Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

International style


Instrumentalist Wu Man has introduced Chinese music and her four-stringed pipa (sometimes called the Chinese lute) to Western audiences. Photo: Stephen Kahn
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Davies Symphony Hall, home of the San Francisco Symphony, has always been a friendly hub for international visitors. This month, guest conductors without borders started an adventurous cultural series featuring music of their native lands, which continues throughout the season. The doors are opening wider soon to welcome even more conductors, instrumental soloists and entire orchestras.

Two one-night stands finish the month at DSH and start November with music and artists drawn from all over the world. SFS Great Performers presents the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta conducting, on Oct. 31. China National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra, with Liu Ja conducting, appears Nov. 5, as the NCPA continues a six-city US tour in celebration of the Centre's 10th anniversary season. Virtuoso Wu Man is soloist in American composer Lou Harrison's Concerto for Pipa.

The fantastic decorations for the 10th anniversary Dia de los Muertos Community Concert (three performances Nov. 4) are already on display at DSH. The colorful altars and figures will add a fanciful touch to the concert on Halloween night. Whether the Israeli musicians know the tradition or not, Zubin Mehta will surely smile in recognition.

The Day of the Dead is a big deal in Southern California, too. I grew up attending Mehta's concerts at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion when he was Music Director of the L.A. Philharmonic (1962-78). I also enjoyed his successors Carlo Maria Giulini and Andre Previn, but no one stays in memory better than the man who first brought classical music to life for an eager kid. Seeing him at DSH in his elevated title of IPO Music Director for Life (since 1981) offers a special treat for life-long fans. Marking his 80th birthday, the Mumbai-born and Vienna-trained maestro announced his formal retirement in 2019.

The concert features Mozart's Symphony No. 36, "Linz"; Schubert's Symphony in C Major, "The Great"; and Tel Aviv composer Amit Poznansky's "Footnote," Suite for Orchestra (from the motion picture). Mehta will sign autographs afterwards. I guess I'll have to schlep my timeworn (but still-mint) LP of "Petrushka" to DSH for old times' sake.

Brilliant instrumentalist Wu Man has performed with the China NCPA Orchestra in Europe and the U.S. Introducing Chinese music and her four-stringed pipa (sometimes called the Chinese lute) to Western audiences for years, she will perform Lou Harrison's Concerto for Pipa and String Orchestra in celebration of the composer's birth centennial (May 1917) on Sun., Nov. 5. It resonates well with beloved Lou's ties to Northern California.

Commissioned for the artist, the great gay iconoclast's beautiful piece can be previewed on YouTube in the Grammy-nominated recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Wu Man is a founding member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, and her career, like Harrison's, reflects an ongoing captivation with the rich combination of Eastern and Western music. Acclaimed Chinese composer Qigang Chen's "Itineraire d'une illusion" is included in the program, and the Brahms Symphony No. 4 further displays the orchestra's versatility.


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