Saturday, November 10, 2012

REVIEW: San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas and Yuja Wang

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Thursday November 8

In my concert going life here in Hong Kong, there are a few times when the evening was so wonderful and enjoyable that they actually energized me and kept me awake. The first time was the performance of The Philadelphia Orchestra with Wolfgang Sawallisch in Hong Kong on June 8 2001. The orchestra played Dukas’ The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (orchestrated by Ravel) and Brahms’ Symphony No.4. The second time was the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra with Simon Rattle in Hong Kong on November 14 2005. The orchestra played Haydn’s Symphony No. 86, Ades’Asyla and Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. Last night, it happened again. San Francisco Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas was in top form.

Last night was not the first time the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas visited Hong Kong. They were here in 2006 yet, their impact this time was quite different. I believe that the above three instances have one thing in common though, and it was the program. Somehow, the combination, the sequence and how it played to the strength of the orchestra must be the answer.

The orchestra opened with John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine; and what an opening! Thomas premiered this work in 1986 with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the music consists of a series of chords (in quarter notes and eights) against the persistence and consistent beat on woodblocks. I have heard it played before but never as frantic and tense like this.

Yuja Wang joined in for Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor. I saw Yuja Wang the first time with Prokofiev’s Piano 3 two years ago; and with this performance, I can only conclude that Prokofiev seems to be quite ideal for her. Never the one to shy away from speed, Yuja has managed to infused lyricism and incisive power to great effect. Most astounding was how elegance slowly gave way to exuberance in the 3rd movement. In a gap of two years and with the maturity Yuja Wang has developed, she proved that the best is yet to come!

Rachmaninov Symphony no. 2 in E Minor came after the interval. Thomas’s slightly melodramatic reading didn’t feel manipulative at all but instead, the passionate and heart-on-sleeves performance resulted to a rich and romantic sound. The clarinet solo was the loveliest I have ever heard in a live performance of this symphony.

What came after the Rachmaninov was a bit tricky. The San Francisco Symphony provided two encores, first of which was the beautifully arranged Chinese folksong FengYang Flower Drum (鳳陽花鼓). Having said that, the piece was so rambunctious that it totally smashed the mood the preceding Rachmaninov piece elegantly created… come to think of it, perhaps this is why I was kept awake.
San Francisco Symphony 
8 November 2012 (Thu)

Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor (Piano Solo: Yuja Wang)
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor

Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director / Conductor

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