A Tale of Two Concerts
On December 12, I went to hear the much praised violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja play her debut recital in San Francisco with the excellent pianist Polina Leschenko.
The recital was given at Herbst Hall in San Francisco under the auspices of San Francisco Performances.
Kopatchinskaja is a big star in Europe—she was the featured artist at the Lucerne Festival the summer before last—and I was looking forward to hearing her play. But the evening turned out to be a disappointment for several reasons.
The biggest problem had to do with programming. The evening might well have been called “A Night of Gypsy Music without Dancing”.
With the exception of a work by Francis Poulenc, the other three pieces on the program--Bela Bartok, George Enescu, and Maurice Ravel—all had an abundance of gypsy-themed music running through them.
I like gypsy music, but how much can one take? The program’s lack of variation proved boring. There was no let up. No wonder there was so many empty seats in the hall.
And the average age of the audience seemed very high.
Something is wrong. Chamber music is not dying in San Francisco. Where are the young and middle aged people?
The Bartok Violin Sonata #2 in particular was a programming mistake—Bartok clearly was tortured when he wrote the piece and the audience did not seem up to dealing with its exhausting narrative. I know I wasn’t.
Kopatchinskaya has a terrific technique and luscious tone. But this was not a successful debut recital by the two talented young women.
To lift my admittedly sour mood after the recital, I reminisced about the perfectly delightful evening I spent just 10 days before at San Francisco’s Davies Hall where the cellist Gautier Capucon and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet joined forces for a varied program of cello sonatas by Claude Debussy, Johannes Brahms, and Sergei Rachmaninoff in the San Francisco Symphony’s Great Performers series.
True, there was more piano than cello in some of the pieces (the Brahms in particular), but they call them cello sonatas, so who am I to argue?
The entire atmosphere at Davies is so much more attractive than at Herbst, which is tucked away in a Depression-era building that has the feel of a railway station about it.
The Davies Great Performers audience, which was sold out, seemed more responsive than the one at Herbst —and was rewarded with three encores by the appreciative French virtuosi, including Capucon’s ravishing account of The Swan (Saint-Saens).
Two things stay with me from the Davies concert: Capucon’s sublimely lyrical playing of Rachmaninoff’s ‘noble melody’ from the third movement of his cello sonata; and the lively, articulate and incisive playing of Thibaudet throughout the concert.
The two virtuosi really worked well together and the evening proved a great success, a real musical happening. Viva La France! And Viva Davies Hall as well!
San Francisco Performances, which presents some top artists in its series—Garrick Ohlsson and the Tetzlaff Trio are on tap later this season-- is in dire need of a makeover.
One thing it could try—which I saw work very well in Amsterdam—is to include coffee and cookies in the price of a ticket. That could produce a more convivial atmosphere at the concerts.
I tried to get a cookie during the intermission at Herbst and found I could only buy a box of three for $10. I asked for tea but they had no hot water.
In Amsterdam, everyone runs to the bar for ‘free’ food and drinks during the break, which only adds to the pleasure of the evening.
Man does not live by music alone!