Barantschik takes the lead 

San Francisco Symphony’s versatile concertmaster Alexander Barantschik will move from his usual role as the orchestra’s first officer to act as commander-in-chief in concerts this week in San Francisco and Cupertino.

Barantschik, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, was appointed to the position of San Francisco Symphony’s concertmaster in 2001. His job description usually limits him to the task of leading the first violin section of the orchestra, and requires him to precede the conductoronstage, bow and accept audience applause on behalf of the already-seated colleague musicians, and to be responsible for tuning the orchestra. He also is expected to perform any violin solo written into the evening’s orchestral works and to make decisions regarding uniform bowing among the string players.

But Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas has given Barantschik a much wider berth. At this week’s concerts, Barantschik will be featured as soloist, concertmaster and conductor in a varied program spanning music of four centuries. Moreover, he will play on the famed 1742 "David" Guarnerius del Gesu violin, noted for its rich, almost viola-like, tone. This is the same instrument played by the late Jascha Heifitz.

The program features J.S. Bach’s glorious Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, with violinist Barantschik, flutist Timothy Day; oboist William Bennett and trumpeter William M. Williams Jr. all playing solos. Next will be Mozart’s Divertimento in F Major, followed by Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Oboe, with Barantschik and Bennett as soloists.

The second half will begin with Shostakovich’s "Octet," followed by Britten’s "Simple Symphony" and two tangos by Astor Piazzolla arranged for violin and orchestra by Oakland-based jazz violinist and tango specialist Jeremy Cohen.

During a phone interview Sunday, Barantschik said, "I wanted to have two distinct halves to the program … the first is cheerful, optimistic music which is clearly articulated, transparent, and played with very little vibrato The second half," he continued, "will be darker, more dramatic and emotional, and will be played with lots of vibrato."

The Shostakovich piece, one of his earlier works, betrays the composer’s bitterness with the mounting artistic difficulties under the Soviet regime. "It is filled with swoops and shouts," Barantschik said.

He said the Britten "Simple Symphony" shares similarities with Prokofiev’s witty"Classical Symphony." It’s made up of melodies that Britten claimed to have written between ages 9 and 12.

The Piazzolla pieces, on the other hand, the congenial concertmaster-cum-conductor described as being full of "dark, melancholy blues" and "juicy reds."

San Francisco Symphony

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco,

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; 2 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $25 to $114

Contact: (415) 864-6000,

Note: The Flint Center performance is at 8 p.m. Saturday at 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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