Sunday, February 8, 2009



Saturday night I went to the first half of the San Francisco Symphony concert featuring Piotr Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto in G major, Opus 44. I emphasize Piotr, because the week before I had gone to the ballet and heard music by a Boris Tchaikovsky. [Boris Tchaikovsky (1925–1996), part of the generation of Russian composers who followed Dmitry Shostakovich and Aram Khachaturyan, rose to prominence during World War II and the post-war years. He received the USSR State Prize in 1969 for his Second Symphony and was named a People’s Artist of the USSR in 1985. Tchaikovsky studied with Shostakovich, whose influence pervades the 1953 sinfonietta, composed at the end of what is considered Tchaikovsky’s first compositional period. According to the choregrapher Possokhov, he is now considered one of the greatest Russian composers. Courtesy of SF Ballet program notes] Anyway, on Saturday I heard the more famous 19th Century composer.

The program notes started by stating that nine out of ten people at the concert were probably hearing this piano concerto for the first time. I had thought I would be in the enlightened ten percent. I was wrong. This piano concerto was completely new to me. On initial hearing, the first movement seemed a little bombastic. Stephen Hough, the pianist, however, was absolutely stunning: dramatic, powerful and fully in control of his brilliant technique. (I was so impressed, I bought his CD of the Chopin Ballades-- some of my favorite piano music.)

The second movement was very beautiful. It featured a solo violin, then solo 'cello and for a time seemed to be a triple concerto with the interplay of piano, violin and 'cello. The shorter final movement was an effective ending. I'll need to listen to to this concerto several more times in order to appreciate it fully. Like many people, I seem to enjoy listening to music with which I am already familiar.

That seemed to be the case of the gentleman sitting directly behind me. He evidently knew the score very well... because he sighed and commented softly to himself in anticipation of favorite sections. I was beginning to get annoyed with his constant comments. At the end he stood and cheered at the top of his lungs.

The gentleman next to me was a character too. He had been sitting in the row in front of me until the woman holding the ticket for that seat appeared and forced him to move. So he came and sat by me. I knew that this was not his seat because it was one of my subscription seats. A friend had backed out at the last moment, and I had been invited to two parties; so I decided to go by myself, so as not to be embarrassed by leaving at intermission. My seats really are excellent, particularly for solo piano because it provides an unobstructed view of the keyboard and the pianist's hands. So I didn't mind sharing my empty seat.

I titled this post Russian Hill because that suggests a San Francisco connection. I had just finished Steve Berry's second novel, The Romanov Prophecy, which features a dramatic section in San Francisco...and the clue to go there had been 'Russian Hill.' I've read all but two of Steve Berry's mysteries. I think he's written seven so far, and the first was published only in 2003. He's a marvelous writer and has an extraordinary way of incorporating genuine and fanciful historical details! I highly recommend him!

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