Geneva Anderson digs into art

Up Thursday at Weill Hall—San Francisco Symphony performs Carter, Ravel and Gershwin, with David Robertson, conductor, and Marc-André Hamelin, piano

Marc-André Hamelin plays piano with the San Francisco Symphony at Green Music Center's Weill Hall, Thursday, May 22, 2013

Marc-André Hamelin plays piano with the San Francisco Symphony at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, Thursday, May 22, 2013

Ravel, who heard jazz in Harlem with Gershwin, was utterly dazzled by Rhapsody in Blue, which Gershwin played at a birthday party for the French composer.   The piece, composed in 1924, epitomized modern urban sophistication.  Ravel’s jazz-influenced Concerto for the Left Hand, written six years later, was created for a pianist grievously injured during the First World War.  The brooding work is held up as a brilliant distillation of Ravel’s rarely revealed sinister side. Both these pieces reflect the arrival of jazz into the concert hall.   Ravel’s La Valse (1919-20) pays homage to the Viennese waltz and suggests a furious and dark farewell to the gentility of post-war Europe.  Eliot Carter’s non-traditional Variations for Orchestra, from 1955, is not as accessible.  Nothing Carter does in this fragmentary piece is traditional.  He even varied from the traditional way of exploring variation— where a single theme was the basis of a series of contrasting variations.  Besides the official theme, which is an extended and twisting melodic line, Carter’s piece has two other melodic ideas that are subjected to bold variation: scale-like patterns of notes, one that picks up speed as it unfolds, and another that slows down.  It’s exhilarating, abrupt, fitful, and quite intriguing.   This multilayered piece has not been performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 50 years!

The common thread in all of these pieces…the changing of the times!   San Francisco Symphony with David Robertson, conductor, and Marc-André Hamelin on piano, performs all four pieces in its last concert of Green Music Center’s (GMC’s) inaugural season this Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 8 p.m.

The treat: another chance to hear a world-class pianist, Marc-André Hamelin, on Weill Hall’s Steinway in what promises to be a spell-binding one-handed performance of Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand.  Hamelin, who made his SF Symphony debut in 2006, is the known for “hurling himself with gusto” into his performances.  We’ll expect a full display of agility, precision and passion on Thursday as he tackles the Ravel and reinvigorates Gershwin’s beguiling masterpiece, Rhapsody in Blue,  which, sadly, has been so played to death with such mediocrity that we’ve lost touch with its power.

Robertson leads Ravel and Gershwin will also be performed at Davies Symphony Hall, in San Francisco, on Wednesday, May 22, Friday, May 24 and Saturday, May 25, 2013.


Carter | Variations for Orchestra
Ravel | Piano Concerto in D major for the Left Hand
Gershwin | Rhapsody in Blue (also featuring solo by Carey Bell, Principal, Clarinet)

Ravel | La Valse

Details:  For tickets and information, call (415) 864-6000 or visit

Eliot Carter talks about his “Variations for Orchestra” in an excerpt for the film Music Makes a City (2012) winner: 2012 Gramophone Award, Best DVD/Documentary

May 22, 2013 Posted by | Classical Music, Green Music Center, Symphony | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment