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March 2011

Sight and Sound

March 31, 2011 14:36


There are those who only attend the ballet and can’t imagine enjoying themselves at the symphony, because there are no dancers to watch, no costumes and pretty scenery.

I am not one of them. I am a former ballet dancer and must confess that watching ballet dancers rouses something raw in me. Call it a yearning, call it envy or simply a revival of that old competitive nature. But I’m trying to be an enlightened adult and face my shadow self. Besides, right across the street from the San Francisco Symphony is the War Memorial Opera House, venue of the world class San Francisco Ballet. I’ve seen it there every time I’ve gone to the symphony in the past five years, and something in me always whispers, “coward.”

So I went to the ballet. To quell my insecurity I chose a program that featured all Tchaikovsky. And in the end, I enjoyed myself. There was Balanchine’s “Themes and Variations,” Kenneth MacMillan’s “Winter Dreams,” but far and away my favorite was Helgi Tomasson’s “Trio,” set to  Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence” (string sextet in D-minor, op 70). From the instant the violin struck that urgent first chord I was in love. It was the most perfect marriage of music and dance and my only regret was that I didn’t get to see the musicians, particularly the first violinists who performed that irresistible top melody voice.

 “Winter Dreams” utilized vignettes of Tchaikovsky’s music, including “Valse Sentimentale,” which is one of my favorite little violin tidbits. I’m almost inclined to say, however, that watching the dance leached the music of its power. Granted, the dancers were sublime, truly world-class. But I felt a spasm of longing to be across the street right then, in familiar turf, where it was all about music, in my beloved little subscription seat (I did not like the space in the 3500-seat Opera Hall—I felt like a budgie in one of those pet shop cages, jammed in with a hundred other chattering, clawing budgies).

Back home, I’ve been listening to my recording of “Souvenir de Florence” a lot, and the first movement still has me starry-eyed. In searching for a YouTube link to attach to this blog, I came upon the following performance. My initial reaction was that it was an amateur performance, perhaps students on a college stage. No requisite black-and-white attire, and the stage backdrop is pretty funky-looking. The audio sound flawed, too much treble, rather tinny, but once the musicians start playing, the rest just fell away as extraneous stuff. There are likely more professional recordings I can find on YouTube if I searched around, but my point is this: here is art, trimmed of the extraneous. This performance, particularly that of first violinist Stefan Jackiw, captured that glorious musicality of the piece, the dance-ness of it, for lack of a better word. It sent my heart soaring. Check it out. (Note that it has been split into two YouTube clips; both links are here.)

I researched the performers; they are part of Korea-based Ensemble Ditto. I was delighted to discover that Stefan Jackiw is an up-and-coming young artist making a name in the international circuit. Googling Ensemble Ditto led me to a charming Korean promotional video that is also worth a

I like this feeling, galvanized over an arts performance, caught up in the palpable energy and artistry the musicians created. I want to shout out to the rest of the world, “Here! There’s some cool classical music here, come check it out, come meet new faces you haven’t seen before.” How good it feels to support the arts in this way. Then I go back to thinking about the ballet performance I saw and yes, it was beautiful, the dancers were sublime. But ballet seems locked in its own little citadel. The company creates its own publicity for selected dancers, but only what they can control. The performance is carefully orchestrated to reveal only what they want you to see. Beauty, illusion, perfection—the heavy curtains and hidden wings hide the rest. God forbid you should ever try and seek out one of the artists, chat with them.

Well, that’s the ballet world. And this is the classical music world. Both very similar and yet, oh, how different. But it’s not hard to decide which one will get my subscription dollars next season.


© 2011 Terez Rose

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