Acclaimed overseas, symphony is back home

Reimporting exported goods — which originally were imported from France — Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are presenting French classics that made a big impression on their recent European tour.

In Lucerne and Milan last week, the orchestra’s performances of music by Berlioz and Ravel brought this response from a reviewer in Milan’s “Corriere della Sera”:

“Back after a gap of 23 years, this great Californian outfit, under Michael Tilson Thomas, captivated a full house at the Teatro degli Arcimboldi with French repertoire. With the gestures of a natural charmer, despite his short jacket, Tilson Thomas demonstrated how his stealthy, charming lioness of an orchestra can lose itself in that hazy, billowing world, matching tone for tone, more on a sensory than a structural level.”

Soon, in Davies Hall, patrons can witness MTT’s charm and short jacket, and hear the charming lioness (“una leonessa piena di charme”) of our globetrotting hometown band.

The program stays in the French romantic domain, but the pieces are different.

They include Ravel’s ever-popular, occasionally overplayed “Rapsodie espagnole,” Debussy’s “First Rapsodie for Clarinet and Orchestra” (featuring the orchestra’s leonine clarinetist, Carey Bell), Debussy’s “Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra” (with Jean-­Frédéric Neuburger), and then a “Romeo and Juliet” switcheroo.

For too many years, Davies has been home to umpteen repetitions of excerpts from the Prokofiev ballet score for “R&J.”

But the upcoming concerts will showcase the rarely played, utterly ravishing music from Berlioz’s “symphonie dramatique,” “Roméo et Juliette.” The scheduled excerpts are “Introduction,” “Love Scene” and “Romeo Alone — Festivity at the Capulets.”

Bell, acclaimed principal clarinet of the symphony, also is a member of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and a soloist with orchestras and chamber ensembles. Previously, he held principal positions with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.

Neuburger (pronounced Nu-bour-jhay) studied at the Académie Maurice Ravel and the Paris Conservatoire, where he received highest honors in piano, accompaniment and chamber music. A professor at the school, he also tours Europe and the U.S. making solo appearances.

A free audio podcast about the Berlioz piece may be downloaded from www.sfsymphony.org and the iTunes store.
Portions of these concerts will be broadcast on Classical 102.1 KDFC-FM at 8 p.m. Oct. 12.

IF YOU GO

S.F. Symphony

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 29, Oct. 2; 2 p.m. Oct. 3
Tickets: $15 to $140
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org

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