The Conductor Ascending

Terrific San Francisco symphony concert tonight. Everything full of life and crisply played, every piece a highlight in its own way.

Yan Pascal Tortelier is a very bouncy conductor, both figuratively and literally, actually jumping into the air at the big moments.

The concert stated with a selection from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne music, but it wasn’t either of the suites I’ve heard before. It had an unusually large orchestra, probably because they were going to need all those musicians for the symphony at the end of the program and might as well use them for something. Delicious.

The rest of the program was pieces I hadn’t heard before. Next was Poulenc’s Organ Concerto, which is a very odd but likeable work, often changing moods in a moment. After intermission was Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, with a really stunning violin solo by Nadya Tichman.

Finishing the concert was Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony, a dense, harsh, many-layered work that Tortelier nevertheless conducted without a score. I liked it a lot but it’ll take another few hearings before I really grasp it. There’s a remarkable — maybe insane is a better word for it — fugal section at the end that is a bit like watchng a tornado sweep up all the music up to that point, swirl it up, and drop it In a huge heap.

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