I finally made good on my reason for moving up to San Francisco tonight, and went to the symphony. My much bally-hooed love of "culture" finally got a chance to show itself, as I went to see a performance of Ravel's Bolero.
I rushed home from work, intent on making sure I enjoyed the event. Quick shower and a shave later, I was meeting Dr Germ, and we made our way to Davies Concert Hall. Having bought our tickets earlier, we didn't have any tedious mucking about in lines and instead made our way to our seats. The concert hall itself is sumptuous and absolutely stunning, with the orchestra level almost entirely made of wood. I'd go on but I really wanted to talk about the music more than anything else.
The Ravel was slated to go on last, but the best thing about going to the symphony is that you'll typically hear at least one peice of music that you've never heard before. Two of the three of the peices they played were new to me: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (Ralph Vaughan Williams), and a tune that shall remain nameless both for it's ghastliness as well as the fact that I can't remember it. The Vaughan Williams was great! I'd never really heard any of his work, and this was both soft and evocative. The strings dominated all the way through, and drew out emotion after emotion. It was surprising how it affected seemed to soften the air, and filter the light.
The peice that shall remain nameless was next and it was atrocious. Like many contemporary compositions it seemed to be schizophrenic, frenetic and a danger to itself and others. Derivative and at times seeming to be downright plagiaristic, if anything it seemed to be based on the score from an episode of the 1960's Star Trek. The whole thing was overwrought and it would not have surprised me to see William Shatner appear with a Starfleet uniform carefully torn to conceal his girdle.
The highlight was of course Bolero which is one of my favorite peices of music. It's a work I've never seen performed live, and I must say it's that much better live. The conductor had a very unusual style, conducting with just one hand most of the time ('look, Ma! One hand!'). Curled sideways at the hip, one arm stayed limp at his side. He looked like a spastic beatnik, grooving to some jazz. His movements seemed erratic, but seemed to be increasingly synchronized to the music. As the music reached a crescendo his second arm came up and I practically stood up myself!