The Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Riccardo Muti was the third of the Big Six visiting orchestras in town for the 100th anniversary of the SF Symphony (on the tails of LA and Boston) and the first to not serenade us with an happy birthday encore. No matter: we left the performances last week with plenty of gifts, and the very substantial programs ended late enough that we wouldn't need more.
The first program mixed Mason Bates, the young composer who will deliver a new commission next month for the SF Symphony's American Maverick festival, with French guys: Honegger's Pacific 231, and Frank's symphony in D minor.
Pacific 231's namesake is a steam engine locomotive, and the well oiled mechanics of the CSO fit perfectly, throbbing and thumping, launching from a quiet start to full speed barreling down the countryside, stopping in the middle for an incongruous, almost baroque choral, and back through a similar path in reverse. Young composers, take note: you don't need a thousand percussionists to achieve an incredibly propulsive and percussive piece. Frank's symphony attempts to capture again fragments of Berlioz's idee fixe from his symphonie fantastique, or so it sounded to us. We did find the allegretto quite tepid and we might affix the blame on Frank rather than Muti, who coaxed fine individual contributions, in particular from his English horn and flutes.