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Rudolf Buchbinder's 70th birthday tour lands in San Francisco / The Mercury News

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Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony this week in a program that includes Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 with Rudolf Buchbinder as soloist, plus "Miserere" by Gregorio Allegri, and Brahms' glorious Symphony No. 2.  As a prelude to the Mozart, the men of the Symphony Chorus and the Pacific Boychoir perform the "Miserere," which Mozart heard at the Vatican. This piece, a setting of the text of Psalm 51, was composed during the 1630s. For a century and a half, it had been performed only in the Sistine Chapel, during Holy Week for the exclusive "Tenebre" service at dusk, as the candles at the altar were extinguished. After one hearing, Mozart, then14 years old, wrote out the music, subsequently making it available for performance outside the Vatican. For this act, Mozart was summoned back to Rome. But instead of excommunication, the Pope presented him with an award for his astonishing feat of musical memory. Consider how many musical notes Mozart had to hear, retain, and then accurately transcribe onto a written score!

Brahms' Second Symphony follows the classical form used by Mozart and Beethoven. The pastoral character is similar to Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. While Brahms struggled for nearly two decades to write his First Symphony, he wrote the second quickly during a summer holiday in a small town, Portschach, in Austria. When Brahms' friend Theodore Billroth, an amateur musician, played through the score for the first time, he wrote to the composer, "It is all rippling streams, blue sky, sunshine, and cool green shadows. How beautiful it must be at Portschach."

The concerts are on Oct 27, 28, 29; 2 p.m. Oct 30, at Davies Symphony Hall, SF.