San Diego Symphony: Beethoven Haydn, Sibelius, Mahler, Aucoin told future

But didn't the prelude to Tristan und Isolde?

Matthew Aucoin
  • Matthew Aucoin
  • Photograph by Steven Laxton

I had mixed feelings about Matthew Aucoin’s concert at the San Diego Symphony on Friday, January 25. The concert consisted of several short pieces and excerpts from larger pieces. I like that format. It is one which the recording industry has used for decades.

The theme of the playlist was Hearing the Future. The list featured music which currently looks to the future and which looked to the future in the past. Programming this playlist concert was a risk on Aucoin’s part. Anytime anyone creates a themed playlist, people like me are going to take exception to what was and wasn’t included.

The first two pieces were by Steve Reich and Thomas Adès. These composers use completely different mediums and time will tell if the future sounds like their music or not.

Next up was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, fourth movement and the introduction to Haydn’s Creation. These two pieces puzzled me as I’ve always considered them to be the concluding chapters of the classical period as opposed to the start of something new.

Some would say The Creation is the crowning achievement of the classical period. I think Haydn would agree. The obvious choice for hearing the future from this period is the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. I have a feeling Matthew Aucoin was interested in something finer that the obvious.

I was surprised to learn that my adoration of Sibelius is limited. The concluding movement of his Symphony No. 4 was on the playlist and I could not have cared less. I realized I only truly love his symphonies number one, two, and five, along with his violin concerto and, of course, Finlandia and Valse Triste.

My favorite musical selections were from Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder and Aucoin’s opera Crossing all of which included baritone Rodney Gilfry. The unfortunate fact is that Gilfry was singing in symphony hall from the very foot of the stage. He may as well have been singing in a park as there wasn’t a reflective surface within a hundred feet of his voice. I wouldn’t say his performance suffered for it but I did miss the immediacy which a better acoustical situation affords the voice.

During the selection from the Ruckert Lieder I had a revelation. Mahler never covers up his soloists in any of his vocal music except for, perhaps, the opening section of Das Liede von der Erde.

Mahler’s tenure at The Vienna State Opera is considered the golden age to this day. Could it be that Mahler took his experience as a conductor of opera and incorporated it into his compositions? I have no idea if that is accurate but I feel as if there must be a connection between Mahler’s ability as an opera conductor and his ability to allow the voice to be heard over his monstrous orchestral creations.

If I ever have a chance to hear Aucoin’s Crossing, I’m going. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve heard from it so far.

What piece do I think was missing for this playlist about hearing the future? The prelude to Tristan und Isolde. There has never been a more profound moment of hearing the future than when that music was premiered. We are still in its shadow.

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