Two Soloists, Two Sublime Experiences
March 20, 2008 at 8:22 PMI love going to the symphony. There’s the trip to San Francisco, the thrill of Davies Hall and the surrounding Civic Center, the people watching, the pageantry of it all. But, in the end, it’s the soloists I go to hear. They’re like the main course and dessert pulled into one. In the past two months, I’ve had the good fortune of attending not one but two sublime performances. If I had to score them, which one would rank higher? Oh, not fair. Can’t say I could do that. Okay. Score cards out.
James Ehnes came first, in February, performing Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy. He wore a tux, which I loved. Points for Ehnes. Some argue that the clothes don’t matter, it’s about the music, or comfort for the musician. But I’m sorry, it deflates me to watch a performer stroll on in what looks like pajamas (albeit black ones) or some casual-looking outfit. I dressed up for the show, couldn’t they do the same?
I’d never heard Scottish Fantasy played live before. I love Bruch, all five of his concertos (include the not-to-be-missed Serenade in A Minor). The opening movement of his Scottish Fantasy, which really does call to mind Scotland, or, weirdly, the musical Brigadoon,, is particularly seductive and cinematic. Ehnes’s performance was close to flawless, with a clear, sweet tone throughout that made me think of honey. A golden flow of sweetness, always suiting the orchestral mood, which sounded even more dreamy with the addition of a harp. Ehnes is such an elegant player, good-looking, neither static nor restless in that convulsive way that makes you wish the performer would consider a ballet class to give some of those twists and sways some grace, at least. He looked good, he sounded good, you were just swept along on this great, golden wave and you didn’t want the music to ever end. Big points on all the above.
The contender: Gil Shaham in his March performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. He also dressed up for occasion, in a dark suit and tie. Thank you, Gil. Two points. Now Gil, he moves around. It was a different kind of movement from the aforementioned awkwardness, however. Not swaying so much as taking a few steps from one spot of the stage to the next. One obvious disadvantage here was that at times he was partially obscured from my view by Michael Tilson-Thomas and the conductor’s podium. Since Gil moved around quite a bit, I was able to catch a better view a minute later. Right, then, one point taken away for hiding, one point given for returning. And one more point, because he is so unconscious about his movement, so wondrously caught up in the musical experience, he gives you the feeling that you’re there right alongside him, discovering something new in this warhorse concerto. I must say I fell in love with the Mendelssohn all over again. And I just love Gil’s open, expressive face, with features that play well to a big concert hall. He seemed to be in his element that night, both exhilarated and inspired. It was a contagious mood. High points for Gil.
Two fabulous soloists at the top of their game. One, pure elegance and virtuosity, allowing the audience to revel in the pleasure of hearing everything done right. The other, equally virtuosic (is that a word?) brimming with organic artistry, sharing with both orchestra and audience a sense of discovery, this new treasure, this Mendelssohn that sounds positively fresh and new.
Don’t make me choose. Please don’t make me choose.
From Karin LinI saw Gil around the same time, playing the William Schuman concerto (not the Robert Schumann as I'd mistakenly thought when I bought the tickets, as you recall :) ). He was such a delight to watch---there's so much joy in his playing and it really comes through. Funny, I thought he moved around a bit too. My teacher claims Gil plays in an "old-fashioned" manner, bemoaning the other modern violinists (I'm guessing that includes Joshua Bell) who "dance on stage". Maybe his style has changed since my teacher last saw him.
Posted on March 20, 2008 at 9:56 PM
I skipped James Ehnes this time because I don't like the Scottish Fantasy, but I hope to see him live someday as well. Glad you enjoyed both performances! We'll make it to the same one someday and finally meet, right? ;)
From Anne HorvathTerez, you are allowed to like more than one violinist...
Posted on March 20, 2008 at 10:52 PM
I was there too! I was at the Ehnes concert! What fun! Great seats too!
Actually, I will quibble with one thing you say about Ehnes: "close to flawless" should read "flawless". Every note was perfect and clear. The runs sparkled-no blurs. And his sound was gorgeous. I was blown away. Ehnes is the only violinist I have ever heard that sounded BETTER live than on CD. I have some of his recordings, and they do him no justice! Wow. Amazing.
