Following last week’s triumph at Davies Symphony Hall, celebrated conductor Charles Dutoit returns this week to lead the San Francisco Symphony in two stirring works - Poulenc’s ‘Stabat Mater’ and the Berlioz ‘Te Deum’. Maestro Dutoit and the Symphony will be joined by soprano Erin Wall, tenor Paul Groves, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and the Pacific Boychoir.
French composer Francis Poulenc is probably best known for his more high-spirited works - such as his score for ‘Les biches’, commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes in 1924. During the 1920s Poulenc joined a group of somewhat irreverent young composers known as ‘Les nouveaux jeunes’, led by Erik Satie - a clique which later developed into Jean Cocteau’s ‘Les sixes’. It was their frivolous attitude to life which was to have a marked influence on Poulenc’s work - along with the music of composers such as Chabrier, Debussy, Satie and Stravinsky.
In the mid-1930s, however, after the deaths of some of his friends, some of Poulenc’s work took on a greater depth and gravity. After the artist Christian Bérard died in 1949, Poulenc composed his ‘Stabat Mater’, set to the verse poem which portrays the grieving of Mary at Jesus’ crucifixion. Berlioz dedicated it to Bèrard. The sacred hymn, ‘Stabat Mater’, is believed to date back to the 13th century in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. This week marks the first performances of Poulenc’s ‘Stabat Mater’ by the San Francisco Symphony.
The second work on the program is Berlioz’ ‘Te Deum’, a work which is seldom performed, but which made its debut with the San Francisco Symphony in December 1973. Completed in August 1849, ‘Te Deum’ wasn’t premiered until 1855, at the Church of Saint-Eustache in Paris, on which occasion the composer himself led a massed performance of between 900 and 950 voices and musicians.
Berlioz’s career was not an unqualified success, and he was regarded by his contemporaries as something of an oddity - and often decidedly irritating. His ‘Te Deum’ originated in the early 1830s, a couple of years after the completion of his ‘Symphonie fantastique’ - which was harshly judged by the likes of Rossini and Schumann. Berlioz had in mind for the ‘Te Deum’ a work of grandiose proportions, a stirring piece possibly in the style of works which had been created in the early years of the French Republic. He made a start on the seven movements which he’d planned, but it’s believed that these were later reworked into individual pieces, one of which became the ‘Te Deum’. The premiere finally took place at the opening of the world fair held in Paris between May to October 1855 - the only performance of the complete work during Berlioz's lifetime.
Soprano Erin Wall made her San Francisco Symphony debut in 2004, and is one of the soloists on the SFS recording of Mahler’s Symphony No 8, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Ms Wall’s last appearance at Davies Symphony Hall was in June 2012, during which season she made her debut with the Canadian Opera Company as Clémence in ‘L’amour de loin’, and sang Antonia in ‘Les Contes d’Hoffman’ with Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Canadian Opera Company.
Ms Wall's performances this season include Mahler’s Eighth Symphony with the Nashville Symphony, Beethoven’s ‘Missa solemnis’ with the Chicago Symphony, his Symphony No 9 with the Toronto Symphony, and appearances at the BBC Proms in London and at the Edinburgh Festival.
A graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Young Artists Development Program, tenor Paul Groves made his debut at the Met in 1992 as the Steersman in ‘The Flying Dutchman’. Amongst other Met roles he has also appeared as Camille de Rossillon in ‘The Merry Widow’, Ferrando in ‘Così fan tutte’, Lysander in Britten’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and Don Ottavio in ‘Don Giovanni’. Having made his debut with San Francisco Opera as Fenton in ‘Falstaff', Mr Groves has returned as Ferrando, and as Belmonte in ‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’, his last performance in San Francisco having been in 2005.
This season Mr Groves appears with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’, and in Berlioz’s ‘La damnation de Faust’ with the Leipzig MDR Symphony Orchestra. His operatic performances include ‘Iphigénie en Aulide’ with Theater an der Wien and ‘Don Giovanni’ with Teatro Real.
The San Francisco Symphony Chorus was formed in 1972 under the leadership of Seiji Ozawa, who was then Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony. Now under the direction of Ragnar Bohlin, the Chorus has four Grammy® awards to its credit, including two recordings from the Mahler cycle which Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony made over the last decade. The Chorus also sang on the soundtrack for the Oscar-winning film, ‘Amadeus’ , for ‘Godfather III’, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ and on the Emmy-winning DVD, ‘Sweeney Todd’, with the Symphony.
The Pacific Boychoir Academy is the only choir school in the Western United States. Based in Oakland, it was founded in 1998 by the present Artistic Director, Kevin Fox, and today has more than 160 boys in its seven choirs. The choir made its debut with the San Francisco Symphony in 2002, and is featured on the Grammy®-winning recordings of Mahler’s Symphonies No 3 and No 8, with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Symphony. The choir has toured extensively throughout the US and internationally, and this season - in addition to appearing with the San Francisco Symphony - appears with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and Oakland East Bay Symphony.
Charles Dutoit conducts Poulenc and Berlioz at Davies Symphony Hall from Wednesday, February 6 to Saturday, February 9 at 8.00 pm, and on Sunday February 10 at 2.00 pm. For more information and for tickets, please visit the San Francisco Symphony website.
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