Herbert Blomstedt’s two-week visit to the podium of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in Davies Symphony Hall will be followed this season by another two-week visit. His successor will be another frequent and welcome face, that of Charles Dutoit. Dutoit is currently Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London; and, in recognition of his 30 years of artistic collaboration with the Philadelphia Orchestra, he was just named that ensemble’s Conductor Laureate. Each of the programs he has prepared for his visit will feature a different soloist.
During the first week that soloist will be the Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky. According to the available records, Lugansky last performed with the San Francisco Symphony when, in February of 2008, he was soloist for visiting conductor … Herbert Blomstedt. This time their ships (or planes, as the case may be) will probably cross in the night! Under Dutoit’s baton Lugansky will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 43 “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”
Each of the remaining works on the program will have its own connection to the world of ballet. Dutoit will begin with the ballet version of Maurice Ravel’s Ma mere l’Oye (Mother Goose). Ravel originally wrote this in 1910 as a relatively short five-movement suite for two very young (ages six and seven) children. However, about a year later, he expanded the score for a ballet consisting of a prelude, six tableaux, and interstitial interludes. That ballet was given its premiere on January 29, 1912, and Dutoit will perform the version of the score written for that occasion.
In a related vein he will conclude his program with the suite that Igor Stravinsky prepared in 1919 from his score for the ballet “The Firebird.” (This was the second of the three suites that Stravinsky would compose.) The remaining selection on the program will be the suite that Gabriel Fauré derived from incidental music he had composed for a performance of Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande. While Fauré never had a ballet in mind, George Balanchine extracted movements from Fauré’s suite for the “Emeralds” portion of his three-ballet cycle Jewels.
The soloist for the following week will be SFS Principal Viola Jonathan Vinocour. The second half of the program will be devoted entirely to Hector Berlioz’ Opus 16 “Harold In Italy.” Berlioz called this piece a symphony; and it was inspired by Lord Byron’s four-canto poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Berlioz wrote an extended viola part to serve as the musical embodiment of Byron’s protagonist. The program will begin with Berlioz’ Opus 1, his first concert overture entitled “Waverley,” inspired by the collection of novels by Walter Scott of the same name. These two musical interpretations of the literature of Great Britain will flank music inspired by the United Kingdom, Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken I/104 symphony in D major, now known as the “London” symphony.
Performances of the first program will take place in Davies at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 10, Friday, March 11, and Saturday, March 12, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 13. The performances of the second concert will all take place at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 17, Friday, March 18, and Saturday, March 19, respectively. Ticket prices range from $15 to $185 and may be purchased through separate event pages for the first and second weeks on the San Francisco Symphony Web site. Tickets may also be purchased at the Davies Box Office on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street or by calling 415-864-6000. The Inside Music talk for the first week will be given by John Palmer, and the speaker for the second week will be James Keller. As usual, these will be free to all ticketholders, beginning one hour prior to the performance; and the doors will open fifteen minutes before the talk begins. Only the first concert will have audio program notes provided by KDFC announcer Rik Malone. The topic will be the music for “The Firebird;” and the podcast of this material is currently available for streaming from the event page for that concert.
Finally, that first program will also be given a Katharine Hanrahan Open Rehearsal. This will take place in Davies at 10 a.m. on Thursday, March 10. Doors open at 8:30 a.m. for coffee and complimentary donuts, followed by a half-hour talk at 9 a.m. Tickets are $30 for unreserved general admission and $40 for reserved seating in the Loge, Side Boxes, Rear Boxes, and Premiere Orchestra sections. This rehearsal has its own event page with its own hyperlink for the advance sale of tickets, which may also be purchased by phone or by visiting the Box Office.