Also, despite being a somewhat *cough* boring *cough* piece, CM Alexander Barantschik had some really nice solos on that concert. His playing is so effortless and beautiful, not to mention his fiddle is pretty good too (insert smiley face here). He is a stellar musician.
From Karin LinDitto what Anne said about Alexander Barantschick. I love his playing, his sound, his instrument...everything!
Posted on March 20, 2008 at 11:25 PM
From Jonathan FrohnenMake sure to come see Anastasia Khitruk in May!
Posted on March 20, 2008 at 11:59 PM
From Terez MertesAnne and Karin, did you know Barantschik (sp?) plays the ex-David 1742 Guarneri that Heifetz played and donated to either the city of San Francisco, or the Symphony, or something along those lines? That's one precious little fiddle.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 1:31 AM
And Anne, I'm so glad you chimed in with your comments here! Am I allowed to say that we met afterwards and had one whooping fun hour of drinks together with your very cool and talented friends? (If I'm not allowed to broadcast that, well, whoops, b/c there's no edit button here on the blog comments!) Oh, and did I mention that you too are very cool and talented? And lotsa fun, to boot. : ) Karin, next time Anne comes through town, we all need to connect.
From Terez Mertes>Make sure to come see Anastasia Khitruk in May.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 1:38 AM
Jonathan, tell me more about her - I know nothing. Will she be performing with the SFS?
From Jim W. MillerThe remarks about the dress made me think that maybe the best (or worst?) thing that could happen to classical music would be if performances were all in jeans and sweats. That would leave only the appeal of the music itself, for better or worse. I would predict 75% deserters :) But it's fine the way it is too.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 2:06 AM
From Anne HorvathYah, Terez, you are ever so cool in my book, especially because you bought a round of post-concert drinks and dessert for my buddies and me! I know my (anonymous and private) Francophile buddy had a marvelous time doing French Talk with you!
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 2:06 AM
Come to think of it, that is the only time I have ever had to send a dessert back to the kitchen. Usually I am quite content to slurp down whatever sugar concoction that is placed in front of my face, but the waiter brought vanilla ice cream, and NOT chocolate ice cream! Oh, the humanity! That was the only downer for the whole trip (insert big smiley face here).
I'll come back one day. I should start saving rubles...
From Pauline LernerI'm glad you enjoyed hearing two great violinists live. Personally, I don't believe in choosing a favorite one. They are different, and you can enjoy each for his own playing style.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 2:57 AM
Personally, I don't care for Gil Shaham, but that may be because I've never heard him play as a soloist with a good orchestra.
This is not one-up-manship, but in the last few weeks, I've heard Joshua Bell, Lang Lang, and Natalie MacMaster in person. I've written up the JB concert, and that blog didn't generate much interest.
From Terez Mertes>Usually I am quite content to slurp down whatever sugar concoction that is placed in front of my face, but the waiter brought vanilla ice cream, and NOT chocolate ice cream!
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 3:54 AM
And, well, DUH! Why would anyone ask for vanilla with a red wine? He should have SO known it was a chocolate, just by the color of your wine. Then again, I must say, my creme brulée was a sublime choice. Oh, wait. Didn't I have champagne? Well. That just goes to confirm my point. It's all about colors. Or lack thereof.
Jim - the funny thing is that I argued your point in my May '06 blog HERE. . So, I guess I’m a traitor to my class. I just can’t seem to decide which class I belong in.
From Terez Mertes>the last few weeks, I've heard Joshua Bell, Lang Lang, and Natalie MacMaster in person. I've written up the JB concert, and that blog didn't generate much interest.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 3:57 AM
Pauline! I just read your blog now. I LOVED reading it. I've been a great fan of Jeremy Denk since I saw him as a Perlman replacement at the SF Symphony, and since then I've read his blog - hilarious stuff. Loved what you wrote on your blog. Thanks for mentioning it here. If ever you see Gil live and blog about it, PLEASE drop me an email to let me know. I always enjoy reading your impressions.
