Symphony's Latin night: Ole!

In the pleasant summer-concert environment, things rarely heat up as much as Thursday evening in Davies Hall. There, San Francisco Symphony associate conductor James Gaffigan danced through a program of Hispanic music called “Tango and More.”

Gaffigan, who also leads the Symphony in a free concert in Delores Park Sunday, got a terrific response from the orchestra and a full house, the evening graced by memorable performances from soloists rarely heard and seen in a symphonic setting.

The orchestra in white and the hall a rainbow of colors with lights, flags and decorations, the “Summer in the City” concert busted out with Gershwin's “Cuban Overture,” a seductive jazz-Cuban-symphonic fusion piece difficult to do well, but played to the nines here.

Gaffigan was completely in control and yet loose and absorbing the swing of the music in his whole body in the evening's major offering, the suite from Falla's “Three-Cornered Hat.”

Written for the Ballet Russes in 1919, “The Three-Cornered Hat” dances wildly and soars symphonically, getting a passionate treatment from the Symphony. Between the Fandango, the Seguidillas and the Jota, Falla's ultra-romantic rhythmic sweep bathed the hall in gorgeous music.

All that was but the teaser for the main event: composer and bandoneon master Daniel Binelli, the giant of symphonic tango, former collaborator and present representative (in the company of many others, including Gidon Kremer) of the man who assured the tango's survival and flowering, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992).

Playing his own works (“Metropolis,” “Preludio y condombe”),Piazzolla's “Milonga del Angel,” a movement from his concerto for bandoneon, “Aios Nonino,” an excerpt from the film score for “Enrico IV” and other pieces, Binelli _ who also appears in Sunday’s free performance – dazzled with his virtuoso playing and affecting musicality.

The accordion-like bandoneon is a difficult instrument, with a double keyboard and requiring the player to supply a continuous flow of air by expanding and contracting the instrument continuously. Binelli's jagged, pulsating sound, at times melting into pure lyricism, provides the very best you'll hear anywhere.

There are no guarantees that the rest of the summer season will measure up to this concert, but note the range of upcoming offerings, including Chris Botti, Neil Sedaka, Patti LuPone, Johnny Mathis and classical compositions by Rossini, Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

IF YOU GO
San Francisco Symphony
Where: Dolores Park, 18th and Dolores streets, San Francisco
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Free
Contact: (415) 864-6000

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