Next month will see the return of Slovakian conductor Juraj Valčuha to the podium of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in Davies Symphony Hall. Valčuha made his SFS debut in May of 2013 and returned in October 2014. His repertoire has shown a preference for exploring the sonorous diversity of a large ensemble, and he will continue to pursue that interest during his third visit.
Consistent with that preference, the featured composer on the program will be Richard Strauss, who may never have written a textbook on orchestration (as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov did) but whose music is frequently studied in orchestration classes. The major (and final) work on the program will be a suite of music from Strauss’ Opus 59 opera Der Rosenkavalier. Strauss himself had nothing to do with the preparation of this suite. Most likely it was prepared by conductor Artur Rodziński for a 1944 performance by the New York Philharmonic during Rodziński’s tenure as Music Director. Strauss may not have been involved in this effort, but he allowed the results to be published in 1945.
The first half of the program will conclude with Strauss’ most impetuous tone poem, his Opus 20 “Don Juan.” The source for the narrative behind Strauss’ music comes from a “dramatic scene” in verse by Nikolaus Lenau with the same title. It basically involves the title character’s frustrated search for the ideal woman, culminating in his death when he realizes that his goal will never be achieved. While Strauss’ music keeps charging ahead in depicting the protagonist’s quest, it has the most pessimistic conclusion of any of the composer’s tone poems.
Each Strauss composition will be preceded by the work of a later composer. Opus 20 will be preceded by Sergei Prokofiev’s own suite of music from his Opus 33 opera The Love for Three Oranges, based on Carlo Gozzi’s 1761 comedy of the same title. The Rosenkavalier suite will be preceded by Anton Webern’s “Im Sommerwind,” based on a poem by Bruno Wille. Webern composed this in 1904 just weeks before his first encounter with Arnold Schoenberg, and it has the most extensive instrumental requirements of any of his original compositions. Nevertheless, it was never published during Webern’s lifetime, perhaps because of the radical shift in his approach to composition after he became Schoenberg’s student and later colleague.
This program will be given three performances in Davies at 2 p.m. on Thursday, May 12, and at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 13, and Saturday, May 14. Ticket prices range from $15 to $165 and may be purchased through the event page on the SFS 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 will be given by Elizabeth Seitz. 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. The topic for the audio program notes provided by KDFC announcer Rik Malone will be The Love for Three Oranges, and it is currently available for streaming from the event page for this concert.