Two major new works by important contemporary composers are getting their first airings in the Bay Area this week, one of them a piano concerto with a true titan of the instrument at the keyboard and the other a world premiere from a Pulitzer Prize winner who was the first woman to receive that prize in music and to earn a doctorate in music at Juilliard. If you're quick, and lucky, you can probably hear them both.
Magnus Lindberg, 53, a Finnish composer who has been in residence with the New York Philharmonic since music director Alan Gilbert took over nearly three years ago, has polished off his tenure there with a piano concerto -- only his second piece in that genre in almost 20 years. It is the showpiece on the program for the first concert Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic will perform Sunday during their two-night visit to Davies Hall as part of the San Francisco Symphony's centennial celebration.
The soloist for this, by all advance description, fiendishly difficult concerto is the formidable Yefim Bronfman, a Russian-born American who gave a virtuosic display at its world premiere in New York last week. The reviews were pretty breathless, and you didn't need to read between the lines to intuit that most of the marveling was over the man on the bench. Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times opined that whatever Bronfman's fee was, it probably wasn't enough: "It took all of his technique and stamina to dispatch this monster concerto, a surging, mercurial work in three contrasting sections that unfold continuously. He gave a brilliant and triumphant performance."
The Lindberg Piano Concerto No. 2 will be sandwiched between Dvorak's high-spirited, whirlwind "Carnival Overture" and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. Concert time on Sunday is 7 p.m.
On Monday night, the New York Philharmonic's own concertmaster, Glenn Dicterow, takes the spotlight as the soloist for the Bartok Violin Concerto No. 1. The program also includes Berlioz's "Le Corsaire" Overture, Debussy's "La Mer" and Ravel's "La Valse." Concert time is 8 p.m.
Tickets for either concert, $15-$120, are available at 415-864-6000 or www.sfsymphony.org.
While the musical part of the Philharmonic's visit is expected to be ultra-collegial, there will be an offstage revival of a decades-old rivalry at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Jackson Playground ball field in Potrero Hill. The San Francisco Symphomaniacs challenge the N.Y. Philharmonic Penguins to a softball rematch for the "prized" Davies Cup. San Francisco last snagged it while on tour in New York in 1983, but the local team is reportedly still smarting from the 24-16 drubbing it got in 1981 when Zubin Mehta's players bested Edo de Waart's. For those who want to monitor the rematch -- it's free -- the ball field is at the corner of 17th and Carolina streets.
A WITTY WORK FROM ZWILICH: Tonight through Sunday in four Bay Area venues, audiences will be exposed to a brand-new work from Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, an American-born violinist turned composer whose "Three Movements for Orchestra (Symphony No. 1)" won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983. Zwilich, 72, who held the first Composer's Chair in Carnegie Hall history, is also this season's composer-in-residence for the New Century Chamber Orchestra, the 20-year-old San Francisco-based ensemble now in its fourth season with concertmaster/music director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.
Zwilich's "Commedia dell'Arte," written with Salerno-Sonnenberg's fiery personality in mind, sounds like a lot of fun. Though described as a "bravura violin concerto," it has several members of the string ensemble deployed at times on various percussion instruments associated with some of the beloved and notorious characters of the Italian commedia dell'arte tradition from the 16th century. The work's four movements trot out three of them in order -- the "Arlecchino" represents the mischievous harlequin; the "Columbina" summons up the pretty, flirtatious lady's maid; the "Capitano" satirizes the all-bluster and no-buff captain; and the "Cadenza and Finale" mixes them all up.
"Commedia dell'Arte" gets its world premiere tonight at 8 p.m. in Berkeley's First Congregational Church, on a program that also includes Grieg's "Holberg Suite," Schoenberg's "Verklarte Nacht" and Heidrich's "Happy Birthday Variations." The concert repeats at 8 p.m. Friday in the Menlo-Atherton Center for the Performing Arts, 8 p.m. Saturday at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco and 5 p.m. Sunday in San Rafael's Osher Marin Jewish Community Center. Tickets, $29-$59, are at 415-392-4400 and www.cityboxoffice.com.
BEETHOVEN ON THE BRAIN: That paean to bucolic bliss known as Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony, the No. 6 in F major, anchors the program for the upcoming set of San Francisco Symphony subscription concerts Wednesday through May 19 in Davies Hall. The concert is cunningly timed to coincide with the release, in the Symphony store, of Michael Tilson Thomas and the orchestra's recording of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, the "Dance," on the SFS Media label. I have an advance copy of it, recorded live from concerts last September, in my grubby little hands, and it is a definite keeper. It is available now for download on iTunes, and its general release date is June 12.
It is well and widely known that Tilson Thomas and the gang have been polishing their creds as interpreters of the works of Mahler, but the fact is they have been covering Beethoven like the proverbial rug as well. They will end this centennial season in late June with a performance of the mighty Ninth Symphony, to be recorded live for next year's release. Their recordings of his Fifth Symphony and the Piano Concerto No. 4 with Emanuel Ax came out in February of 2011, and next year's season includes a two-week festival in May that will explore his earliest works and their impact on composers who were influenced by them.
Contact Sue Gilmore at email@example.com