The San Francisco Symphony hosts two widely acclaimed and very welcome French artists to Davies Symphony Hall this week – pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and conductor Lionel Bringuier, each in his own right a star turn – with a program of music by Kodály, Ravel and Beethoven.
Jean-Yves Thibaudet is well known to San Francisco audiences, having appeared here on a number of occasions since his debut performance in 1994. He was also one of five international guest pianists to appear at Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas’ 70th birthday celebrations two years ago.
This week he plays Ravel’s gorgeously jazzy Piano Concerto in G major, written in 1928 as a result of the composer’s exposure to jazz during a visit to the United States, and during a time when the influence of jazz was prominent in Paris as well. “It’s hard to imagine this music emerging with more loving finesse and more exquisite detail”, wrote the Seattle Times, following Mr Thibaudet’s performance of the concerto with the Seattle Symphony.
His interpretation of the Gershwin Piano Concerto with the San Diego Symphony last year was described by the San Diego Union-Tribune as “Not just nearly perfect. It was perfect, the best I’ve experienced in 50 years”.
And the accolades keep coming. According to the South Florida Classical Review Mr Thibaudet played Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2 with the Cleveland Orchestra with “Elegance and restraint”, and following another performance with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote of his “Great energy, brilliant technique and unassailable artistry”.
This season, Mr Thibaudet is Artist-in-Residence with l’Orchestre National de France, the Wiener Symphoniker and, for the third year, the Colburn School in Los Angeles, where he is able to indulge his passion for education, fostering young musical talent through individual lessons, masterclasses and performances with students.
A cellist by training, Lionel Bringuier became Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2012 at the age of 26, following his frequent and highly praised appearances with some of the world’s finest orchestras. Among those with whom he has guested are the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Philharmonia and Bavarian Radio Symphony orchestras, as well as the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and the Israel Philharmonic.
Following his Tonhalle appointment, the Los Angeles Times referred to Maestro Bringuier as a music director “who has the capacity to excite and astonish, and who promises to put Zurich on the international orchestral map in a big way”.
The Financial Times described him as “A natural talent whose good instincts are bolstered by good taste plus a strong technique. And unlike those Wunderkinder, past and present, who value personal flash over artistic substance, he steps back and just lets the music show off”.
It was during Lionel Bringuier’s first season as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich that the Creative Chair Initiative was established. The first to hold this Chair was conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, followed in the 2015/2016 season by German composer and clarinetist Jörg Widmann.
This past autumn Lionel Bringuier has undertaken a concert tour to South America with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, joined by violinist Lisa Batiashvili and pianist Nelson Freire, at some of the continent’s most celebrated venues. Other engagements this season include Mr Bringuier’s debut at L’Opéra National de Paris, conducting a production of Bizet’s Carmen by Calixto Bieito, and in addition to his return appearance here in San Francisco, he will again conduct the Munich Philharmonic, NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Wiener Symphoniker.
This week’s San Francisco Symphony program opens with Zoltan Kodály’s Dances of Galánta. It was based on folk dances from the town and surroundings of Galánta, which at the time was what the composer described as “a small Hungarian market town known to travelers between Vienna and Budapest”, and which is now in Slovakia.
The closing work is Beethoven’s Symphony No 4, which is probably the least frequently performed of all of his symphonies, overshadowed almost by the Symphony No 3, Eroica, and the great Symphony No 5. In an article for Gramophone magazine, conductor Osmo Vänskä wrote: “Of all the nine symphonies, for me it is No 4 that is looking back a little bit to the earlier, Viennese, Classical style. It is more connected to the first two symphonies than to the Eroica”. According to All About Beethoven, “The freshness and spontaneity of the themes, the lack of tragic motives, the perfection of the form triggered the enthusiasm of his contemporaries ….. Mendelssohn Bartholdy chose it to be performed at his first concert at Gewandhaus in Leipzig”.
Lionel Bringuier conducts the San Francisco Symphony, with soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, at Davies Symphony Hall from January 26 to 28. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website
San Francisco Symphony program notes: