Symphony’s 6.5 series hangs 10 

The San Francisco Symphony’s Friday "6.5" programs are not only different from regular subscription events, these concerts are also unlike one another. Starting at 6:30 p.m. and ending shortly after 8, they combine lectures, demonstrations and performances.

Early in the 6.5 history, David Robertson, a marvelous conductor-master of ceremonies-lecturer-entertainer, told the Davies Hall audience that that "6.5" designation in earthquake country may not be a really nifty idea. He then went on to give an illustrated lecture of Orff’s "Carmina Burana" in the first half, performing the whole work after intermission.

Another 6.5 concert saw the Leonard Bernstein-class musical lecturer, Michael Tilson Thomas, spend the entire event on performances of little-known works by Mozart, each preceded by an introduction.

Last Friday, conductor Lawrence Foster (one-time San Francisco Ballet music director) diverted from the 6.5 norm by — gadzook! — launching into the music, without as much as a "by your leave." True, the music being one of Mozart’s most popular piano concertos (No. 20, in D minor, K. 466), no introduction was necessary. And 6.5 or not, it was an unusual, thrilling performance.

Nothing charming or sweet in Foster’s treatment, the dark, menacing orchestral opening provided a perfect setting for Radu Lupu’s powerful, commanding pianism, with the kind of different-but-right interpretation.

The orchestra’s musicians watching and (silently) cheering him on, Lupu transformed "routine" passages into small miracles, played with the utmost, unshowy honesty, performed from inside the music. Lupu played the cadenzas, written by Beethoven, effortlessly and yet with an impact creating an indelible impression. Foster and Lupu, both from Romania, gave the Austrian Mozart a decidedly German edge.

The second half did require a presentation, and Foster provided a witty, informative case for Catalonian Roberto Gerhard’s 1965 Concerto for Orchestra, a 23-minute dense, complex, haunting work.

In spite of Foster’s efforts, the passage of four decades and the work’s colorful variety (and brevity), audience members departed in droves after about 10 minutes of this "new music" piece. As a true concerto, featuring orchestra members as soloists, the work (from what program annotator Michael Steinberg called "one of the invisible men of 20th-century music") allowed the musicians to shine.

Upcoming 6.5 series presentations include: Feb. 9, MTT conducts Dukas’ "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice," mezzo Susan Graham sings Berlioz’s "Les Nuits d’été"; March 16, James Gaffigan conducts Ravel’s "Daphnis et Chloé," Suite No. 2, Yundi Li is featured in Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1; May 4, Hans Graf conducts Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, concertmaster Alexander Barantschik performs Viktor Kissine’s "Aftersight for Violin and Chamber Orchestra."

San Francisco Symphony 6.5 Series

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

When: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 9, March 16, May 4

Tickets: $25 to $110

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

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