James Conlon, the LA Opera music director is in town for two weeks conducting the SF Symphony, the past week in the Pictures at an Exhibition and this week in the Verdi Requiem (which he conducted here not that long ago), with the fabulous soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. Conlon has a genial, self-deprecating, unassuming way of introducing the works, and his fast-paced, Queens-accented pep talks do go down easy on the audience.
He made a few points: that the first half of the program, Shostakovitch's 14th symphony was inspired by Mussorgsky Songs of Dance and Death (and also Mahler's das Lied von der Erde), and that was the connection to the second half, Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky Pictures at an exhibition, originally written for solo piano. The familiar Pictures would be our "reward for [our] concentration in the first half," he begged, as the Shostakovitch is not very audience-friendly on a first listening. And since it was the SF Symphony's premiere of the piece, that's the boat most of us were in.