Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto and Gustav Mahler’s 5th Symphony, performed at Davies Hall by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

Posted on in Art + Soul by Roy Strassman

Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
March 23, 2018

SF Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas—or MTT as he is known in the classical music world—in his final year with the Symphony made an auspicious announcement when he told the audience that the program would be recorded. Yay for posterity!

The evening began with Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, a piece evolved according to the 12-tone chromatic scale principles of the “Tone Row”—a concept Berg learned from composer Arnold Schoenberg. This wonderful performance was marred only by the fact that soloist Gil Shaham was difficult to distinguish from the rest of the orchestra.

Then, after intermission began Mahler’s lengthy and powerful symphony, with each of its five movements creating a unique parallel universe. Evoking splashing outbursts of riotous colors coursing through this reviewer’s body, it was at once stunning, elegant, graceful—and surprising, in that its mood shifts seemed to comprise the full range of human emotions. At times the orchestra came across as a choir of angels. At others it came off as a ferocious beast—then as a lugubrious chorus.

By the time the performance reached its ecstatic conclusion it felt as though Mahler’s symphony under MTT’s direction had subsumed all of creation. The entire sold-out audience, knowing it had experienced a priceless musical gift, shot to its feet with deafening applause. Needless to say I anticipate this special recording!


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