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Carnegie Hall's Opening Night with the San Francisco Symphony, Renée Fleming and Audra McDonald

San Francisco Symphony Carnegie Hall Gala - 5Carnegie Hall opened it's 127th season last Wednesday with Michael Tilson Thomas leading the San Francisco Symphony in a pops-style program that skewed heavily towards Americana and Broadway (with a little Liszt thrown in.) Which is precisely the sort of crowd-pleasing concert that the occasion called for, not unlike the all-Bernstein concert MTT programmed for the last time San Francisco opened the Carnegie season in 2008

The program was dominated by Gershwin, bookended by his visceral, dancey Cuban Overture (1932), and ending with An American in Paris (1928). In between, the orchestra played Liszt's Mephisto Waltz: a Romantic showpiece not quite rising to MTT's characterization of it as "incredibly daring."

The bulk of the program consisted of a selection of show tunes, sung by six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald and celebrated soprano Renée Fleming, who is working to establish her Broadway cred with her recent run as Nettie Fowler in Carousel and her new album, Renée Fleming: Broadway. 

McDonald played to her strengths with Gershwin's "Summertime" and "Vanilla Ice Cream" from Jerry Bock's 1963 musical She Loves Me, investing both with deep meaning and substance. Fleming began in familiar territory with the lilting Aria from Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (with SF principal cellist Michael Grebanier) before transitioning to "Fable" from Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza, which she said was "one of my favorite musicals." Her voice is still a miracle, penetrating and powerful, yet accessible and intimate. 

The vocal part of the program ended on a politically-charged note, with McDonald and Fleming singing a medley of Sondheim's "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods and Richard Rodgers "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" from South Pacific. "Seems appropriate for our times," McDonald said, a not-so-oblique reference to recent events. To drive the point home, they then offered an encore of Laura Nyro's 1969 anti-war rock anthem "Save the Country."

"I got fury in my soul, fury's gonna take me to the glory goal 
In my mind I can't study war no more.
Save the people, save the children, save the country now"

MTT, who will be stepping down as San Francisco Symphony music director after next season, has been appointed a Carnegie Perspectives Artist, and will be returning later this season with the Vienna Philharmonic (March 5-6) and his other ensemble, the New World Symphony (May 1-2), who will be performing two of Thomas' own works. As for Carnegie Hall, upcoming highlights include concerts by the Czech Philharmonic (Oct 27-28), the Mariinsky Orchestra (Oct 30-Nov 1), and recitals by pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard (Oct 25) and Yuja Wang (Oct 26).

San Francisco Symphony Carnegie Hall Gala - 15
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