From Jim W. MillerHah, not class struggle. Even I can dress up...
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 6:10 AM
From Jim W. MillerAh, and no point actually. Just pondering in front of the TV between commercials.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 6:12 AM
From Anne HorvathBrandy??? I can't remember...I guess the roar of the SF in the ears drowned everything else out...
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 12:44 PM
From Tom HolzmanUnless they both propose marriage to you and you are not already married, there is no pressure on you to choose. Enjoy them both.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 12:57 PM
From Terez Mertes>...there is no pressure on you to choose. Enjoy them both.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 1:10 PM
Oh, good! While I'm at it, then, may I add Christian Tetzlaff to the collection as well? A trio of violin heros. And all cute, too boot. : )
Anne, you're RIGHT! It was Cognac, and now I remember the waiter saying, "well, that's from France, it's a real cognac," and I smiled politely at him and said, "Yes. I know that. I read that." A francophile knows these things. (Like the fact that champagne can only be labeled as such if it comes from the Champagne region, except if it's $3.00 American stuff, and you should be shot for even picking up such a bottle.) I just love that your friend was a francophile as well. It was soooo much fun to talk French things with him. And his Vuillaume! Sigh...
From Karen AllendoerferTerez, you're such a wonderful writer, I feel like reading these blogs is almost like being there. Thanks for putting the experience into these words for us!
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 1:52 PM
And I also enjoyed the link to your other blog about the symphony snobs a lot. I could totally sympathize with you, because I've been in a similar situation with my husband. He's incredibly sensitive to smells that I just don't notice. He doesn't like perfume at all, in anything, and since he buys the laundry and dish detergent and those kinds of things, I don't mind that so much.
But he's also very sensitive to the smells of certain cooking spices, and it was a big adjustment to me to have to put my slow cooker and bread machine in the basement . . . because I *like* the smells they make when they're working. It never would have occurred to me that someone would be *bothered* by coming home to the smell of Thai chicken and fresh bread wafting through the house. There's even a kind of garlic pasta (fresh and foodie, and, ironically, somewhat expensive) that I just can't buy or make at all anymore because the smell of it at night (in the bedroom) if I've made it for dinner (in the kitchen) keeps him awake.
It was one of those weird issues early on in our marriage that neither of us expected to come up--but you deal with it. It's a surprisingly tough challenge to really get inside someone else's head and try to see things from their point of view.
From Tom HolzmanTerez - in that case enjoy all three, but be sure to hold out for the best proposal should you receive one!
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 4:10 PM
From Terez MertesTom, I'm laughing at your reply, and Karen, I'm laughing at yours, too. Karen, poor you! I just love food smells - I was salivating at the description of stuff you said your husband was sensitive to. I've got a somewhat similar situation. My husband can't handle perfumes too well - mostly just the cosmetics department of department stores, but just a few months ago, he inquired as to whether I'd been putting on perfume just before going to bed lately. I had been. A tiny dot, a little pick-me-up, since God knows dates and romantic outings don't figure much into a 15 year marriage with an 8 year old boy. Well, it gave him an allergic reaction. Hence, I'm banned from putting on perfume late in the evening. (Unless I want to hear him snorting/snoring/noisily clearing his sinus passages every few hours all night long.)
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 4:21 PM
Oh, the interesting compromises of relationships...
But I'm glad you liked that old "Joshua and the Symphony Snobs" blog. That's one of my favorite old blogs. So hilarious, even though at the time I was so outraged. And thanks for your compliments on my blogging, BTW. Right back atcha!
From Anne HorvathYes Terez, the Francophiles are easy to spot, due to their eagerness to inflict their Francosilliness on everyone around them (another smiley face here).
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 4:16 PM
As for concert dress, I really have mixed feelings about this. I can't speak for the men, but I personally would not find tails very comfortable to play in. I do think it is a sign of respect for the music, and the artists that play it, and the audience that listens, to dress up, but there are other ways to look nice besides the ubiquitous Penguin Suit.
