Tag Archives: Prokofiev

Yefim Bronfman, Tchaikovsky, the San Francisco Symphony

Bronfman-1-(c)-Dario-Acosta-120x67  Yefim Bronfman performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the San Francisco Symphony, September 14, 2013. My eyes open wide and I shake my head; I am startled by my good luck to have been there. Please do not listen to anyone who belittles Tchaikovsky. There are those who will do it because too many others like his music. Do not listen to that noise, listen to Tchaikovsky. Mr. Bronfman played with power, grace, and understanding. He played delicately. He played so fast that I could not believe anyone’s fingers could move that way. He created a musical world. The SF Symphony met his need for a great partner in building this world. I want to say it was monumental; it was, but that word does not express the movement and life in the music. Mr. Bronfman played it into life. It is music that does not suggest a story but brought me to tears. The magnificence of his performance filled the hall with love, desperation, exaltation, with Tchaikovsky. The SF Symphony’s Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas’s programming brilliance put Prokofiev’s Third Symphony on the same concert, after intermission and a chance to catch one’s breath. The SF Symphony played it as an overwhelming musical experience. The symphony, premiered in 1929, is full of struggle. All of the instruments are engaged in the battle. Knowing that the Symphony has sources in Prokofiev’s opera, The Fiery Angel, it could be the absolute struggle between good and evil, but it is a symphony, not an opera. The music has jagged, stabbing sounds and a quieter theme for the horns. There is no relief; the instruments assert their desires. It is a devilish battle. Search Prokofiev on the internet. Under his picture the caption is “Ballet Composer.” It is another harsh irony pursuing Prokofiev through the new century. Yes, ballets and Peter and the Wolf, but also the depths of this fantastic, cruel, reality in his Third Symphony. Thinking about Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, a line from W.H.Auden’s poem, In Memory of W.B. Yeats, comes to mind. “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.” Both Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev were set upon by Russian struggles. Was Tchaikovsky too Western to be accepted as a great Russian composer? Were Prokofiev’s operas elements of pre-Revolutionary decadence? The bureaucrats with guns as well as other composers shouted, “Yes!” Auden asked the poet “with your unconstraining voice/Still persuade us to rejoice;” that is what Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev both could do and did for music and for us. Auden won’t claim “rejoice” because all is well, but because they could write this music.