The San Francisco Symphony posted a concert online, called “Throughline.” It was posted on 11/14/20, I watched it on 11/18/20. It's streaming for free on their website, I encourage you to watch it:
It opened with a video of four percussionists playing “Fear/Release” by Ellen Reid. It was a fascinating piece, full of sparkly and scintillating sounds. The venue alternated between a concert hall and a rooftop somewhere, I didn’t quite understand that (but then I don’t have to understand everything). I’d love to hear more by Reid, it was a fabulous piece.
Next they played a movement from a piece I love, “Shaking and Trembling” from John Adams’s *Shaker Loops.* One of the most exciting pieces of the 20th century, the piece that put Adams on the map. They played the original chamber version, for seven string players, and were conducted by their new Music Director, Esa-Pekka Salonen. The performance had all of the drive and drama that I would expect. It was this piece that Peter Sellars heard and realized that Adams was an opera composer - - you would think it would be something vocal that would make you think of opera, but for Sellars (who has made his career looking at things from a different angle), it was the drama in the music that said “opera” to him. And he was right, Adams has become one of our greatest opera composers. Here's a performance of the whole piece by the JACK Quartet and three of their friends:
Next up was a performance of “Movements” by Kev Choice featuring AÏMA the DRMR. It was a groovy song with some tasty string writing. As in the first piece, the venue shifted between the concert hall and an outdoor space. I think there must be some lipsynching and air cello action going on here, and I’m choosing to not be bothered by that.
Choice announced the winner of the Ellen Magnin Newman Award for Community Service. It went to Hip Hop for Change. The award was accepted by their executive director, Khafre Jay. Great to see a major orchestra not just paying lip service to the African-American community but really building a bridge and supporting them with their dollars.
Four members of the orchestra played the Allegro con brio from Beethoven’s string quartet #11. They played it beautifully, but it seemed like a funny choice for an orchestral program. Surely there are thousands of pieces for a larger-but-still-small ensemble? It’s nice to have one dead white guy on the program, but a string quartet seemed like an odd choice.
Nico Muhly introduced his world premiere, a commission by the SFS, *Throughline.* He wrote the piece thinking of the orchestra as being a group of individual players. Muhly conducted it himself, when there was a conductor - - it appeared to have been written with COVID in mind, with the players usually each playing alone and then magically stitched together (we’re seeing a lot of that magic stitching in the pandemic, those IT Betsy Rosses should get an award of some kind).
It was dazzling, such a brilliant mix of textures, rhythms, moods, flavors. Often restless, but never jittery, an interesting balance. I was covered with chills when the divine Esperanza Spalding came into the piece, singing and playing the string bass as only she can. It says a lot about the quality of the piece that her cameo wasn’t the highlight, it was ONE of the highlights. Ditto for later cameos by Claire Chase on bass flute and soprano Julia Bullock. I’m on and off when it comes to Muhly, but this was one of the best pieces I’ve heard from him.