I have been to concerts where the soloist looked like a homeless person (Nigel) and sounded great. Around here in AL (not the Cultural Center of the Universe, granted) there is a trend to have evening formal (evening gowns, tails) for afternoon chamber concerts, which always strikes me as a bit odd.
From Anne HorvathAlso, Shaham and Tetzlaff are married, with families. If I recall correctly, Ehnes is involved too. Aren't you married anyway??? (yet another smiley face).
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 4:49 PM
From Tom HolzmanIt sounds like we should all wangle a dinner invitation from Karen.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 6:03 PM
Shaham, at least, is married, and I think Anne may have dibs on him to boot.
Have a great weekend.
From Tom HolzmanTerez - now that you have admitted that you are married, the expletives of disappointment being expressed by the Ehnes, Shaham and Tetzlaff are audible at least in my corner of the world.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 6:08 PM
From Terez Mertes>Also, Shaham and Tetzlaff are married, with families. If I recall correctly, Ehnes is involved too. Aren't you married anyway???
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 6:06 PM
Hey, I'm innocent here! Blame these proposed affairs on Tom.
And on the penguin suit - yes, I actually agree that it doesn't look all that comfortable, and normally I wouldn't have the thoughts I had, but tell me, when James strode out onto the stage on Saturday night, didn't you think, "My... he looks really nice"? I remember Gil wore a tux two years ago when performing the W. Schuman VC, but aside from that, I don't think I've ever seen a soloist wear a tux.
Nadja S-S dresses pretty irreverently. Hey, maybe SHE'S worn a tux. It seems like it might be her style - as long as she can sling off the jacket midway. When I saw her in recital at Davies last yea, she wore a very casual blouse and trousers outfit. It seemed to suit her, and the recital was excellent. But I gotta say, I really like Sarah Chang's dresses. They're just so pretty, so visual. Must be my ballet background that leaves me wanting to see and enjoy pretty costumes.
From Terez MertesTom - we posted at the same time. Ha ha, I'm enjoying your last reply! : )
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 6:14 PM
From Anne HorvathTerez, don't pay any attention to Holzman. He is just trying to stir up trouble again. Holzman, Shaham's wife, Adele Anthony, a fine violinist in her own right, has dibs. Besides, I think you are thinking of Gerety's old crush on Vengerov...
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 6:34 PM
As for Ehnes in his tux, meh. I am blase about men in the Penguin Suits. If you've seen one penguin, you've seen them all! Of course, some penguins are pretty good at playing violin!
And come to think of it, the conductor that night for Ehnes' concerto (Ashkenasy) was not wearing tails. When I heard him play piano back in the 80's (Rach's Pag-Var) he wore a turtleneck under a sports jacket. That was the first time I saw a soloist not in the Penguin Suit.
From Anne HorvathAlso, Tom, did you mean "Karin" or "Karen"?
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 6:44 PM
From Tom HolzmanKaren Allendoerfer. Her description of the things she cooked got my attention.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 7:21 PM
From Terez MertesYes, c'mon, Anne. Can't you smell that Thai chicken? : ) Of course, maybe Karin cooks a mean Thai chicken as well. So maybe we should swing invitations from both of them.
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 8:16 PM
From Anne Horvath(Shaking head sadly at shameless begging)
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 8:44 PM
From Karen AllendoerferWell, Karin and Karen are both technology professionals with young children who have lived in California, have been associated with MIT, have restarted violin playing as adults after a break, and are both performing soon at UU church talent shows!
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 9:45 PM
(And have you ever seen both of them in the same room at the same time? Hmm . . .)
From Karin LinShhhhh! Don't give away our secret, Karen! (or they'll ALL want clones...)
Posted on March 21, 2008 at 10:24 PM
From Terez MertesOh, these last two posts are cracking me up!
Posted on March 22, 2008 at 3:54 AM
Not that the others didn't. : )
From Karen AllendoerferKarin, I want a clone of your violin!
Posted on March 22, 2008 at 11:35 AM
And sure, if any of you are ever in the Boston area, please come over for some Thai chicken :)
From Stephen Brivatiwhy did the Thai chicken cross the road?
Posted on March 24, 2008 at 10:40 PM
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