We’ve arrived late, Heidi and I. Our cab picked us up after 8 and we were forced to trudge three blocks from Symphony Towers to the NY-style wood-oven pizza dive (delish) for some spinach-and-ricotta-topped-dough before returning to The Towers for intermission. Word in the ladies’ room? The Symphony’s performances of Mendelsohn and Dvorak were “beautiful and melodic.” This description is too vague to inspire my trust, but I’ve heard that the SDS can deliver.
Never before have I witnessed the performance of a Chinese conductor or an African American, male flautist. Nor have I ever shared space with such a marvelous concert piano, except perhaps at the New York Philharmonic - but that was so many years ago. This piano is open full-tilt and provides a no-holds-barred-blast of bright, woody notes. I am instantly in lust with this Hummer of a klavier.
The walls surrounding a glowing orange stage are warm San Diego yellow. Walnut, perhaps? Discordantly gothic gray pillars and rosettes lit with lavender light decorate the remainder of the hall, conjuring Rhiems at night in February (not that I’ve been), Goethe and romantic German painters. As a result of this contrast, the musicians are bathed in golden sunshine. They appear precious and precise.
In the long line coiling about the ladies’ restroom, I ask a sweater-clad native if Jahja Ling is the permanent conductor. Yes, she replies. David Robertson turns out to have been a finalist in the competition for music director of the SDS. Around the same time that JJ got the job of musical director (he’s also an evangelist), the Jacobs (a prominent local family?) donated $100 million and promised another $25 million to the SDS Endowment. My, I hadn’t realized that I would learn so much in the ladies’ room. What friendliness! Is it the weather that inspires San Diegans to share so generously? Summarily, I am directed to a stall by the toilet assistant. Yes, M’am!
The hallways are brimming. The usher purrs skeptically: What wonderful tickets you have, my sweets! Heidi and I seat ourselves and a certain Justice glances behind him to discover a pair of dancer’s legs where empty seats had once been. Tentatively, I identify him; then I introduce the dancer and myself to explain our presence. He and his wife have the same familiar sense of humor as the very gracious owners of our tickets.
Jahja Ling arrives on stage, then the guest pianist, Yefin Bronfman. Bowing ensues. Ah, the traditions, the glow, the dissonant buzz of musical anticipation.
Allegro non troppo is a bit choppy for my taste. Bronfman hammers his announcements with such force that it’s hard to hear any nuance – or even to discern whether any nuance was intended. Perhaps this is the point, but I must admit my bias against prose written in ALL CAPS and that’s how his first movement sounds. It sounds clumsy or angry or both.
Melody creeps in with the second movement. The chromatic drama is less predictable - more engaging, and the strings get some action, too. With the third movement, I begin to close my eyes. Allegro appassionato. I’ve been up since 5:00 a.m. but my head inadvertently nods and bobs with each symphonic phrase. Bronfman is still too abrupt, but at least he’s starting to ride the wave. Furthermore, a cellist by the name of Yao Zhao (what a luxurious stroke) smooths over Bronfman’s unfortunate staccato.
By the fourth movement (Andante), the music has become pure Yeats: lyrical, mysterious and hypnotizing. I stand immediately after Allegretto grazioso (and so!), mostly for Yao Zhao, but also for the whole ensemble because they took brief flight tonight – what exhilaration!