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After last weekend’s triumph I entered Copley Hall with anticipation on Saturday night. It’s safe to say my expectations were through the roof.

There were no expectations for the first piece by Qigang Chen. Geek alert—Qigang is not just the name of a Jedi Master. Yes, the spelling is different but I believe both names are based on the practice of Qigong breathing.

The piece was scored for strings and percussion and had some beautiful moments. As the opening selection for a concert it was rough. The music meandered and we can only listen to so much percussion before it begins to sound repetitive.

Mozart’s Sinfinia Concertate was a treat if only because we were given the chance to hear our concert master, Jeff Thayer, and principal violist, Che-Yen Chen, play the solo parts. It’s possible that the best part of the entire evening was their cadenzas in each of the three movements.

The downside of this performance was that Mr. Thayer and Mr. Chen didn’t play the other pieces on the program due to their soloist duties.

After intermission we heard the last piece of music Tchaikovsky wrote. The events, circumstances, and theories which swirl around Tchaikovsky’s death read like a Russian novel.

The program said he apparently died of Cholera. If he died of Cholera why was his coffin not sealed immediately per government regulations and why were admirers allowed to kiss the corpse out of reverence?

Listening to Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony confirms that, whatever the cause of death, the composer was attempting to expunge his despair.

The performance was not the San Diego Symphony’s best effort. As in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet it was adequate but nowhere near the peaks of the Brahms Fourth and Mahler Ninth. The opening movement was far from seamless, in fact, the seams weren’t only showing, some of them were fraying.

The brass section as a whole but specifically the trumpets must improve in order for the SDSO to get to the next level. The tuning was slipshod throughout the performance on Saturday and the attacks were mushy and tenuous.

I’m happy to overlook a few mishaps but when an entire piece is off it’s hard to ignore.

This was the first time we were seeing Ken-David Masur in the Masterworks Concerts. In reading his bio I got a bit nervous. I don’t like to see a lot of Bach on a resume when the performance is of Tchaikovsky. However, my reservations were unfounded.

Maestro Masur is a master in the making. His conducting was clear yet dynamic. He also appeared to change his approach from Mozart to Tchaikovsky. He conducted the Tchaikovsky without a score and gave it all he had. I look forward to seeing him in future concerts.

Of note was the most tremendous sneeze I have ever heard at a concert. This sneeze wasn’t playing around. It announced itself with stentorian vigor. It was one of those sneezes that makes you feel relief even though it wasn’t yours.

Another audience note was applause after the third movement of the Pathetique. It wasn’t just a smattering of ignorance; it was a full-fledged clap-fest.

I didn’t understand it. There was no applause after the first two sections and none in between the Mozart sections either.

In effect, the applause undermined the moment Tchaikovsky had prepared for us. He gives us a robust and conquering third movement but it’s only a setup for the pathos of his farewell in the fourth movement. Oh, well. No big deal.


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