January will conclude with the return of two familiar faces on the stage of Davies Symphony Hall. The soloist for the final round of this month’s San Francisco Symphony (SFS) subscription concerts will be pianist Stephen Hough, performing Camille Saint-Saëns’ Opus 103 (fifth) piano concerto in F major. This concerto was last performed by SFS in April of 2012 when Stéphane Denève appeared as guest conductor, performing with piano soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
Regular readers may recall that this concerto is called the “Egyptian,” since Saint-Saëns composed it in 1896 while visiting the archaeological ruins of Luxor in Egypt. The “Egyptian effects” are most evident in the second (Adagio) movement of this concerto with some particularly clever use of parallel fifths above parallel octaves. For all we know, this concerto served as an influence on James Dietrich, the uncredited composer of the soundtrack for the 1932 version of The Mummy, which starred Boris Karloff.
For this performance SFS will be led by Edwin Outwater, Music Director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Ontario. However, here in San Francisco he is also the Director of Summer Concerts for SFS; and, most recently, he curated last month’s SoundBox concert. He has prepared a fascinating collection of instrumental selections, which he calls “a musical jewel box, full of sparkling delights.”
The major work on the second half of the program will be Paul Hindemith’s 1943 “Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber.” Outwater therefore decided to begin his program with the overture that Weber composed for his last opera Oberon. (Weber died a little less than two months after the opera was given its first performance in London on April 12, 1826.)
While Oberon did not provide any of the themes that Hindemith metamorphosed, he did draw upon a march that Weber composed for Friedrich Schiller’s 1801 play Turandot, Prinzessin von China, which was an adaptation of the 1762 commedia dell’arte play by Carlo Gozzi. According to the Wikipedia author, while Gozzi’s version had a “light, sarcastic tone,” Schiller turned it into “a symbolic epic with an idealized moral attitude.” From this point of view, Hindemith successfully metamorphosed Weber’s music back to that light, sarcastic tone with a playfully mocking sense of chinoiserie.
Meanwhile, early in the twentieth century, both Giacomo Puccini and Ferruccio Busoni took an interest in Turandot. Busoni was first out of the gate with his Opus 41, an eight-movement suite, which he composed in 1905. Busoni’s biographer, Antony Beaumont, claims that he wanted to write incidental music for Gozzi’s play; but, since he was living in Berlin at the time, it is very likely that he knew the play through Schiller’s version. He would later go on to write a two-act Turandot opera, for which he wrote his own libretto, which he completed in March of 1917, which is almost exactly three years before Puccini started working on his opera, whose spirit is also definitely closer to Schiller than to Gozzi (with the exception of Ping, Pang, and Pong, who are unmistakably dell’arte characters). Within this context Outwater has chosen to select several movements from Busoni’s Opus 41; and this will be the first time that any of Busoni’s composition will be preformed by SFS.
This program will receive four performances in Davies. These will be given at 2 p.m. on Thursday, January 28, and Sunday, January 31, and at 8 p.m. on Friday, January 29, and Saturday, January 30. Ticket prices range from $15 to $165. Tickets may be purchased through an event page on the SFS Web site. They 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 pre-concert talk will be given by Laura Stanfield Prichard. It will take place one hour prior to each concert. This event is free to all ticket-holders; and the doors open fifteen minutes before the talk begins. Finally, a free “Program Notes” podcast about the Hindemith composition hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone will be available for streaming from the event page for this program.