Successful transplant—Schroeder Hall’s gorgeous Brombaugh Opus 9 organ debuts this evening in James David Christie concert
Boston Symphony Organist, James David Christie, recalls playing the Brombaugh Opus 9 organ installed in Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall when he was a student at Oberlin Conservatory and the organ was in a Baptist Church in Toledo, Ohio—
“I remember playing this organ every Sunday for a whole month, 8 hours a day. I literally lived at that church the organ was so beautiful.”
On Schroeder’s acoustics—
“Everything is just beautiful…the acoustics here are amazing… the decay is beautiful. When you let go of the chord, the sound still travels, that’s what you want in an organ. You don’t want a sudden drop that sounds like it’s being choked but a smoothness. Perfect.”
This evening at 5:30 p.m., Christie will perform this pipe organ’s inaugural concert in Schroeder Hall with selections by Georg Böhm, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Johann Heinrich Buttstett, Dietrich Buxtehude, and Johann Sebastian Bach. Schroeder Hall celebrates its grand opening this weekend with 8 free concerts designed to introduce it to the community and to road-test its acoustics. The concert is sold-out but you still be able to score tickets. Show up early and wait in the stand-by line by the GMC ticket office. IF told holders do not get their tickets scanned 10 minutes before the performance as they enter the hall, their tickets will be released and depending on your place in line, you may get in.
The 9th Taste of Petaluma kicks off today at 11:30 a.m., in downtown Petaluma. In Thursday’s Taste article, I mostly extolled the virtues of the young hipsters rocking Petaluma’s food scene. Saved the seasoned big gun for last— Brenda Anderson and her Secret Kitchen, newcomers to Taste and to the community. She’s based in rural west Petaluma, so she’s being hosted by Heebe Jeebe (46 Kentucky Street). She’s preparing chili con carne with black beans & a bite size El Salvadoran pupusa (little fried corn cakes stuffed with cheese).
Her current set-up is a brightly colored walk-up kitchen behind Agius Market, a couple of miles out of town (right where I grew up), where she, Janice Clement and two young helpers create Latin and Asian-inspired classics that have been tweaked to reflect what she loves and what’s peaking in the garden. Anderson taught at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), ran Google’s restaurant, and has cooked all over the world and it’s our good luck that she’s settled in Petaluma. Of her papusas, a yelp review says it all—The papusas make me want to destroy something, they are so good.” She takes take-out presentation to an art form. The Secret Kitchen is located at 4701 Bodega Avenue (where Skillman Lane meets Bodega Avenue)
Details: The 9th Annual Taste of Petaluma is today, Saturday, August 23, 2014 from 11:30 AM to 4 PM. Ticket packages are $40 and consist of 10 tasting tickets, good for 1 taste each. Tickets can from 10:30 AM onwards at Petaluma’s Helen Putnam Plaza. Only 1500 tickets will be sold.
We’re all excited about the weekend of great music ahead as Green Music Center rolls out its new jewel, Schroeder Hall, which seats 250. Free tickets for all the grand opening weekend concerts were snapped up within the first hour of their release on August 12, which means a lot of music lovers were disappointed. There’s hope. At 2 p.m. today (Friday), I spoke with Green Music Center’s (GMC) press liaison, Jessica Anderson, and here’s how you can get those extra tickets held in reserve that Zarin Mehta referred to in the papers and online media you’ve been reading—
Sure thing—Saturday morning, show up early at GMC and wait in line until 10 a.m. when the Green Music Center Box Office opens. They will have anywhere from 25 to 75 additional tickets for each of Saturday’s 4 performances and you can get free tickets for 1, 2, 3 or all Saturday performances if you are early enough. You cannot get tickets for any Sunday performances on Saturday but, on Sunday, the same procedure will be in place. This is strictly in person, not online.
Risky—Show up early before the concert of your choice and wait in the stand-by line by the GMC ticket office. IF ticket holders do not get their tickets scanned 10 minutes before the performance as they enter the hall, their tickets will be released and, depending on your place in line, you may get in.
Do not phone the box office, go there in person. The Green Music Center Box Office is adjacent to the courtyard of Weill Hall.
