Christian Reif and Nicola Benedetti with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra at the Berlin Philharmonie on June 29 (Photo credit: Oliver Theil)
Rave reviews are in for Christian Reif, Nicola Benedetti and the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra’s European tour! Read what the critics wrote here:
Der Tagesspiegel writes: “The Youth Orchestra from San Francisco was impressive. It was brilliant with a strong ensemble. The opulent string section, in particular, was an indication that Christian Reif is an outstanding orchestra builder. His conducting gestures displayed exceptional clarity. And when he had the brass stand and the horns raise their bells during the finale of Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony, listeners heard ‘maximum power’ that worked amazingly well. The jaunty fanfares in the first of the Three American Preludes by the versatile master Detlev Glanert were absolutely electrifying.
The orchestra then accompanied Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. She immersed herself in the intricacies of the solo part with exuberant brilliance, her locks flying. Her virtuosity was work that succeeded with verve and pure intonation. The flute, clarinet, and bassoon emerged colorfully from the orchestra. The audience applauded between the movements, which the conductor allowed, joining in himself.
The orchestra presented itself musically as an integrated ensemble. There was power in the richness but also the danger of stifling the proper tone of Mahler’s music. An atmosphere of dressage hung over the violins, which Reif countered by emphasizing the wonders of the orchestration. In the third movement he displayed the entire panorama around “Brother John” with muted drums, double bass solo, and connected lines. Christian Reif is not only a perfectionist but an interpreter as well. He cut loose ‘stormily agitated’ after the pianissimo of the drum and timpani, enveloping the melodious horns, then took aim and pushed on toward the triumphant finale of the symphony.”
Online Merker writes: “The young German conductor Christian Reif, Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony since 2016/17 and Music Director of the Youth Orchestra, had rehearsed them well. If the brass fanfares in Detlev Glanert’s six-minute prelude sounded coarse and sharp, the orchestra, bursting with energy, began to find its feet in the jazz-like rhythms in the second part. Nevertheless, the performance of Glanert’s striking composition never became more than a warm-up exercise.
In Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, the dynamically versatile strings were particularly impressive. The Scottish soloist Nicola Benedetti showed from the cadence in the first movement at the latest what virtuoso violin technique and exuberant musicality she has to offer, with effortlessly agile runs and perfect double stops. In the Canzonetta, the violinist had the opportunity to show her poetic side, devoting herself entirely to melancholy-tinted romanticism. Christian Reif paid particular attention to the orchestra’s listening skills and working together with the soloist.
Christian Reif, a student of Alan Gilbert and Dennis Russell Davies, conducted Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony with great skill and, together with the musicians who follow the slightest indication from his baton, presented a dramatic, intelligently paced and dynamically phrased performance with elegant strings and richly seasoned with the many short solos from the brass, woodwinds and percussion. The baton technique of the Bavarian-born Kapellmeister fascinates in general: with the baton swaying gently in his right hand, precisely indicating the tempo, he can impulsively steer the dynamics with the left, either reducing the volume or increasing it to full power. It is a rare pleasure to watch this conductor at work. Following the performance of this Mahler symphony, a bright future and a great career must lie ahead in any case. It also deserves respect and admiration the way he has worked with the orchestra on a specific sound, and how moods and (great) emotions are reflected in differentiated shaded interaction. Here you can hear how professionally joyful this fabulous ensemble can be when it pulls all its forces and energy together.”
San Francisco Classical Voice writes: “In a spectacular 16-day blitz of six European cities, including such major concert halls as the Berlin Philharmonie and the Vienna Musikverein, the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra is receiving exceptional audience acclaim, including standing ovations, which are not nearly as common there as in Davies Hall at home.
Wattis Foundation Music Director Christian Reif is leading some one hundred musicians of the Youth Orchestra on the tour, which started on June 23 in Copenhagen and will conclude on July 4 in Budapest.
The tour marks the end of the orchestra’s 2018–2019 season and of Reif’s three-year tenure. For musicians, who reach the high end of the 12–21 age range or have been with the orchestra longest, such as co-concertmasters Robert Chien, Isaac Park, and Roger Xia, this is also a kind of victory lap.
Following Saturday’s concert in Berlin, a rave review in Der Tagesspiegel called the performance “brilliant with a strong ensemble … The opulent string section, in particular, was an indication that Christian Reif is an outstanding orchestra trainer. When he had the brass stand and the horns raise their bells during the finale of Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony, listeners heard ‘maximum power’ that worked amazingly well.”
Praising the “exuberant brilliance” of soloist Nicola Benedetti in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, the review noted that the work of “the flute [Anthony Lee], clarinet [Yijin Wang], and bassoon [Samuel Troxell] emerged colorfully from the orchestra.” The review also reported a response that’s unusual in Europe: “The audience applauded between the movements [of the concerto], which the conductor allowed, joining in himself.”
Among the many highlights of the tour — unscathed by one of worst heat waves in European history — was the June 26 performance in Hamburg’s now-celebrated Elbphilharmonie. After a decade of struggle to realize the fairytale creation of Herzog & de Meuron (architects of the new de Young Museum and other prominent buildings around the world), and an historic cost overrun — allegedly over 900 percent — the €860 million (over $1 billion) hall is now among the world’s most eminent performance places.
Before the Berlin concert on Friday, Reif started rehearsal by warming up with Maurice Duruflé’s “Ubi Caritas,” the vocal work getting the young instrumentalists ready to play Tchaikovsky and Mahler. As at the previous concerts, the July events — in Vienna and Budapest — will have the program of Detlev Glanert’s Prelude No. 1 from Three American Preludes, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto — with Benedetti as soloist — and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.
In Hungary, where the state still provides some art subsidy, ticket prices for the concert range from $13 to $25. Austrian prices are also on the low side; the SFS/YO tickets run from $11 to $34 in historic, magnificent Musikverein.”