Three great concerts from the San Francisco Symphony


Madeleine Peyroux © Mary Ellen Mark

If you’ve only one opportunity this week to spend an evening with conductor Edwin Outwater and the San Francisco Symphony, you’re going to have a hard time deciding which of three concerts to attend. On offer are An Evening in Paris with Madeleine Peyroux, a Russian Celebration – with the music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich – and a performance featuring two of America’s greatest composers – George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.  Spoilt for choice!

American-born singer and songwriter Madeleine Peyroux spent her teenage years living in Paris, where – with her distinctive voice – she used to join the buskers performing on the sidewalks of the Latin Quarter of the city. This week at Davies Symphony Hall, Madeleine Peyroux, with her guitar, brings Paris to San Francisco as she performs a selection of some of the loveliest songs so closely associated with the City of Light – numbers like La vie en rose and J’ai deux amours.

The program also features a performance by the Symphony of the Passepied and Claire de lune, from one of Claude Debussy’s most famous piano works, the Suite bergamasque, much of the inspiration for which came from the works of fin de siècle poet, Paul Verlain. There are a number of orchestrations of the suite, but this version was the work of Debussy’s close friend, composer André Caplet.


George Gershwin © Acorn

The final work in this concert with a French flavor is Gershwin’s jazz-influenced tone poem An American in Paris, which was commissioned in 1928 by then conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Walter Damrosch, who wanted to present a premiere performance of a work by Gershwin at Carnegie Hall that year. During a stay in Paris in 1926, Gershwin had become fascinated by the ambience, the sights and sounds of the city, all of which proved to be enormously inspirational in the composition of this hugely popular work.

An Evening in Paris with Madeleine Peyroux and the San Francisco Symphony takes place at Davies Symphony Hall on Thursday July 21. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


San Francisco Symphony conductor Edwin Outwater © Larry Williamson

On Friday evening, Edwin Outwater leads the Symphony in A Russian Celebration, featuring the music of three of the greatest of that country’s many wonderful composers – Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich.

The concert opens with Shostakovich’s Festive Overture – a work which was commissioned in 1954 by the conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre, Vassili Nebolsin, for a concert to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution. Shostakovich was apparently given just three days in which to write it, and succeeded in delivering a lively and melodic piece of music with plenty of razzmatazz – perfect for the introduction of a celebratory performance.


Pianist Natasha Paremski – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto is one of his most loved – and most romantic – compositions. It’s not for nothing that the incredibly beautiful slow movement was used as the theme for David Lean’s heartbreaking 1945 film Brief Encounter.  The Piano Concerto No 2  is a powerful and passionate work, and in this performance the soloist is Russian-born American pianist Natasha Paremski, winner of a number of prestigious awards, including the Gilmore Young Artists prize when she was just 18. Ms Paremski has been described as “dazzling” by the Coventry Telegraph, and American Record Guide wrote: “Comparisons with Argerich should not be given lightly, but Paremski is so clearly of the same temperament and technique that it is unavoidable here.”

The Tchaikovsky work is his magnificent Symphony No 4, which the composer dedicated to his then patron Nadezhda von Meck, and which, in his own words, “cost me so much labour” but which he considered at the time to have been “better than anything I’ve done so far”.  We just know that the San Francisco Symphony is going to deliver a sumptuous performance.

Edwin Outwater and the San Francisco Symphony present A Russian Celebration on Friday, July 22, at Davies Symphony Hall. Visit the San Francisco Symphony website for further information and tickets.


Jazz pianist Makoto Ozone © Kishin-Shinoyama

Saturday evening’s concert promises to be a very upbeat affair!  It features the music of Gershwin and Bernstein – and opens with Exhibition Blues, a jazzy arrangement by Erik Jekabson of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, with internationally acclaimed Japanese jazz pianist Makoto Ozone making a welcome return to Davies Symphony Hall.  He takes center stage again in the Symphony’s performance of Rhapsody in Blue – the work which Gershwin composed in the space of five weeks, for a 1924 concert in New York put together by band leader Paul Whiteman. The New York Times described it as a “composition of extraordinary talent” – and the rest, as they say, is history.


Leonard Bernstein – New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

This concert also features Leonard Bernstein’s overture to Candide, his ‘comic operetta’ adapted from Voltaire’s 1758 novella.  Candide has undergone a number of revisions since it premiered in New York in December 1956, at which time it was received with mixed reviews, but there’s no denying the quality of the score and the popularity of its colorful and wonderfully melodic overture.

And finally, there’s another outing for Gershwin’s An American in Paris, the work in which the composer visualized three scenarios – the American visitor wandering around Paris, taking in the atmosphere, followed by a blues-type interlude which might indicate a brief spell of nostalgia for home, before he finally revels once more in the sights and sounds of the city.

This jazzy evening of music by Edwin Outwater and the San Francisco Symphony takes place at Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday, July 23. Further information and tickets are available on the San Francisco Symphony website.


Edwin Outwater

Erik Jekabson

Makoto Ozone


San Francisco Symphony

Artists’ websites –

Madeleine Peyroux

Natasha Paremski

Encyclopaedia Britannica

All Music

Leonard Bernstein


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