San Francisco Symphony — Pictures & Percussion

Adam Schoenberg

It was the moment Adam Schoenberg had been anticipating since early 2018: the world premiere of ‘Losing Earth’, his first percussion concerto. Also in the spotlight was Jacob Nissly, the soloist for the piece and the SFS Principal Percussionist. Wondering how long we have left before our earth succumbs to global warming, Schoenberg wrote the piece as pondering on what is to come.

The piece literally starts with a bang — gigantic bass drum hits by players in the balconies in the audience. These large, startling hits are followed by immediate silences meant to represent natural disasters punctuating our day-to-day lives in greater and greater numbers. The piece then moves attaca to the second section, a tonal realization of the loss of our coastlines featuring vibraphone and Thai nipple drums slow rolling through a slower section reminiscent of underwater sounds. The third section is a call to action for all humans and has a more hopeful tone to it. Nissly certainly got to demonstrate his technical abilities simultaneously on mallets, wood blocks, and kick drum! The optimism was apparent in the music as well as through Nissly deftly swinging back and forth, smiling with glee as he performed and he took his well-deserved bow before a standing ovation in Davies Symphony Hall.

Lili Boulanger’s ‘Of a Spring Morning’ begins with low flute solo that slows and morphs into a delicate, high bassoon solo elegantly played. This soft, pleasant piece by the Boulanger was a wonderful contrast in programming by Cristian Macelaru, this weekend’s visiting conductor. Macelaru elicited a restrained vibrance and it was apparent that everyone was enjoying his conducting and this piece. One could almost see the small woodland creatures scurrying in the underbrush as the piece rushed forward towards the blossoming spring.

Modest Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ went off without a hitch. This precision orchestra savored every moment of this classical arrangement by Maurice Ravel. Of note was the clarinet soloists’ tone in the III movement, The Tuileries — pure gold. Bydlo, movement IV, was clearly faster by Macelaru’s choice and the tuba solo was played on a euphonium, a seemingly unusual choice, perhaps also made by Macelaru. 

Most audiences may have come for ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, but the audience was seemingly taken with the newly composed ‘Losing Earth,’ which was certainly the showstopper of the night. 

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Archived in these categories: 20th Century, 21st Century, Orchestral.
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