Violinist Leonidas Kavakos performs the Stravinsky Violin Concerto with the San, Francisco Symphony,, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas; Photo by Corey Weaver

In a recent vigorous performance of Petrushka, the Violin Concerto from 1931, and The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky at Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Symphony ably demonstrated why they are among the most beloved of the nation’s orchestras. Musical Director Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the evening’s compositions with grace and dedication amidst his customary formality and sly generosity.

The highlight of the glamorous evening was Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto performed by Greek violinist, Leonidas Kavakos. Mr. Kavakos gave a performance of intransigent vigor and presence that commanded affection and respect from its very first note. The palpable raptness among the audience members of the sold-out house only added to the drama of the musical work that may be best described as “resolute.” Mr. Kavakos is a violinist of occasional brute force as well as majestic agility whose looming presence and minimal theatrics contribute a requisite luster to his pieces. In the case of his performances on this evening one may say he is to classical music what matte black is to motorcycle paint: menacing, understated, and unforgettable!

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in Stravinsky Festival concert; Photo by Corey Weaver

What most moved this reviewer was the San Francisco Symphony’s sense of lightness. Igor Stravinsky was nothing if not a bit of a playful and bombastic composer who defies many of the Russian classical music stereotypes. His Rite of Spring is filled with counter-notes and switches in musical temperament that appear suddenly like short quick Spring Showers… the kind that at first fill you with distress but later leave a wetness that evaporates with the next sunshine emerging from the recesses of cumulus nimbuses in the heavens.The San Francisco Symphony captured this delicate series of turns gracefully and without overt displays of melodrama and comic relief.

Michael Tilson Thomas is one of the great composers of our time and his leadership of the San Francisco Symphony is one of the great stories of 20th and 21st century classical music in the United States. Now a living legend with a portfolio too vast to begin to describe here, Mr. Tilson Thomas represents an apotheosis of classical music brinkmanship that honors the past while simultaneously accepting the vicissitudes of more modern composers and musicians.

The evening’s final piece, the Rite of Spring, was perhaps the most moving and dramatic moment, supplying music-lovers with a sonic feast of sunny flurries. It was perhaps, the night’s most enduring and memorable evocation.