By Joshua Kozman for the S.F Chronicle
Conductor Lina González-Granados, in her Symphony debut, moved swiftly from slow passages to exuberant stomps.Photo: Mariangela Photography
It’s not every day you hear an instrumentalist at a classical orchestral concert sing a pop song as an encore. But crazy times demand crazy responses, as cellist Joshua Roman told the San Francisco Symphony audience in Davies Symphony Hall on Friday, July 30.
So Roman “went out on a limb” and followed up his fluid account of Schumann’s Cello Concerto with a vocal rendition of Leonard Cohen’s perennial “Hallelujah” — crooning and growling, accompanying himself on the cello, and ultimately leading the audience in a brief but restorative sing-along.
It takes, as they say, a very particular set of skills to pull off something like this. But Roman — who, in addition to being a formidable musician, boasts the easy, sunny charisma of a boy-band frontman — is just the person for the job.
His appearance in Davies was a last-minute fluke, after the scheduled soloist, cellist Pablo Ferrández, ran into visa problems and had to withdraw. The remainder of the evening, however, went ahead as advertised, including an impressive Symphony debut by the young Colombian conductor Lina González-Granados.
González-Granados is still at an early stage in her career — her bio is heavier on competition victories, fellowships and guest debuts than on conducting posts — but Friday’s concert revealed an artist of considerable rhythmic vitality and alertness.
In the Suite No. 1 from Manuel de Falla’s ballet “The Three-Cornered Hat,” González-Granados and the orchestra brought out the music’s distinctive palette of orchestral colors, by turns brilliant and shadowy. The flamenco-infused strains of the score registered with particular clarity.
Kodály’s “Dances of Galánta” made an interesting companion piece. It’s also modeled on folk dance, the Roma music of the composer’s native Hungary, but with an earthier and more rough-hewn cast.
This is music full of transitions in rhythm and tempo, which are not so much abrupt as tricky to maneuver. González-Granados shepherded the orchestra through it all seamlessly, moving from slow, sinuous passages to exuberant stomps and back again before a listener had time to register the segue.
“Dances of Galánta” is also a showpiece for the principal clarinet — at times there’s a sense that it’s a concerto in all but name — and Carey Bell rose to the occasion with a performance full of eloquence and vigor. Roman, though, provided the main share of showmanship, coursing through the fast outer movements of the Schumann with a blend of precision and almost improvisatory freedom. In the central slow movement, he brought out a vein of sensuous melancholy that went straight to the heart. None of that quite prepared a listener for vocalism, though, in a spot where a more traditionally minded cellist might have followed up with a bit of Bach. Roman’s turn as a singer came as yet another reminder that there are many other ways of celebrating that “secret chord” that Cohen mentions than the ones we’ve become accustomed to.