This month will conclude with the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) debut of a soprano well known in this city. Nadine Sierra recently completed her tenure as an Adler Fellow with the San Francisco Opera (SFO). Her SFO performance debut was the creation of the roles of Juliet and Barbara in Christopher Theofanidis’ Heart of a Soldier. Then, this past December, she marked the conclusion of her Adler Fellowship with a “farewell” recital in the “Salons” series organized at the Hotel Rex by San Francisco Performances.
At the end of this month, Sierra will return to San Francisco, this time to Davies Symphony Hall. She will perform three arias from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 344, his Singspiel in two acts, Zaide. Mozart never completed this opera; and a performance based on the existing fragments did not take place until January 27, 1866 as a commemoration of the 110th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. The Wikipedia entry for this opera describes the aria “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben” as “the only number that might be called moderately familiar;” and it is the third of the published fragments. Sierra will sing this with Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) conducting, followed by two other arias, “Trostlos schluchzet Philomele” and “Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen,” both of which will be receiving their first SFS performances.
[Update, 2/20/13, 1 p.m.: The aria “Trostlos schluchzet Philomele” has been removed from the program. It will be replaced by an opening introduction by which orchestra (without voice) that will precede “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben.” This selection has not yet been announced. Since Mozart never wrote an overture for Zaide, most modern performances use the K. 318 symphony in G major as the opera's overture.]
This relatively brief first half of the program will be followed, after the intermission, by a performance of Anton Bruckner’s seventh symphony in E major, which MTT last performed with SFS in 2003. Just about every Bruckner symphony is a product of subsequent revision and editing. The seventh was composed between 1881 and 1883 and revised prior to its publication by Gutmann in 1885. As the Wikipedia entry asserts, it is “widely accepted” that Arthur Nikisch, who conducted the premiere in 1884, contributed to the revisions, possibly with contributions from Franz Schalk and Ferdinand Löwe. However, “there is some debate over the extent to which these changes were authorized by Bruckner.”
There are now two editions used in most performances of the symphony. The 1944 edition by Robert Haas tried to work as much as possible from Bruckner’s 1883 autograph. Unfortunately, the autograph has subsequent changes marked on it, making Haas’ edition somewhat controversial. In 1954 Leopold Nowak published an annotated edition of the 1885 version, using the annotations to try to track who was responsible for which changes. MTT will conduct from the Haas edition, which is the one he used in 2003.
Beyond this morass of editorial details and controversies, the most important thing about this symphony is that Bruckner was aware that Richard Wagner was dying while working on it. As a result, the scoring of the second Adagio movement features four Wagner tubas, as well as the first appearance of a bass tuba (the “Fafner tuba”) in a symphony. That movement is not the longest that Bruckner ever wrote; but it is definitely up there with his most prolonged achievements, usually clocking in at around half an hour. The “Wagner connection” is reinforced with a climax that occurs at rehearsal letter W. One of the major editorial controversies concerns whether or not that climax should be marked by a cymbal clash, and cymbals are absent from the Haas edition.
There will be three performances of this concert in Davies Symphony Hall. These will take place at 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 28, and Saturday, March 2, and at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 1. The Inside Music Talk will be given by John Palmer one hour prior to each concert, free to all ticket holders. In addition a free podcast about the Bruckner symphony, hosted by KDFC’s Rik Malone, will be available for download from the Podcast page shortly before the first performance. Ticket prices range from $15 to $150 and may be purchased through the event page for this concert on the Symphony Web site. In addition, there will be a Katharine Hanrahan Open Rehearsal event at 10 a.m. on Thursday, February 28. General admission is $22, and reserved seats are available for $40. This open rehearsal has is own event page for online ticket sales. Tickets may also be purchased at the Davies Box Office on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street or by calling 415-864-6000.