We welcome back Music Director Edo de Waart this week and he comes with one of those programs that would make most conductors lose plenty of sleep. Just even covering the program has given me some long nights of work. So come this weekend and experience two cornerstones of the orchestral repertoire: Schubert’s final symphony, known appropriately as “The Great”, and Stravinsky’s revolutionary Rite of Spring. They are two works that couldn’t contrast more and “sandwich”, if you will, the Romantic era of the 19th century. A vast majority of the standard orchestral repertoire was written between these two works from 1828 (Schubert) to 1913 (Stravinsky). The works of Brahms, Schumann, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner – to name only a few – are part of that repertoire.
The Schubert Symphony (I hate to give it a number, since it’s been called No. 7, 8, or 9 at different times in history!) represents the pinnacle of the classical style after Mozart. It is a perfectly proportioned, elegant, expressive, and joyous work. But if the Schubert is a product of the Enlightenment, then the Stravinsky reminds us that we are still human in an unpredictable world that could care less for our reasoning. Strangely, both pieces could be described as exhilarating – they just achieve it from opposite ends! If Schubert is perfectly crafted sushi, then Stravinsky is that tub of Ben and Jerry’s in your freezer. Chances are, you’ll enjoy both.
The contrast in this program is a great way to talk about Edo de Waart as “the repertoire conductor”. Since the Maestro is back in town, it’s time to wrap up my three-part series on his work:
Conductors will always have works that are closer to them. It is not possible to be unbiased and it’s not even a matter of what one likes, since everyone can appreciate Bach and Mozart, but it takes a certain skill to master them in performance. It seems there is just a certain musical language that particularly will connect the performer to the music. The remarkable thing about De Waart is that he never in his career has ever “settled down” with his repertoire. He is constantly looking for music, new or old, that he can bring to his audiences. When I first got this position, I expected Maestro’s weeks to be a collection of what he is known for – Beethoven, Strauss, Mahler, among others. He could certainly fill the rest of his career just repeating the music he already loves and knows inside and out. There are certainly plenty of conductors these days who seem more than happy to conduct yet another Mahler cycle. And then too often, the “new stuff”, seems forced – not appreciated by the conductor, musicians, or audiences. That doesn’t always mean it wasn’t good music, sometimes it just means that not enough care went into its presentation.
This season, we’ve already heard Maestro De Waart bring to life John Adams’ masterpiece, Harmonielehre. Before the performance, Maestro talked with the audience about how he first met John Adams when Adams was a music professor at the San Francisco Conservatory, how Adams first began introducing De Waart to contemporary American music, and how eventually Adams become composer-in-residence with the San Francisco Symphony and De Waart became a champion of his works.
That’s a rather extreme example, but De Waart is constantly expanding his repertoire while keeping a personal connection with the music. The fact that he absolutely believes not only in the music he brings, but its ability to speak to the public, makes him an important figure in new music. Sometimes, it’s about quality, not only quantity. So while I have little knowledge of Qigang Chen’s work, I am very excited to be introduced to his music through De Waart later on in April and then in May when we travel to Carnegie Hall!
In case, I don’t get a second chance to post on this week’s performances. I can’t highly recommend enough this interactive website on the Rite of Spring, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score. Spending 15 minutes clicking around the site and letting it walk you through the score is fun even for music geeks like me.