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Boos at the Symphony

April 8, 2010

sheik.jpegHaving complained about the snoozing audience at the Auerbach/Weilerstein gig a couple of nights ago, it was gratifying to see an audience wide awake and vociferously responsive at a concert at Davies Symphony Hall which included the world premiere of a song cycle written by the singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening).

To say that Sheik's Song Suite from Whisper House -- a cycle based on songs from Sheik's latest musical which premiered at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre in January and was orchestrated for the San Francisco Symphony by Simon Hale -- did not go down well with the symphony audience is to put it mildly. The crowd here is usually easy to please. They don't seem to notice when the players are dialing it in and give standing ovations on every night of the week. But this time, the house was positively disgruntled. A guy sitting two seats down from me made protracted booing noises. Another person said "thank god that's over," very loudly. And a third shouted, "I don't see what was so ghostly about that awful piece," referring to the fact that the songs in the cycle are all sun by characters from the spirit world in the musical.

They were right to voice their complaints. The catharsis was important after half an hour of grinding orchestrations delivered by musicians who seemed on automatic pilot, lackluster melodies, cliched lyrics and the mediocre vocal abilities of Sheik, who delivered all six songs with a gravely earnestness that went beyond the most ardent efforts of Michael Buble.

Even though the cycle has to be one of the worst works I've ever experienced at the San Francisco Symphony, I was glad I was at Davies to witness this particular musical aberration. It made me happy to know that audiences are paying attention and can sometimes be moved to make their feelings heard.

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