The San Diego Symphony premiered Adam Schoenberg’s violin concerto Orchard in Fog on February 9 and 10. The courage it took Mr. Schoenberg to write it needs to be acknowledged.
What was courageous about it?
It was beautiful. It defied modern orthodoxy and allowed some rhythms to fall on the beat instead of being syncopated at all times. It was music which an audience could love. It was music which I wanted to hear again. It was music which a finer critic than I might consider to be derivative and flippant.
Anne Akiko Meyers was nothing less than extraordinary and possibly more — much more. The strings of a violin are tuned to the pitches G, D, A, and E. For Orchard in Fog, Schoenberg required a scordatura.
Scordatura literally means mistuning. The G string was to be tuned to an F for the duration of the piece. Take a moment to let that sink in. Imagine what would happen if all the basketball hoops in the NBA were raised or lowered two inches or if the pitcher’s mound were moved back a foot and a half. I think that demonstrates how far beyond extraordinary Anne Akiko Meyers’ performance was.
This concert was one of the top three of the season. The other two were the opening weekend of the season and the Pines of Rome extravaganza from a few weeks ago.
Opening the concert was Les Preludes by Franz Liszt. It could be said that Franz Liszt’s orchestral music is all sizzle and no steak, but having been on an all steak diet since December 26, I think I have a good grasp on what steak is. Les Preludes is a finely marbled ribeye full of flavor and texture.
Sir Georg Solti relentlessly conducts Liszt's Les Preludes
Associate conductor Sameer Patel was in charge of the concert and essayed elegant phrasing throughout Les Preludes. At one point I wasn’t sure the stringendo was going to get there leading into the final climatic section, but Patel and the orchestra got there with plenty of time to spare.
That wasn’t quite the case with the crowning piece of music on the program, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, or maybe that was too much the case. There was too much time to spare. This rendition of Sibelius’ Nordic epic felt breathless and rushed. The consequence was that the music wasn’t able to breath long enough to fully bloom.
It was a fine, fine, performance, but to those of us who have listened to the Sibelius fifth at least a hundred times or more, well, we have expectations. When those expectations aren’t all met in the exact way we want we get cranky. It’s unfair but it’s the truth.
Maybe cranky is too strong a word because, for starters, Sibelius’ fifth was programmed and that is a win in and of itself. To Patel’s credit he held the line with the tempo and never faltered.