The 9th annual Taste of Petaluma is this Saturday, August 23, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and it’s all about connecting with Petaluma’s small-town charm and rich sense of community—bite by glorious bite. Taste is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater’s youth repertory programs and if you’ve ever attended one of Cinnabar’s remarkable youth performances, you understand what a treasure Cinnabar is. This year, Taste of Petaluma is bigger than ever with over 100 of Petaluma’s restaurants and food, wine and beverage purveyors participating at 54 locales. Some 85 musicians will be playing in a dozen locales downtown too, offering just as promising a musical menu (full performance schedule here). The event draws people from all over the Bay Area and $40 gets you 10 generously portioned tastes of your choosing.
Recently, I participated in two “mini-tastes” and had the chance to meet the owners and chefs of several new restaurants, hear their stories and sample what they’re preparing for Taste. I tried everything from bacon jam BLTs with duck egg mayo and heirloom tomatoes on homemade sourdough from Miriam Donaldson and her team at homey Wishbone on Petaluma Blvd. North, down by the Police Station, to Wagyu New York Tataki from Joe O’Donnell at upscale Seared on Petaluma Blvd. North’s restaurant row. Both of these inviting establishments opened in the past year, have chefs and staff in their 20’s and 30’s, and represent the energy and diversity in our local food scene. As if cooking weren’t a full time job, many chefs are growing their own vegetables and fruits and are highly attuned to what’s peaking on a daily basis. Their menus are constantly changing and they are experimenting with their bounty. A few are even raising their own meat. They’re all joyous about having a hand in every step of the process and that includes scoring some great salvaged wood or a glass case or pulling all-nighters ripping out flooring. “It’s been nice to move around,” says O’Donnell, “but Petaluma feels like home and it’s got everything I need close at hand. There’s no place like it. We’ve caught up.”
“Even though it’s bigger than ever, Taste was a lot easier this year,” explained the event’s founder Laura Sunday, who estimates that 1,500 people will turn out. “A lot of restaurants contacted me early, eager to participate, and several of the hosting venues took the initiative and told me who they were partnering with. This is the only tasting event on this scale I know of that doesn’t operate like a food fair. People actually get to go into a restaurant, check out the ambiance, and sample very generously. You couldn’t buy better advertising. We’ve got new establishments eager to introduce themselves to the community and lots of well-rooted restaurants and vendors who do this year after year because they enjoy giving back to Petaluma and to Cinnabar Theater.”
Stay-tuned to ARThound for more on Taste of Petaluma.
More About Cinnabar: Cinnabar Theater, located in the old red Cinnabar Schoolhouse on Petaluma Blvd and Skillman Lane, opens its 42 season on Friday, September 5, 2014, with the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, celebrating this golden oldie’s 50th anniversary. The heartwarming story centers on Tevye, father of five strong-willed daughters who is struggling to maintain his family’s Jewish traditions. Stephen Walsh, who wowed Cinnabar audiences in last November’s hit, La Cage aux Folles, plays Papa Tevye with Cinnabar own Elly Lichenstein (Artistic Director) as his wife. “This has enormous personal significance for me,” said Lichenstein. “All four of my grandparents came to America from villages like Anatevka, and it excites me that our magnificent cast is so committed to tell their story.” The original Broadway incarnation of this beloved musical racked up an astonishing 10 Tony Awards by introducing unforgettable songs like “Tradition” and “If I Were A Rich Man.” Music is by Jerry Brock, lyrics by Serldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. Fiddler ends September 21 with a special performance and party commemorating the day it first opened on Broadway. Runs: Sept 5-21, 2014, just 10 performances; tickets $35. Pounce! This is selling out. Cinnabar Theater is a 501(c)(3) California non-profit.
Cinnabar’s Young Repertory Theater opens its new season on November 28, 2014 with the classic musical, The Wizard of Oz. This charming adaptation by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company is based on the beloved classic motion picture and features our adorable local munchkins on stage along with Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Man. There’s no better way to celebrate the holidays! Runs: November 28-December 14, 2014; tickets $15. Pounce! This too will sell out.
