S.F. Symphony big on Beethoven 

click to enlarge San Francisco Symphony Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin calls Beethoven’s “Missa solumis” “deeply gratifying.” - COURTESY STEFAN COHEN
  • San Francisco Symphony Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin calls Beethoven’s “Missa solumis” “deeply gratifying.”

Beethoven is everywhere, all the time, but the San Francisco Symphony festival this month makes a special case for the great composer.

Music director Michael Tilson Thomas is upping the ante with three special presentations: the “Missa solemnis” ("solemn Mass") at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; the opera "Fidelio" on June 25-28 and, at 7 p.m. June 20, an abbreviated re-creation of the 1808 Marathon, a historic concert that introduced several major new works, including the Fifth Symphony, to Vienna audiences.

The “Missa solumis,” a less famous contemporary of the Ninth Symphony written in Beethoven's final years, is being presented for the third time in four years. It remains an unusual and challenging work, says MTT: "There are a lot of people onstage for the whole performance. ... Everything seems like it is on top of everything else, and in a sense it competes with parts of itself. I think this is what makes the piece hard to get into."

Staging by James Darrah (who directed last year’s triumphant "Peter Grimes" in Davies Symphony Hall) will give the work focus, along with projections highlighting the Mass' words, giving structure to them, according to MTT. “Inside this architecture, we put the singers and the chorus, and this gives the audience a sense of the work’s ‘cathedral,’" he says.

The cast features soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo Sasha Cooke, tenor Brandon Jovanovich, bass-baritone Shenyang and the symphony chorus directed by Ragnar Bohlin, who says: "To return to this piece for the third time in a few years is deeply gratifying. Each time the music keeps growing for us. Some of the choristers will act onstage and the Pacfic Boychoir will join forces with us. Thrilling!"

In contrast to the “Missa,” the opera “Fidelio” is presented as a concert, without staging, ("It enables the score to come to the fore for full appreciation," says Bohlin), featuring Harvey, Jovanovich, Kevin Langan and Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde in San Francisco Opera's last Wagner "Ring" cycle) in the title role.

Pieces in the two-part marathon include Symphony No. 6, the concert aria "Ah! perfido" with Karita Mattila, Kyrie and Gloria from Mass in C major, Piano Concerto No. 4 with Jonathan Biss, Symphony No. 5, Sanctus from Mass in C major, Fantasy in G minor and Choral Fantasy.


Beethoven Festival

Presented by San Francisco Symphony

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: June 10-30

Tickets: $36 to $169

Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org

Select highlights

Missa solemnis: 8 p.m. June 10-13

Marathon: 7 p.m. June 20

Fidelio: 8 p.m. June 25-26; 7:30 p.m. June 28

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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