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CAMA Welcomes a San Francisco Treat

Music director Michael Tilson Thomas lifts the beat by including a sweet Street Song.

The Community Arts Music Association (CAMA) has arranged a remarkable treat for us. At 8 p.m. Saturday, it is bringing to town, and to The Granada, the great San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of its genius of a music director, Michael Tilson Thomas.

Michael Tilson Thomas
Michael Tilson Thomas
There is more, although for most of it we have Tilson Thomas to thank, rather than CAMA — which has done enough, I think, in simply booking the orchestra and approving the program Tilson Thomas submitted. This program consists of symphonies by Brahms and Haydn, which, played by the San Francisco band, would be treat enough, I suppose. But Tilson Thomas has gone one better and included — the reason for my joy — a work of his own composition, the Street Song for Symphonic Brass (1988/1996). The other works are Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 60 in C Major, “Il distratto” (1775), and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in c minor, Opus 68 (1876).

The first time I heard Street Song — in a Music Academy of the West Picnic Concert, July 16, 1999 — I finally felt the full truth of a passage from Robert Craft that I have been carrying around for a quarter of a century: “In a living musical culture, the new music must have primacy over the old, if only because the new obliges us continually to revise our relationships with the old. This has become a tiresome argument, particularly in New York City, but it is nevertheless true even though most new music is bad — as it always has been. It follows that the composer is the center of musical culture and that a new work ... is of far greater consequence than the most publicized antics of Big Personality Conductors ...” I had always put the composer at the center of my music-loving, but the composer was mostly a dead one. Here was a living composer that spoke to my condition. Here was new music with soul — and soul, of course, is the only difference between good and bad music, new or old.

We have been exposed to Street Song in this area mainly through the influence of David Krehbiel, first-chair horn of the San Francisco Symphony and for many years one of the most popular faculty members of the Music Academy. Krehbiel conducted the Picnic Concert performance of Street Song. It may have been written for him. The composer one thinks of first, hearing the work, is Leonard BernsteinWest Side Story, On the Waterfront, Jeremiah Symphony — with maybe a touch of Roy Harris, George Antheil and the pre-serialist Ross Lee Finney. These are all Americans, and Street Song is a hymn to an especially American Street, a street where traffic noises echo between tall buildings, where guys carry their cigarettes rolled into the sleeves of their T-shirts, where young people sail out into a hazy summer evening, burning with desire and nameless longing.

Click here to purchase tickets online or call the Granada Box Office at 805.899.2222 or CAMA at 805.966.4324.

Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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