We expect a good time from an opening gala at the SF Symphony. After all, there's an open bar, fancy (or "fancy," in some cases) attire, and everyone rejoices over the new musical season. Last night, beat our expectations as the musical performance, featuring Audra McDonald, topped our expectations. The pieces, joined together by an all-American theme, were fun, focused, and fantastic.
The program opened with Antheil's jazz symphony, a piece introduced by MTT as a mix of jazz and Stravinsky, but we really heard the influence of French composer Darius Milhaud's Boeuf sur le toit. As Le Boeuf, the piece is built in a loose Rondo form, with a jazzy feel alternating with some playful variations. After the introduction of the orchestral theme, Robin Sutherland at the piano played his own motif in a deliberately different tempo. It all worked, contrasting hard and soft edges, percussive and meditative tempi. Mark Inouye played a solo so wonderful that, for the first time ever at Davies, we heard the audience applaud in the middle of the piece.
Inouye, with an assist from flutist Tim Day and percussion principal Jacob Nissly at the xylophone (leaving a noteworthy mark with his first SF concert), also delivered with Gershwin's "American in Paris."
In between the two orchestral pieces, Audra McDonald sang from the Broadway songbook. Ms McDonald had no trouble getting the limelight on her, and with good reason. With five Tony Awards under her belt (in both drama and musical categories, ahe can create a different character for each song. She put forth a motherly voice in the "Build My House"/"Take Care of This House" combo from the Bernstein's songbook. She was vulnerable in West Side Story's "Somewhere," and a sexy kitten in "A Little Bit of Love" from Bernstein's Wonderful Town. (Her extended "mmmmmmmmm" felt like being gingerly bit on the nape of the neck.) Her rendition of "He Plays the Violin" form Edwards' 1776 made her interaction with Sasha Barantshik's violin downright dirty. And she got a mellow torch mood -- where Sutherland's smooth piano intros made us think (for a second only!) he should be a lounge player in some swanky hotel -- with Jule Styne's "The Music That Makes Me Dance." And finally, when she asked the audience to help sing along to "I Could Have Danced All Night," which she now begrudgingly performs as it's such a Broadway standard, the audience was all-too eager to please her. It was, in a word, glorious.
Boy, are we glad to hear the San Francisco Symphony again.
Tomorrow: SFist Editor Brock Keeling has pics and details from the pre- and after-parties. And more.