Performance Wednesday, March 20, 2013 | 8 PM

Cancelled: San Francisco Symphony

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
This concert by the San Francisco Symphony has been cancelled due to the orchestra's current work stoppage. This concert will not be rescheduled.

Patrons who purchased tickets for this performance with a credit card will receive automatic refunds. Those who purchased tickets with cash can return them to the Carnegie Hall Box Office to receive their refund. Ticket holders with any questions should contact CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800.

Yuja Wang
astonishes audiences wherever she appears. She was “a goddess” in Philadelphia (The Philadelphia Inquirer), and displayed “chutzpah and raw talent” in our nation’s capital (The Washington Post). The New York Times raved that she “seems to have everything: speed, flexibility, pianistic thunder, and interpretive nuance.” See what has people buzzing when Wang performs Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony.

The contemporary work on this program is part of My Time, My Music.
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The Program

Drift and Providence 

Today Samuel Adams lives in Brooklyn, where he composed Drift and Providence, but the genesis of the piece lies in California. "I seriously view myself as a Californian," says Adams, "emotionally and psychologically and in terms of the literature that I like to read." He grew up in the Bay Area, and his parentscomposer John Adams and photographer Deborah O'Gradymet while working at the San Francisco Symphony. He played jazz in high school, hiked in the Sierras, and visited composer Lou Harrison in Aptos. Now Samuel Adams is a New Yorker. Drift and Providence, he says, "is about discovering the West and my own personality by way of departing."

"California" and "West Coast" mean different things to different people, but to Samuel Adams both mean the San Francisco Bay Area. "For me, Drift and Providence addresses certain things about the West and its music." It addresses, he says, a West Coast state of mind, and also the contrasts between the West Coast and what can be discovered by moving away. The titles of its five movementsplayed without pausesuggest not only places in San Francisco (Embarcadero and Divisadero), but archetypal departures and arrivals.

Water and wind are immediately apparent in the Drift of the work's title, even more so in the opening Embarcadero (Spanish for "wharf"), with its wash of string sonorities aerated by brass players exhaling through the chambers of their instruments, while sizzle cymbals and vibraphones add soft high-frequency splashes. The passage is tonally comfortable, but a few out-of-context "blue" notes distort that familiarity. The metallic noise created by scraped cowbells and brake drums ensures that the music is not altogether fog-bound. That's the East Coast influence, the machinery that is such a part of New York life.

Computerized sound processing also builds a bridge between natural and man-made, wood and metal, East and West. Throughout Drift and Providence, Adams controls a laptop that enhances certain frequencies emanating from the amplified percussion section.

Pauses occur throughout. Although some mark the divisions between the work's five movements, others serve as qualitative or emotional signifiers. "Silences can be really loud," says Adams. "They can do so much to the material and for me every one of them serves a different function. Early in the piece they heighten the tentative or lost quality, and towards the end they serve a heightened sense of intensity."

Recurring over the course of Embarcadero is a descending stepwise figure, played by oboe and clarinet, that begins innocuously enough as two notes but soon becomes three. "It's a little jazz tune," explains Adams. "It's all over the place."

Embarcadero  is followed by the faster-moving Drift I, which introduces a series of rolled chords in the vibraphones. This movement is more overtly dramatic, building to a climactic outburst marked by a trumpet restatement of the "little jazz tune." A vigorous passage evoking big-city bling arises, characterized by downward-cascading figures in the winds and brass. A loud lunge to a triple-forte  is followed by a sudden long silence, leading directly to Divisadero.

A divisadero is a high place from which one can observe an extensive area. Thus it connotes distance and separation along with the idea of "dividing" one thing from another. (The San Francisco street Divisadero was originally the dividing line between the city and the Presidio.) The third-movement Divisadero reflects that etymology by looking both backwards and forwards. Because it opens with material similar to Embarcadero,  it reminds us of the journey just taken, but soon enough it ventures into new territories.

As Divisadero  nears its conclusion, the undulating string figures and brass-instrument exhalations from the work's opening return. Sustained chords in the winds usher in Drift II, a short transitional movement that opens with the same rolled vibraphone chords that began Drift I. The tempo soon begins steadily increasing and culminates in a triple-forte, leading immediately into the final movement.

Providence  follows, the only one of the work's five movements that opens at high volume. That volume is sustained for most of the movement's length, and after a quadruple-forte outburst, the work ends in a soft cascade of winds and brass exhalations over the metallic wash of scraped brake drums and cowbells that characterizes the opening.

