Master violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman has done it all. He has appeared with every major orchestra throughout the world, is the recipient of four Emmy awards, has collaborated with composer John Williams as violin soloist in Steven Spielberg’s Schinder’s List and featured at the inauguration of President Barack Obama along with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and clarinetist Anthony McGill. This is merely the tip of the iceberg and yet he continues to add to his increasingly impressive career. His appearance on stage with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Hall was met with an immediate standing ovation, the entire audience greeting him with thunderous applause in acknowledgement of his outstanding achievements in the arts.

Bob Lockyer's Birthday Bash at The Place – Bob with Kenneth Tharp OBE (Chief Executive, The Place) © Richard Thompson
Bob Lockyer's Birthday Bash at The Place – Bob with Kenneth Tharp OBE (Chief Executive, The Place)
© Richard Thompson

Once the audience had settled, Perlman began the first half of the concert with Vivaldi’s L'estate (Summer) and L'inverno (Winter) from Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons), which ranged from sublime sensitivity to blistering panache. The concertos that make up the Four Seasons are perhaps Vivaldi’s most well known, yet they take up only a small spot in his exceedingly large output of works totaling 221 violin concertos alone. Although the orchestra was almost double in size to what is customary, they accompanied Perlman with sensitivity. It may have been a touch heavy at times, but it certainly made for a lively and full rendition of this popular work. Principal Cellist Michael Grebanier matched Perlman’s virtuosity with remarkably close attention in some rhythmically tricky duo sections.

The first half concluded with a buoyant rendition of Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D major, K.504, Prague. As was the case in the Four Seasons, the orchestra included more musicians than in the standard scoring and despite a somewhat uneven final movement, on the whole the orchestra captured the appropriate graceful charm. Perlman’s conducting was unobtrusive which allowed the orchestra to perform with a certain degree of freedom. This symphony was first performed in Prague in 1787 at a time when Mozart’s popularity was waning in Vienna. However, the people of Prague were in stark opposition, taking the composer into their arms as if he were their own. Mozart himself stated that “my orchestra is in Prague and my Prague people understand me.” Reminiscent of how the musicians likely responded to this superb symphony back in 1787, the members of the San Francisco Symphony performed it tonight with notable enjoyment.

The full talents of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra were showcased in the second half of the concert with an impressive performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.4. After taking more of a ‘backseat’ role in the first half, the orchestra grabbed their opportunity by the horns and took center stage with some magnificent playing from all corners. The brass set the standard with a majestically bold and strong statement of the opening ‘fate’ theme which pinned me back in my seat from the very first note. The woodwind playing was of the highest quality throughout with thematic material bouncing between the different instruments seamlessly, merging from one to the next. Oboist William Bennett performed the opening solo of the second movement with a deeply expressive melancholy; bassoonist Steven Dibner and clarinettist Luis Baez were equally exquisite in their respective solos.

With the return of the original ‘fate’ theme stated by the brass in equally powerful fashion as before, the remainder of the symphony dashed to the finish line in dramatic fashion. Perlman led the symphony to its conclusion whipping the orchestra into a frenzy of excitement and pulling the audience along for the wild ride. I was absolutely mesmerized by the energetic and precise, yet powerful playing of James Lee Wyatt III on cymbals which, at this speed, can be no easy task when wielding such an unforgiving instrument. With the final chord ringing throughout Davies Hall, the audience instantaneously erupted into applause, leaping to their feet with even more immediacy than when Maestro Perlman first appeared on the stage. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Itzhak Perlman are clearly a winning combination.