Monthly Archives: February 2015


2-Photo-By-Paul-Labelle-120x67Any opportunity to hear Pinchas Zukerman perform is almost too good to be true. His performance with the Budapest Festival Orchestra at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, January 26, 2015, was truly wonderful. Playing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219, Mr. Zukerman captivated the audience and enjoyed a perfect musical match with the BFO. To see Mr. Zukerman perform is enlightening in this era of show boats flinging arms in the air, bows pointed skyward and, one hopes, not into the eyes of their colleagues. With Pinchas Zukerman, it is all about the music. He stands calmly, listening, and plays whatever dauntingly difficult music as though it is his way of breathing. He is a demonstration that charisma can be found in quiet perfection.


The BFO was a splendid partner throughout, playing Mozart with brightness, clarity, and a sense that they understood what they were doing. At one moment, Mr. Zukerman stood close to the Concert Mistress, Violetta Eckhardt, and leaned toward her and violinist Agnes Biro as though he were making a gift to them as well as playing with them. The program notes that Mr. Zukerman played two cadenzas which were written for him “as a gift by a close friend” and a third which was written by Fritz Kreisler. All three were brilliant, intricate wonders performed with lively perfection. No. 5 is the final violin concerto written by Mozart. It conveys a feeling of continuity and natural beauty that is an awakening to delight. The audience did all but rush the stage to pull Mr. Zukerman away from the exit. He offered the encore, Brahms’ Lullaby, to send his friends the BFO on their way home. He invited Conductor Ivan Fischer to come forward to sing with the audience. Mr. Fischer, sitting in the orchestra, declined, but many in the audience sang, turning the

astounding Mozart experience into a sweet love fest. PZukerman While the Violin Concerto, No. 5 is said to have been written in 1775, Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, was written in 1791 and premiered just two  months before his death at age 35. The January 26 performance opened with the Overture to The Magic Flute. It was interesting to begin the concert with an overture, meant to start us out, which is also an ending as it came so close to Mozart’s death. It contains all the spritely, mysterious, serious, and silly characterizations that appear in the opera. The Magic Flute presents an allegory of a prince who must go through trials to learn about good and evil before he can become who he is: a man meant to rule others. It creates an enchanted world which leads the audience to follow a playful bird catcher whose fun and adventure seem much more important than any philosophy. It was a brief but apt introduction to the program of work by the two greatest prodigies of Western classical music, Mozart and Mendelssohn. FelixMendelssohnThe Budapest Festival Orchestra’s performance of Selections from Incidental Music for Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 61, was fantastic both in the musical representation of fantasy and the magnificence of their performance. They were joined by Anna Lucia Richter, soprano, Barbara Kozelj, mezzo soprano, and the Pro Musica Girls Choir, directed by Denes Szabo. Ms Richter and Ms Kozelj were stunning singers; the charming Choir sang very well.Together with the BFO they created a world of music inhabited by two worlds of creatures, the human and the spirits, elves, fairies. Actually, three worlds because there is the man who becomes a donkey (an ass); there are the lost lover humans and the “rough mechanicals” humans. There are the fairy King and Queen and the many kinds and ranks of other fairies. The music also is rich in life: the hee haws of Bottom, busy, flying fairy sounds, the beatific theme that is the wedding of all. It is a world of so many worlds and so many creatures, flowers, plants. Mendelssohn and now Ivan Fischer have given us a gift even beyond what Mendelssohn conceived at age 17 and a half when he made this particular masterpiece. We who are now its audience live in a world watching extinctions go past us like a medieval parade of death. The world once crowded with myriad forests and enriched with busy fantasies is being simpled down, clear cut, with species narrowed down to a few representatives in museum like zoos. Then here comes Mendelssohn’s Midsummer’s Night Dream to remind us of the rich diversity of life bounding, swarming, creeping,hopping around us. Once again, Maestro Fischer led his BFO in an a capella encore.FHensel


This time, a lovely song by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Felix’s gifted sister. Maestro Fischer’s conducting style involves many movements. In one which caught my eye more than once he raises both his arms in a rounded shape reaching up. I took it as an act of benediction for the music, his orchestra, his audience, and I was grateful for it, too. pictures: from above: Pinchas Zukerman, Ivan Fischer leading the BFO with P. Zukerman,P. Zukerman, Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.

BUDAPEST FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA at San Francisco Symphony; Part One: All Brahms

