Here Comes Cacophony
country led by surely the most sophisticated conductor the nation has ever had.
It's tough to pick the piece that will be toughest to take. Edgard Varese's massive Ameriques, in the second concert, is truly a blast, with its orchestra augmented by sirens, while Carl Ruggles' cyclopean Sun-Treader, in concert three, achieves nearly the same effect with its relentless fortissimo. Even Aaron Copland's sharp-edged Orchestral Variations from concert one is to the same composer's Appalachian Spring what a knife fight is to a quilting bee.
Not that there won't also be sublime beauty. Morton Feldman's Piano and Orchestra from concert three opens up radiant vistas of eternity with colors as luminous as the aurora borealis. And the work that follows, A Concord Symphony--Henry Brant's orchestration of Charles Ives' Concord Sonata for piano--has pages of transcendental splendor smack dab in the middle of pages of brutal dissonances; hearing them executed by a full orchestra ought to enhance the effect geometrically.
One thing's for sure: Ann Arbor will never hear these pieces better played. Since Michael Tilson Thomas became the San Francisco Symphony's music director in 1995, he's lovingly molded the orchestra into the most elegantly virtuosic band in the country, its seemingly effortless ensemble graced by apparently perfect principals.