COURTESY  PHOTOMalcolm McDowell joins the San Francisco Symphony for Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale.”

COURTESY PHOTOMalcolm McDowell joins the San Francisco Symphony for Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale.”

Malcolm McDowell, SF Symphony dance with the devil

From Daniel Webster to Faust, making deals with the devil has long been an attractive proposition for the characters in the arts. This weekend the San Francisco Symphony presents another approach to the story in Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale.”

The work, which the composer designed “to be read, played and danced,” premiered in 1918. In it a narrator speaks of a violin-playing soldier who meets an old man on the road homewards. Bargaining and woe ensue.

In 2011, Aurora Theatre Co. presented an intimate production with four musicians, dances by Muriel Maffre and noted Bay Area actors Joan Mankin as the devil and L. Peter Calendar voicing both the narrator and the soldier, represented by an oversize puppet.

For the Davies Hall presentation, Michael Tilson Thomas has recruited American Conservatory Theater resident artist Nick Gabriel as the soldier, rock and roll icon Declan Patrick MacManus – better known as Elvis Costello – to narrate, and screen star Malcolm McDowell as the diabolical deal-maker.

Best known for his work in film (“A Clockwork Orange,” “Caligula”) and television (“Heroes,” “Franklin & Bash”), McDowell is no stranger to the concert stage. In 2013 he appeared in “Angel heart” for Cal Performances in Berkeley.

“It was a piece with…I think it was 10 cellos and a mandolin,” he recalls. “It was extraordinary because the cueing had to be a beat earlier so I had to have a cue light to let me know when to speak. Of course it worked fine on the night.”

The Stravinsky experience is also not his first Satanic encounter. “I’m making a specialty of playing the devil, actually,” he laughs. “I’ve played it a few times and every time it’s different because it’s different requirements to whatever the piece is that I’m doing.

“The devil as we know it in folklore is, of course, someone of great charm who, you know, brings in the innocent and then the switch. It’s that kind of thing, which makes it a fun part to do.”

McDowell is feeling a part of the classical musical world at the moment and not just in a concert hall. He’s playing conductor Thomas Pembridge on “Mozart in the Jungle,” the recently released Amazon series. “He’s a complete narcissist. A great big baby.”

Will he spend any time picking MTT’s brain for anonymous little tidbits of people he’s known over the years for character development? “Well, yes. Of course,” he laughs. Complementing the Stravinsky, John Adams conducts his composition “Grand Pianola Music.”


A Soldier’s Tale

Presented by San Francisco Symphony

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 6:30 p.m. Jan. 16, 8 p.m. Jan 17, 2 p.m. Jan. 18

Tickets: $15 to $158

Contact: (415) 864-6000,

artsClassical Music & OperaSan Francisco SymphonySoldier's TaleStravinsky

Just Posted

A collaborative workspace for a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) in Coordinape is pictured at a recent blockchain meet up at Atlas Cafe. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Business without bosses: San Francisco innovators battle bureaucracy with blockchain

‘The next generation will work for three DAOs at the same time’

Plan Bay Area 2050 is an expansive plan guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. The regional plan addresses progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, alongside massive new spending on affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. (Shutterstock)
Plan Bay Area 2050: Analyzing an extensive regional plan that covers the next 30 years

Here are the big ticket proposals in the $1.4 trillion proposal

Pregnant women are in the high-risk category currently prioritized for booster shots in San Francisco. (Unai Huizi/Shutterstock)
What pregnant women need to know about COVID and booster shots

Inoculations for immunosuppressed individuals are recommended in the second trimester

Examiner reporter Ben Schneider drives an Arcimoto Fun Utility Vehicle along Beach Street in Fisherman’s Wharf on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Could San Francisco’s tiny tourist cruisers become the cars of the future?

‘Fun Utility Vehicles’ have arrived in The City

Most Read