Benjamin Simon, Music Director of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra (SFCO), often comes up with innovative approaches to presenting his programs. For the third SFCO Main Stage Concert, which will be entitled The Storytellers, that approach will be theatrical. The major work will be Igor Stravinsky’s “Histoire du soldat” (a soldier’s tale), composed while waiting out World War I in Switzerland.
Away from the opulence of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Stravinsky set himself the task of entertaining an audience by telling a story with a bare minimum of resources. Indeed, the primary constraint was that everything (and probably everyone) could fit in the back of a truck; so, after the truck had been unloaded, it could do double duty as the stage. The story he wanted to tell was an old Russian Folk tale about a soldier returning from a war, who is tempted by the Devil. His text (all spoken narration) was provided by the Swiss writer Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz; and the cast consisted of three dancers, two men portraying the solider and the Devil, respectively, and a female taking the other parts. Music would be provided by only seven instruments: violin, bass, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, and percussion.
The SFCO performance will replace the dancers with puppets. These will be provided by the Lewis Mahlmann Lilliputian Puppets company, directed by puppet master Randal Metz. Joel ben Izzy will narrate Ramuz’ text in English.
This innovative approach to Stravinsky will be preceded by the world premiere of a piece composed on an SFCO commission. This is also a narrative work, entitled “Luck vs. Wisdom,” in which the respective gods of these two qualities argue over who is strongest, while the fate of a young man hangs in the balance. “Luck vs. Wisdom” was written by local composer Stephen Saxon.
The San Francisco performance of this Main Stage Concert will be given in the Nourse Theater at 275 Hayes Street, across the street from Davies Symphony Hall between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. The performance will begin at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 21. As in the past, all concerts will be offered without any charge for admission. Doors open for seating 45 minutes before concert time; and seating is first come, first served. However, there is priority seating for Supporting Members and priority entrance 60 minutes before the program begins. The SFCO Web site has a Membership Web page, which outlines the different levels of membership and their associated benefits. It also provides a link to a secure site through which donations may be given.