San Francisco Symphony – Mediterranean idyll

French cellist Gautier Capuçon appears with the San Francisco Symphony this week – © Nicolas Brodard

There’s a lot that’s French about this week’s San Francisco Symphony concert – although not everything, for whilst we have a French conductor, Stéphane Denève, a French guest soloist, Gautier Capuçon, and a program of mostly French music, there’s also a touch of other Mediterranean destinations among the chosen works as well. The concert opens with Jacques Ibert’s Escales, the main work is the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No 1, a piece by Guillaume Connesson with an Italian title – E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare, and Pines of Rome by by Ottorino Respighi.

Currently Music Director of the Brussels Philharmonic, Principal Guest Conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Music Director Designate of the St Louis Symphony and Director of the Centre for Future Orchestral Repertoire, Stéphane Denève has also served as Chief Conductor of Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Maestro Denève loves the music of France, and is a ardent support of new music. He has appeared with some of the world’s finest orchestras and has a close relationship with some of the brightest stars in the classical music firmament. Also highly accomplished in the world of opera, he has led productions at The Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne Festival, La Scala, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Saito Kinen Festival, Gran Teatro de Liceu, Netherlands Opera, La Monnaie, Deutsche Oper Am Rhein, and at the Opéra National de Paris.

Stéphane Denève leads the San Francisco Symphony – courtesy IMG Artists

Gautier Capuçon pays a return visit to Davies Symphony Hall this week, during a season which has included a return to Carnegie Hall with Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, an international recital tour with pianist Jérôme Ducros – both of whom appear on Capuçon’s newly-released album Intuition – and appearances at the Verbier Festival with artists such as Lisa Batiashvili, Christoph Eschenbach, Janine Jansen, Leonidas Kavakos, Yuja Wang and Tabea Zimmermann.

A artist combining “jaw-dropping virtuosity” with “refined, stylish playing” (The Strad), Gautier Capuçon was said by the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger as having “performed Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the noblest tone and brilliant phrasing…”. According to The Times, “In a concert of extraordinary sophistication, dynamic daring and supple phrasing, it was the purity of Gautier Capuçon’s cello that stilled the hall … Capuçon played with grave sweetness, intensifying his tone in almost imperceptible increments. The Barbican audience has seldom been so quiet”.

M. Capuçon also created, and directs, the Classe d’Excellence de Violoncelle, which promotes the talents of six young cellists from around the world each season, performing at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the superb new Frank Gehry-designed Auditorium in Paris.

Gautier Capuçon – © Gregory Batardon

Saint-Saëns’ melodic First Cello Concerto, with its sweeping melodies and delicate light passages, was premiered at the Paris Conservatoire on January 19th, 1873. The fact that this was the venue for the premiere provides an insight to the regard in which the composer was held by the Conservatoire – famous at that time for featuring only the works of old masters or those who were no longer living. That wasn’t all that differentiated Saint-Saëns from other composers of his time, since he also wrote music across a wide range of genres – symphonies, concertos, opera, songs, chamber music, and for solo piano, as well as both sacred and secular choral music. His Cello Concerto is played without pauses between the movements, although each is notably different.

Jacques Ibert’s Escales (Ports of Call) – described by AllMusic as “a sumptuous, brilliantly orchestrated work depicting sunny climes in perfect postcard music” – was premiered in 1924. In this piece, the composer portrays a Mediterranean voyage which takes in Rome and Palermo, calls in at Tunis on the North African coast, before finally visiting Valencia. The work evokes memories of gorgeous sunny Mediterranean days, with shades of the music of Ravel, a fascinating combination of African rhythms and Middle Eastern exoticism, and stamping heels, castanets and swirling skirts.

Contemporary composer Guillaume Connesson – professor of orchestration at the Aubervilliers-La Courneuve Conservatory since 1997 – is one of the most widely performed of French composers today. He has had works commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw, Philadelphia, Chicago Symphony and Netherlands Philharmonic orchestras, as well as the Orchestre National de France and Orchestre National de Lyon, and his music is regularly performed by ensembles in Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom.

E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare is part of a trilogy of symphonic pieces by Connesson, each dedicated to a different country – Flammenschrift to Germany, Maslenitsa to Russia, and the work to be performed this week to Italy. Stéphane Denève tells us more in this video clip:

The concert ends with the tone poem Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. A work in four movements, it’s the second in a series of three tone poems which Respighi wrote in tribute to the capital of his native Italy, and is his most frequently performed work. The other two pieces are Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals.

Written in four movements, Pines of Rome portrays the sound of children at play among the pine groves, a hymn-like piece, a moonlit scene with nightingales singing, and the Roman army marching into the city to the accompaniment of trumpet fanfares and pounding beats.

Stéphane Denève leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artist Gautier Capuçon, in a program of music by Ibert, Saint-Saëns, Connesson and Respighi, at Davies Symphony Hall from May 10th to 12th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from:

Artists’ websites:

Stéphane Denève
Gautier Capuçon
Guillaume Connesson


Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No 1
Pines of Rome


ArtsPreview home page

Comments are closed.