Mondavi Center UC Davis hosts the San Francisco Symphony

Attending the performance by the San Francisco Symphony, Photo: B. Keer
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It was May 11, 2024 and I was on a bus with my fellow retirement community residents headed to the Mondavi Center UC Davis to see the San Francisco Symphony.  I have enjoyed many concerts where the San Francisco Symphony performed in their home setting of Davies Hall in San Francisco but can’t get there now.  Knowing that the San Francisco Symphony was coming to Davis at a time when I could attend their performance was wonderful. How would this venue create a different experience in contrast to Davies Hall?

Conductor Gemma New

Sandwiched between San Francisco Symphony’s upcoming May 10 & 12 performances at Davies Symphony Hall there was the Symphony’s May 11 performance at UC Davis’ Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. The program included Grażyna Bacewicz’s Overture; Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto, featuring Pablo Ferrández in his Orchestral Series debut; and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, Scottish.  This series also featured Conductor Gemma New stepping in for Marta Gardolińska.

Gemma New previously conducted the San Francisco Symphony in two programs during the 2019 summer season at Stanford Live’s Frost Amphitheater. However, with these performances, she made her San Francisco Symphony Orchestral Series debut. New is artistic advisor and principal conductor of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and music director of Canada’s Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. She previously served as principal guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony, resident conductor of the St. Louis Symphony, and associate conductor of the New Jersey Symphony. A former Dudamel Conducting Fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conducting fellow at Tanglewood Music Center, she was awarded Solti Foundation US Career Assistance Awards in 2017, 2019, and 2020, before receiving the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award in 2021. She delighted the audience with pony tail and skirt swishing, she commanded the orchestra, almost floating, bringing forth exquisite sounds.

Berg Violin Concerto & Mahler Symphony 5

It is worth noting that collaboration with the next generation of classical artists has been a keystone of music director Esa-Pekka Salonen’s San Francisco Symphony tenure. Featuring a little-heard but delightfully energetic overture by Polish composer Bacewicz, Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” symphony inspired by the composers first visit to Britain and “new cello genius” (Le Figaro) Pablo Ferrández performing Elgar’s contemplative cello concerto the program seemed especially appropriate for our time.

Grażyna Bacewicz’s Overture opened the program. This work was written in Warsaw, Poland in 1943 under German occupation and did not have its premiere until 1945. While the city of Warsaw was completely destroyed, Bacewicz’s works were preserved. The work was upbeat and energetic and very pleasant to hear.

Berg Violin Concerto &a Mahler Symphony 5

Completing the first half of the concert was Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 by Edward Elgar.  Featured artist Pablo Ferrández, a prize winner at the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition, and a native of Madrid, kept the audience spellbound as tones that were rich and vibrant emanated from the Antonio Stradivari’s 1689 “Archinto” cello which is on lifelong loan from a member of the Stretton Society.  As one person on the bus noted, “this cello was so mellow”.  Listening to this was an unforgettable experience.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56 (“Scottish”) comprised the remainder of the program. Mendelssohn was born in Germany, and has been compared to Mozart at times in that his genius was expressed very early, along with a gift for drawing, painting, poetry and languages. In these times, I feel it is appropriate to quote from the program. “It was Wagner who attacked Mendelssohn in his 1850 essay “Judaism in Music,” a document as obtuse and hateful as anything spat out by an Oathkeeper or a Proud Boy, attacking Jewish culture in general and Mendelssohn in particular for a catalog of offenses and inadequacies, among them the inability to create art that penetrated to the essence of things.” (Larry Rothe)

Inspired by a trip to Scotland where he visited Fingal’s Cave, and was inspired to write this “Scottish” symphony.  It begins with sad and somber feeling and before long there is sound like rolling waves and wind.  It moves along until one can almost “see” the cave.  The strings are very prominent until there is a strong sound form the tympany and the brass section sounding regal. A well deserved, enthusiastic and lengthy standing ovation completed the evening. It was easy to be wrapped up in this. One person entered the bus heading home, saying she was exhausted from concentrating.  This was an amazing evening with the San Francisco Symphony and I can’t wait for them to return.

Berg Violin Concerto Mahler Symphony 5

A note about Mondavi:

It was delightful to be at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis enjoying it beauty and wonderful acoustics. The Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts is named for arts patron and vineyard operator Robert Mondavi, who donated US$10 million to help with the building costs, and who also helped finance The Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on the same campus. 

Mondavi Center opened on October 3, 2002, and serves as a venue for musical concerts, theater, dance, lecturers and other entertainers. The façade is a large glass-panelled lobby that is surrounded by sandstone that also lines the interior walls.

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5 and Salonen’s Violin Concerto featuring violinist Leila Josefowicz , February 27, 2020 at Davies Symphony Hall Leila Josefowicz Plays Salonen Violin Concert

A note about the San Francisco Symphony:

The San Francisco Symphony is among the most artistically adventurous and innovative arts institutions in the United States, celebrated for its artistic excellence, creative performance concepts, active touring, award-winning recordings, and standard setting educational programs.

Photos provided by the San Francisco Symphony unless otherwise noted.

For tickets and information contact Davies Hall or Mondavi Center

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