Details: The 9th Annual Taste of Petaluma is Saturday, August 23, 2014 from 11:30 AM to 4 PM. Ticket packages are $40 and consist of 10 tasting tickets, good for 1 taste each. Advance tickets can be purchased in person until Friday, August 22, 3 p.m. at the following venues in Petaluma—
Gallery One – 209 Western Ave.
Velvet Ice Collections – 140 2nd Street, Theater Square
Blush Collections – 117 Kentucky Street
Cinnabar Theater between 10-2:30 weekdays
Tickets can be purchased online here (with $4 surcharge per ticket). Tickets can also be purchased on the day of the event from 10:30 AM onwards at Helen Putnam Plaza. Only 1500 tickets will be sold.
Advance tickets can be picked up at WILL CALL at Helen Putnam Plaza (129 Petaluma Blvd. North) after 10:30 AM on the day of the event. The first 1,000 guest to purchase tickets will receive a free Taste of Petaluma tote bag. All participants receive a plastic wine glass. You can purchase more tickets throughout the day for $4 each.
The Hess Collection is screening great art documentaries on select Sundays—Jeremey Ambers’ “Impossible Light” screens August 10
“The Bay Bridge was the first thing I saw the day I moved to San Francisco, driving down Route 80 in a U-haul Truck,” recalls filmmaker Jeremy Ambers who was awestruck when he met Ben Davis, the driving force behind the seemingly impossible idea to transform San Francisco’s Bay Bridge’s western span into a light sculpture and one of the world’s largest art installations. Ambers’ acclaimed documentary, Impossible Light (2014), follows Davis and renowned American artist Leo Villareal and their team of designers, along with entrepreneurs, philanthropists, art enthusiasts and Bay Area optimists, as they set out to install 25,000 LED lights on the side of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge for an abstract dancing sculpture known as The Bay Lights. This impressive feature length doc, which captures the heart, soul and intense drama behind this $8,000,000 installation—to date, not paid for—is screening this Sunday, August 10, at 3 PM at Napa Valley’s Hess Collection as part of their wonderful summer series of art film screenings, presented in partnership with the Napa Valley Film Festival (Nov 12-16, 2014). Hess Collection Chef, Chad Hendrickson, will provide wine and appetizers, one more reason to see this amazing contemporary collection and take in the film. Click here for tickets and for more information, contact Hess events manager Ashley Cox 707 255-1144 x226.
SFJFF hits the Smith Rafael Film Center for a long weekend, Friday-Sunday—14 films, great stories, from all over the world
The 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF 34) comes to Marin’s Smith Rafael Film Center this Friday-Sunday for a long weekend, presenting 14 of the festival’s top films. I’ve attended this Marin segment for the past five years and the savvy programmers understand what clicks with our Marin, Sonoma and Napa attendees—intellectually resonant stories, creatively told. Bonus points added for food, wine, art and causes we can get behind. Begun in 1980, SFJFF is the oldest and largest Jewish film festival in the world and it traditionally kicks off and runs at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre before opening at other Bay Area venues. This year, SFJFF 34 screened 67 films from 17 countries; 44 of those had some sort of premiere and over 30 visiting filmmakers and international guests attended. For those of us in Northern California, battling the recently horrendous traffic on 101, the weekend in Marin is the only thing that that makes this beloved festival doable at all. In our favor, the Smith Rafael Film Center’s offers an intimate setting and unbeatable acoustics and its wise liberal vibe contributes to sharp and sizzling audience exchanges. All the films in this mini-fest exemplify the humor, warmth, wisdom, angst, and diversity of Jewish experiences around the world and introduce a strong crop of independent filmmakers. Now, on to ARThound’s recommendations—
Friday, August 8, 8:45 p.m.—24 Days