november-28-29-30-Fischer-270x180On Sunday, January 25, Ivan Fischer led  the extraordinary Budapest Festival Orchestra in an all Brahms  program: Symphony No. 3 in F maj. Op. 90, and Symphony No.1 in C min., Op 68. Those individuals anywhere near San Francisco’s Civic Center will have seen a rounded, disk shape flying low and close to City Hall and the Opera House. It was the roof of Davies Symphony Hall which had lifted up and off the Hall at the conclusion of Symphony No. 1. What caused the lift off? Was it the energy created by the music itself or the force of the audience opening its four thousand eyes, leaning back and saying “oh!” surprised at its own exaltation? Sitting here, in Mountain View, just down the road from NASA Ames Research Center, one may leave the aeronautics to them, but it was not an unidentified flying object.170px-JohannesBrahms It was pure music rearranging the world. Symphony No. 3 opened the program. It is gorgeous, Brahms music which seems big enough to embrace the whole world. Mr. Fischer’s presentation took 7 fewer minutes than the older recording I listened to days later, wanting more of the experience. The BFO version was not rushed. It contained a sense of purpose and drive that made the whole symphony seem to pour forth without a pause. It opens with the Allegro con Brio making a declaration, presenting both a gentle dance and a struggle. There is an interplay amongst the strings in which their music seems to overlap like weaving. Despite the certain darkness behind the sprightly dance, a more positive theme re-emerges through the assault. There is no story or characterization in the music, and yet it is necessary to communicate its essence in the drama of language. This music carried in it the sweetness of our universe, even though the universe is impersonal forces. The Allegretto moves like the swaying of planets; it is so big and still intimate. It builds up to an enfolding theme that communicates human devotion. The winds suggest steps. Are they steps through the stars or human steps climbing lightfootedly through hills, rocking, turning through mists? The final, Allegro movement is busy, restless, quiet and suddenly louder. It surprises the listener and somehow suggests: we should have known. The call and response of the second movement reappears to remind us we were given hints and signs. In fact, we were shown. A spontaneous thought comes: “oh, no!” at the determined rebuilding of the music. It is wrestling with an angel. The horns make an announcement as they come over the hill, fighting and elevating at the same time. It is quiet music of our own atmosphere. Looking back, it brought to mind Robert Frost’s observation that “Earth’s the right place for love.” That is despite our limitations and because of them. There is Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 to encompass and present the love of Earth and the impossible human condition, the unbearable human condition which we might accept through Brahms’ triumph of beauty and understanding. Ivan Fischer Photo: Marco Borggrevepictures: Ivan Fischer, Johannes Brahms, Ivan Fischer. The Symphony No. 1 has a misleading title. It is Brahms’ first symphony, but when he wrote it he was hardly a beginner. While music writers make much of how long Brahms waited to write his symphony and that he worked on it at least 15 years, he created chamber music, choruses, songs, piano music, and, for the orchestra, a piano concerto, two serenades, and the mighty German Requiem while some in the music world stood tapping their feet and looking at their calendars for that missing masterpiece, the symphony. Brahms pointed out, “you have no idea what it”s like to hear the footsteps of a giant like that behind you.” He meant Beethoven. He knew what was expected of him, but no one but Brahms knew how he would create his new symphony, a wholly Brahmsian symphony, when he was ready. It is fair for Symphony No. 1 to be called “the giant,” at about 45 minutes it is longer than the average symphony. It also is bigger in every sense. Two of the four movements use the notation, “sostenuto,” and sustained is definitely a word that matches the magnificent work. It has a complexity of themes and musical journeys in it, and all of them are so intricately worked together that each element seems to exist only as a part of the whole. This is a great work whose conception and invention upon close examination might make 21st century persons think it could only be worked out on a computer which could handle all the different threads of music. However, they would be wrong. Brahms carried so much of music and life in his being that the complexity he knit together also carries in its entirety the soul of human culture. It is not a Jeopardy contest. HIs symphony is a life and death matter. He found the answer is unity, and then he found the way to make it. It opens with repeated beats of the timpani. A musical anthem appears briefly, wrapping in and out of the whole design. The world grows quiet. There are challenges on all sides. A theme repeats like the delicate steps of feet on rocks crossing water. The timpani comes back and the plucked strings play out a mystery. Rhapsodic music comes and drifts off, marching is heard under the swelling music, a horn calls from afar. We are in a strange world or a familiar world which we have never looked at before. The Andante Sostenuto is smooth but never lulling. It seems to make demands but circles away to an embrace. Even in its quiet mood it is always bringing energy and spirit higher and stronger. It is like a sunrise but with a strong pulse behind it; there is always an awareness of darkness. The third movement does that thing that Brahms does. The listener suddenly finds her face drenched in tears never having thought, this will make me cry. It opens with a lovely, lively rhythmic tune like a child playing on the grass; the winds dance together.

BFOrchThen, a change to the amazing theme that grabs at the heart. It repeats with more emphasis, quiet steps in between, grows bigger, then quiet as the first theme comes back, reconsiders its place until all the music simply blows away. Brahms now shows us that music is made of silence as well as sound. Single notes pop into space. There is a long rest; again single notes pop into the environment as a sustained building of sound surges. After calm anticipation, the heart wringing theme returns, this time sounding positive and certain. It announces: I am here. This is all. It unwinds as there is a return of rushing, hurried, insistent music. Out of this a sound quietly asserts itself; a flute joins in until the whole orchestra marches forth to counter it. That theme returns, still certain. It is our anthem, and it persists even with the dark reminders from horns and strings. We come back. The dance elaborates itself struggling through the reworking of the theme. There are storms, threats; the theme slows, pauses, but never stops. It briefly becomes almost a lullaby. We are back to the dance on the hillside. One instrument is answered by the whole orchestra. The weather changes. A drum sounds as though the symphony is ending, but the music goes on, the clouds are clearing. There is the moment of  take off; the music quickens; the horns announce: we are here. In a succession of counts; one, two, one two three it is over. The immense, mysterious experience is over. We knew that would happen; we did not know how; we did not really believe it would come. At this performance, the audience, stunned and inspired, wore out its hands applauding. The BFO musicians stood up and scrambled, moved from their places to other places, all holding sheet music. They sang a capella an Evening Serenade,Brahms’ Sommerabend, Op. 85, no.1, written for a poem by Heinrich Heine. It was beautiful.