Auspicious debut for San Francisco Symphony at SSU's Green Music Center

Fresh from a two-week tour of Asia and a Grammy nomination, the San Francisco Symphony under Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas swept into the Green Music Center Thursday night with an alluring program and a legendary pianist that not only filled the house but repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet.

Thursday's concert was a watershed moment for the newly opened Weill Hall at Sonoma State University, which also serves as the home of the Santa Rosa Symphony, its resident orchestra.

The program marked the first of a series of four concerts in the hall this season planned by the world-class San Francisco orchestra.

"We're delighted to share this historic evening with you," Thomas said, addressing the audience. "We're thrilled to open your new space - our new space — together."

The musical program offered a little something for everyone: a classical concerto by Beethoven, a romantic tone poem by Richard Strauss, and the premiere of a dazzling new work by the symphony's Assistant Concertmaster, Mark Volkert.

But more importantly, it played to the sensitive acoustics of the hall with pieces featuring smaller orchestrations. That often resulted in crystal-clear sound, especially in the pianissimo range.

For sheer auditory pleasure, the concert's high point came after intermission when Soviet-born, Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman performed Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, the "Emperor," with a measured and meticulous touch.

As Scott Foglesong, chair of musicanship and music theory at the San Franciso Conservatory of Music, explained in his pre-concert lecture, Beethoven wanted the soloist and orchestra to become one in the concerto, like a tapestry.

Bronfman played with a business-like poise and restraint, rarely calling attention to himself while making every note appear effortless.

Under his powerhouse fingers, the phrases flowed together in one long, seamless arc, from the opening bars to the finale. The delicate, piannissimo passages in the Adagio movement, particularly leading up to the finale, were particularly sublime.

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