Adams speaks of Providence as "a summation; in a certain way it's triumphant, in a certain respect it's also a bit terrifying." But it has not been Adams's intention to settle anything. "On first listening, there are things that aren't so clear. I like things to be kind of murky sometimes. That feeling of being a little bit unclear, a little ambiguousthat's welcome. It's what the piece is aiming at."

Scott Foglesong


© 2012 San Francisco Symphony 

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58

Beethoven's first three piano concertos make something striking of the first solo entrance. But here, in this most gently spoken and poetic of his concertos, Beethoven makes his most radical opening. He begins with the piano alone. It is a move without precedent.

A soft, densely voiced, dolce  chord leads to a brief phrase, arresting in its subtle rhythmic imbalance. The greater wonder is the orchestra's hushed, sensitive and far-seeing, harmonically remote response. The rhythmic elasticity of the first solo-and-orchestra statement-and-response foreshadows an uncommon range of pace.

The second movement has become the concerto's most famous. Its comparison to Orpheus taming the wild beasts with his music was for years attributed to Liszt, though more recently musicologist Owen Jander pointed out that it was Adolph Bernard Marx "who first began to bring the Orpheus program of the Fourth Piano Concerto into focus" in his Beethoven biography of 1859. In this second movement, the orchestra is loud, staccato, in stark octaves. The piano is soft, flowing, songful. At the end, after a truly Orphic cadenza, the orchestra has learned the piano's way. Only the cellos and basses remember their opening music, and their mutterings are whispered pianissimo.

Until the conclusion of this sublime movement, this is Beethoven's most quietly scored piano concerto. In the finale, which takes a charmingly Haydnesque, oblique approach to the question of how to resume the work after the evocative scene just played, trumpets and drums appear for the first time. Not that this movement is in any way grand; rather, it is lyrical and witty. It is also, with its two sections of violas, given to outrageously lush sounds.

Michael Steinberg


© 2012 San Francisco Symphony 

Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68

Brahms was already 42 when his First Symphony was introducedthat story has been told often. Composers such as Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven had tackled symphony writing much earlier. Their music had evolved into a Great Tradition, a tradition in which Brahms saw a role for himself.

He was intimidated by Beethoven. "You have no idea what it's like to hear the footsteps of a giant like that behind you," he said. But when this symphony 14 years in the writing was unveiled, conductor Hans von Bülow called it Beethoven's Tenth: the greatest symphony since The Giant's Ninth had first been heard in 1824.

Brahms announces his arrival as a symphonist with an outburst of anguished dissonance over pounding timpani. We know we are in the presence of something serious. Brahms has us here, and now he lets the turbulence subside, plucked strings imitating the timpani before yearning phrases lead back into the fierce opening. Again the fury recedes, and the oboe offers a supplication, imitated by other winds and low strings, the dynamics dropping into inaudibility, stopping movement. This is like a rifle cocked. Brahms squeezes the trigger, and the music explodes into some of the most violent sounds he would ever create. In their midst and surrounded by blazing fanfares comes the contrast of a chorale-like passage that looks toward the triumph in which the symphony will end.

The Andante is a movement of bittersweet beauty, solo violin and first horn joining at last in a magical duet. Next comes an intermezzo, first an innocent dance-like tune, then two contrasting sections, one a manic variant of the innocent dance, the other broader and nobler. With hardly a pause, the finale begins, a great crush of sound that thrusts us back into the world of the first movement. A timpani roll announces a halt, leading to a horn call in miraculously contrasting major over shimmering strings. The sonic vista broadens into a view from an alpine summit, and trombones offer a majestic chorale. All this introduces the big tune, which some of the first listeners compared to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" in the last movement of his Ninth Symphony.

As in the first movement, the ensuing struggles are huge. But those took place in a locked room, the interior space of a mind obsessed with a single idea. Here the action unfolds on an open field. The destination isn't clear until the last moments. Brahms's coda grows ever more wild until the orchestra with one ecstatic voice repeats the chorale that the trombones had enunciated earlier. With a last flourish, Brahms ends this symphony so long in the making and so inexhaustible in its power to thrill and transport listeners.

Larry Rothe


© 2012 San Francisco Symphony 

Funding for the Carnegie Hall Live broadcast series is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
This performance is part of Concertos Plus, and German Masters.

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