So let me tell you about the little concert tour I went on last weekend ... not to perform, of course, but to listen.
I keep track of orchestras in outlying parts of the state, because every once in a while one of them will play something really odd and interesting, and it might be worth going out there to hear it. This year one item that struck me was the Symphony No. 6 by Bohuslav Martinů, one of the best 20C Czech composers, from the Fresno Philharmonic.
So I went, but I made a longer round trip out of it. First, on Thursday I drove up to Sonoma County - stopping along the way at Borderlands to buy one of their memorial hoodies as B's Valentine's present - to attend the San Francisco Symphony at the Green Music Center there. This is now their only regular out-of-town venue, and I'd never been there, as it's as far out of town northwards as I am southwards.
The concert was a honey of Blomstedt conducting Sibelius' Second, with Peter Serkin playing Mozart's entirely elegant K.459 concerto. I thought the music was very fine. Blomstedt tried making the scherzo of the symphony rough and even brutal, while maximizing contrast by taking the trio extremely gently. What odd tricks he was up to in the finale I couldn't quite figure out, though if I were reviewing the concert I suppose I would have had to.
It's the hall that really struck me. Large building on the back of the Sonoma State campus, lit up like a movie secret government installation with blue spotlights (why not green, given its name?). Inside, it's shoebox, the most acoustically healthy shape for a concert hall, and it's made entirely out of naked wood. Seats (surprisingly comfortable, nevertheless) and everything. As a result it's the most brightly-sounding hall I've ever been in. Everything, even the low brass, gets lifted and separated (to quote the old bra ad). It's stunningly clear and immediate. What you lose by this is heft and blending.
It also means you can hear everything around you. The guy behind me who decided to tap his foot to the pizzicato rhythm of Sibelius' slow movement, only not quite to it - heard that all right. The woman sitting next to me who decided that a quiet passage of the finale was the ideal occasion to crack each of her knuckles, one by one - heard that too.
Friday I moseyed my way down to Fresno, stopping at the Jelly Belly factory store for a small supply of my favorite flavors hard to find anywhere else, across the Sacramento River in the completely opaque fog, and to lunch at a small country crossroads tavern whose clam chowder had impressed me when they brought it to the Santa Cruz chowder festival several years back. Alas, it wasn't so great in situ.
Who should live in Fresno but our niece and her family, so I arranged to stop by there for a visit and dinner. I brought Harry Potter brand chocolate frogs from Jelly Belly as after-dinner presents for the kids. They have crisped rice in them, so they're crrrunchy frrrogs, Monty Python please copy. The kids are 6, 4, and 1, and though the youngest isn't quite talking yet, they're very intelligent, highly voluble, and intensely curious.
It's been a while since I've spent time with small children, so I was relieved that my silly-uncle skills are intact. 6-year-old was proud of having just lost a tooth, which she showed me prior to setting it out for the tooth fairy. This was her second tooth out, so I told her that while this one would be taken by the tooth fairy, the previous one went to the oneth fairy. I left her to chew on that for a while. 4-year-old is everything "4-year-old boy" makes you think of. We played soccer for a bit in the back yard, and I stole the ball from him twice just to prove I could still do it - I was a not very good but at least competent soccer player in junior high, far better than I was at anything else sportswise - before letting him have his way. It was fine.
The Philharmonic concert was way, way out, about 20 miles from central Fresno - it's a huge city - in a building called Shaghoian Hall, apparently also on a campus though I saw no signs identifying it. Cross between shoebox and auditorium in shape, interior design otherwise resembling Benaroya Hall in Seattle, fairly bright in sound. Orchestra is fully up to second-tier professional standards. Music director Theodore Kuchar led the Martinů and the Dvořák New World with brisk energy, except for taking exceptionally long pauses to set up changes of gear in the music. Pianist Lukáš Vondráček tore into Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody like a dog into raw meat: rather awesome.
Saturday morning I hastened home to exchange Valentine's presents with B - in addition to the sweatshirt, she got her own personalized Jelly Belly flavor collection - before heading out by myself for the Redwood Symphony concert that I was reviewing. The psycho-crazy Symphonie fantastique for Valentine's Day, really? We never go out on Valentine's any more - restaurants are insane then - so that was OK, and this year we took as substitute a brunch on Sunday, prior to another concert - but my SFCV review of that is still not up yet.