Symphony showcases MTT return plus 2 young solo violinists

Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony. Photo: Kristen Loken.

When the instruments of two young violinists don’t duel but intersect delicately, it’s a joy for me to behold — even if the segment they play lasts only a couple of minutes.

And so it was on Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Double Violin Concerto,” an unlisted bonus interlude in the San Francisco Symphony’s varied “All San Francisco Concert.”

Because the moment was so exquisite, I half expected the casually-clad crowd to whistle its approval of the excerpt, but no, it restrained its baser instincts and merely applauded Hannah Tarley and Alina Kobialka, each of whom are shining alumnae of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.

The longest pieces of the event — a special Davies Hall performance recognizing the work of local nonprofits, social service and neighborhood groups — were a contrast unto themselves: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s oft-revised “Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy-Overture” and Benjamin Britten’s modern Variations and Fugue on a Theme of [Henry] Purcell, Opus 34,” from the British  composer’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

The former highlighted airy passages followed by a somber ending; the latter was enhanced by spotlights bouncing from one part of the orchestra to another to another.

The Britten piece yanked me back to Leonard Bernstein’s weekly CBS television series in the 1960s that carried the same title. I remember correctly sensing then that he was somehow stretching both my mind and emotions.

Violin soloist Hannah Tarley

Other segments in an evening under Michael Tilson Thomas’ baton mere weeks after the conductor underwent a heart procedure included the ebullient overture to “Rusian and Ludmila” by Mikhail Glinka based on Alexander Pushkin’s satirical fairytale; the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Opus 28, by Camille Saint-Saëns, featuring swift mood changes; and “Tzigane,” a rhapsody for violin and orchestra by Maurice Ravel.

Tarley’s solo violin notes on the Saint-Saëns were pleasingly pure, while Kobialka’s on the Revel were appropriately stabbing and dissonant (not my favorite modus operandi).

Soloist Alina Kobialka

But my wife enjoyed virtually every segment of the event, totally pleased that I’d brought her as a surprise pre-80th birthday gift.

The All San Francisco Concert — dedicated as usual to local nonprofits, social service agencies and neighborhood groups — began with the orchestra and audience standing for what Tilson Thomas called a “well-sung performance” of our National Anthem.

Many seemed pleasantly surprised by the piece and, as far as I could see, no one took a knee.

Upcoming San Francisco Symphony performances with Michael Tilson Thomas, in his 25th and last year leading the world-class orchestra at Davies Concert Hall,, Grove Street (between Van Ness and Franklin), San Francisco, will include Jan. 9-12, March 6 and June 25-28 events featuring works by Mahler; Sept. 26-28 performances of Stravinsky and Haydn; Jan. 16-18 concerts with pianist Emanuel Ax; and a Brahms evening May 24. Information: or 415-864-6400.

Contact Woody Weingarten, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, at

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at or, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →