The Jacobs Masterworks Series started at Symphony Hall this last weekend. The concert was Schumann’s American Festival Overture, Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, and Brahms Symphony No. 3.
Starting off was William — not Robert — Schumann’s American Festival Overture. It was loud. That’s about the best thing that can be said about it. I’m speaking of the music itself. The performance was stellar.
Heifetz plays Mendelssohn
...Violin Concerto — Second Movement
I find this overture to be a piece of music which tries very, very, hard — so hard that it feels false. False is a harsh criticism. If I were to soften my criticism a little I would say the piece feels academic. There appears to be no point to the celebration.
It’s kind of like celebrating the Chargers winning a football game. What’s the point? Think about it for a few moments and I think you will agree.
The American Festival Overture did fit the program perfectly in a few ways that deserve to be mentioned. The first is that this season is themed around American composers so it made sense to start with what amounted to an overture for the season.
Brahms Symphony No.3
The other reason is a nice little play of words with William Schumann’s name. Clara Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Brahms were the triumvirate which held down the Leipzig side of the War of the Romantics.
Putting William Schumann on the same bill as Mendelssohn and Brahms was what amounts to a programming wink and a smile. Maybe I’m reading too much into that but I enjoyed thinking that was the case.
Mendelssohn wrote several Songs Without Words for the piano and the second movement of his Violin Concerto has a main theme which is quite song-like. I’ve heard this music dozens, if not hundreds of times, but this performance featured violinist Gil Shaham and that meant I was in for an emotional upheaval.
At this Saturday evening concert I got “Shaham’d.” Again.
The first time was during the premiere of David Bruce’s Fragile Light when I almost had a sobbing fit in the middle of symphony hall. This time it was the second movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.
The orchestra and maestro Ling must also be given credit here. The bassoon-led transition from the first to the second movement set the stage for Shaham to sing one Mendelssohn’s most moving “songs without words”.
As is almost always the case with an experience of great music, my emotions weren’t moved by anything particular. I wasn’t feeling sad or distressed. I wasn’t feeling joy or elation.
I was feeling music. Just music. Just notes on sheets of paper written down about 180 years ago. Inexplicable.
As I’ve mentioned before, Brahms is maestro Ling’s “jam”. We’ve heard all four symphonies over the past several seasons and each time the performance has been on the top shelf of what the San Diego Symphony can do.
This time was no exception. The last time we heard Brahms's Third was in early 2012. The orchestra has continued to be groomed and polished since then and what we got this time around exceeded the previous iteration.
During the famous third movement of the Brahms, my concert companion was wracking her brain to remember where she had heard it before. After the concert the Google told us that it was used as the title theme for the movie Undercurrent starring Katherine Hepburn and my main man Robert Mitchum.