted from the score for the one-act ballet “The Firebird.” In addition the program will begin with the world premiere of a concert overture composed by Bright Sheng based on the music he wrote for his opera Dream of the Red Chamber (but not intended to serve as an overture when the opera is performed).
This concert will be given four performances, again all at 8 p.m., on Wednesday, September 28, Thursday, September 29, Friday, September 30, and Saturday, October 1. The Inside Music talk will be given by Peter Grunberg, beginning again one hour prior to each concert, which will be free to all ticket holders. Doors open for this talk fifteen minutes before the talk beings. Ticket prices will again range from $15 to $169. They may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Box Office. Finally, the event page also includes a hyperlink for listening to a free podcast about the “Firebird” suite hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone. There is also a link for sound clips from that suite and a Web page with the program notes for the Shostakovich concerto.