Sunday, November 13, 2016

Yuja Wang, Michael Tilson Thomas and San Francisco Symphony 2016/11/13

Time: 2016/11/13, 20:00-22:30 (approximately)
Venue: National Concert Hall, Taipei
Performers: Yuja Wang (piano), Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor), San Francisco Symphony (official)


Yuja Wang: Franz Liszt's piano transcription of Franz Schubert's lied Gretchen am Spinnrade, (12 Lieder von Franz Schubert, S. 558, No. 8). (Listen: Kissin, Wang)
MTT/SFS: no encore

What an amazing musician Yuja Wang is! At 29, she has already dazzled the world for more than 10 years. Chopin's f minor concerto was written when he was at the tender age of 19. The composer crammed extravagance of fantastic ideas and fountains of beautiful melodies into apparent Classical structure, so the balance between the Classicism and Romanticism is a delicate issue. Further complicating this is that the piano part is written in the Style Brillant with relatively weak (IMHO) orchestral part. Therefore, the majority of the work lies on the soloist. Wang brought to this familiar piece her artistry and youthful exuberance. Here is Chopin of elegance, warmth and thoughtfulness, while never lacking in personality. A rare combination! For encore, she played Liszt/Schubert's Gretchen am Spinnrade beautifully, showcasing her affinity with Romantic genre. As any pianist would know, the most difficult part of Liszt's piano transcriptions of lieder lies in the voicing of the original melodies, often in the middle register and shared between the two hands. Wang performed phenomenally well.

On the other hand, MTT, now 71, seemed a bit tired. I had the impression that he just went through the motion for today's performance. Surely nobody doubts his immense talents in music and management. He has created fine business models for the symphony orchestras in the 21st C., for example. However, I miss the energy he brought to music when he just joined SF Symphony as music director in 1995.(*) I want bolder gestures and more personal statement. In Beethoven's c minor symphony, for example, the interpretation is surprisingly conventional and uninvolving. Decades of scholarly works and experiments by other conductors/orchestras mean little to him, I guess. Perhaps like Arturo Toscanini before him, it is more important to study the scores to "get ideas from Beethoven himself". If so, our understanding of the music must be very different. The instrumental balance, for example, sacrificed the countermelodies in the cellos/DB in favor of higher registers. The forward momentum, which I personally consider a crucial element in the work, is barely there. This is not Beethoven as revolutionary, but very relaxed, almost museum-piece Beethoven. (Comparisons: Calos KleiberFurtwängler 1947.)

MTT fared better in his own work of Agnegram, some kind of symphonic march written for SF Symphony's patroness Agnes Albert. MTT uses A-G-E-E flat-A-A-B flat-E-D-B for Ag(n)es Albert as the motif, and from this many (all?) themes are drawn. With "Agnes theme" opening the work, the piece is filled with jazzy rhythm and occasional quotations. It is immediately identifiable as a composition by a living American composer. (Many can blindly guess it. I did.) The work is in ABA form, with noisy opening section, somewhat episodic middle section, and ending with the entire orchestra blaring cacophony juxtaposed with "happy tunes". The orchestra gave MTT's occasional piece a zesty reading.

The performance of 1919 version of Firebird Suites was fine, but, to me, did not entirely capture the vivid exotic colors and rhythms Stravinsky bestowed on this popular piece. Listen to Stravinsky's own recording (video), or Boulez / CSOGergiev / VPO for example, and the difference is there for everyone to hear.

Still, this is an enjoyable evening, if only for Yuja Wang's playing. I understand that piano recital is, strangely, not particularly popular in Taipei, but would anyone consider brokering a piano recital by Yuja in Taipei in the near future?

(*) Perhaps MTT has stayed in SF Symphony for too long, which is bad for him and for the Symphony. SFS may have been one of the highest paid orchestra in the world, and MTT one of the highest paid musical directors, but the result is not very encouraging. Surely the level of proficiency has progressed since 1995, but at that time SFS was not nearly as well paid if memory serves. -- Am I becoming too critical? If so, it is only because I like SFS (my first "home symphony") and would love to see more young American conductors as music directors of major American orchestras, much like MTT/SFS in 1995.

No comments:

Post a Comment