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The Shape Of Things

June 29, 2012

I often think that the most satisfying concert experiences follow a narrative arc. And I particularly love it when programmers manage to move an audience from one set of feelings and experiences to something entirely different while maintaining the thematic thread throughout.

Such was the case last night at Davies Symphony Hall. The San Francisco Symphony orchestra and chorus gave us a program of three works with a perfect overall shape.

The music moved seamlessly from a state of despair laced with a glimmer of light (Ligeti's spectral, microtonal work for unaccompanied voices Lux Aeterna) through one of longing and definite possibility (Schoenberg's short, dramatic ode A Survivor From Warsaw composed for orchestra, narrator and male chorus) and finally to a condition of unbridled optimism, with the final movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.

The opening movement of the Beethoven was sluggish and I could have done without Shuler Hensley's heavily tremolo-laced baritone narratorial voice in the Schoenberg. But thanks in large part to the sensitive dramaturgy of the programming, I left the concert hall feeling like the evening's music had transported me through time and space from a sense of desolation to one of grace.

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