24 Days U.S. Premiere (France, 2014) French director and actor, Alexandre Arcady (Day of Atonement (original French title: Le Grand Pardon II) 1992), takes us back to 2006 and astutely delves into l’affaire du gang des barbares (the Affair of the Gang of Barbarians)—the abduction and brutal torture in Paris of the first French Jew, since WWII, to have been viciously attacked for simply being Jewish. And what a story he weaves, meticulously researched and narrated with a surprising degree of suspense through the voice of a grieving mother. After Shabbat dinner on January 20, 2006, Ilan Halimi, a 23 year-old telephone vendor of Moroccan Jewish descent, decides to go out, against his mother’s wishes, and celebrate. On his way out, he kisses his mother, Ruth Halimi (Zabou Breitman), who will never see her son again. Arcady, himself an Algerian-born Jew who emigrated to France at age 15, adapted the story from the mother’s book and police records. She had a gut feeling that her hapless son was abducted because he was Jewish and the kidnappers assumed that all Jews have money, but the authorities stubbornly refused to acknowledge this as a factor in the abduction. During their three-week nightmare, relived on film, the mother and her ex-husband, Didier (Pascal Elbé), received over 650 insulting, anxiety-producing phone calls. It turns out that their son was being held in a public housing block in a Paris suburb by a multi-racial gang of French youngsters and at least 30 people knew about it but did nothing, afraid of what the gang’s leader, Fofana (Tony Harrison), would do to them if they snitched to the authorities. This is such an important story and so faithfully told that the French Ministry of Education had it shown in French schools. 111 min (Screens at 8:45 p.m.)
6:30 p.m. The Green Prince (Germany, Israel, UK, 2014) Nadav Schirman’s espionage documentary opened SFJFF 34 at the Castro to a full house on July 24 and won the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award (World Cinema: Documentary). The film is based Mosab Hassan Yousef’s startling memoir, Son of Hamas, and relives how Yousef, the son of one of the leaders of the Palestinian group Hamas, became a spy for Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, while working for his father. The film’s title refers to the Israeli security agency’s nickname for Yousef, named for the color of the Hamas flag and his high-ranking affiliation with the Islamist organization. Given the recent violence in Gaza, which we’re all heartsick over, the film’s happy-ending— Palestinian-Israeli friendship—falls apart. ARThound recommends seeing it later, when it opens in the Bay Area. 99 min (Screens 6:30 p.m.)
Saturday, August 9, 3 p.m.—Little White Lie
Little White Lie World Premiere (USA, 2014) Harvard Law School graduate Lacey Schwartz turns the camera on herself as she explores how she was raised as white and Jewish and learned as an adult that was her biological father was black. This relatively short but engrossing doc is about as real as it gets when it comes to confronting one’s long held feelings about identity and race and how those solidify or change with new information. Schwartz grew up in the mostly white town of Woodstock, New York, and her tawny complexion was always attributed to her father’s deep olive-toned Sicilian Jewish grandfather. She learned by accident that she was biracial while she was an undergraduate at Georgetown University. Based on the photo accompanying her entrance application, her contact information was forwarded to its black student association. When Schwartz confronted her mother, Peggy, she confessed that she had hidden an extramarital fling with a black man from her and that Lacey was the result. A few years into living with the news, Lacey says this shocking news has not changed the way she sees herself but it has influenced the way she sees the world and, of course, her mother. 65 min (Screens at 3 p.m. with Little Horribles: Mini Bar, a darkly comedic web series that tracks the poor decisions of a self-indulgent lesbian, here trying to resist raiding her the mini bar in her family’s hotel room.)
Saturday, August 9, 4:45 p.m.—God’s Slave
God’s Slave (Ecsclavo de Dios) Bay Area Premiere (Argentina, Uruguay, USA, Venezuela) 90 min) The plot sounds familiar—as children both a Muslim and an Islaeli witnessed unspeakable atrocities which have come to define the men they became and the violence they will perpetuate in the name of religion. Ahmed Al Hassama (Mohammed Al-Khaldi) masquerades as a Venezuelan surgeon waiting until his assignment, a suicide bombing, is revealed to him. David Goldberg (Vando Villamil) is a cold-blooded Mossad intelligence agent stationed in Buenos Aires, with a relentless aptitude for terrorists’ careers and threats. Fernando Butazzoni’s screen play, which is set against the 1994 AMIA car-bombing in Buenos Aires, which left 85 people dead, becomes a living breathing portrait of crusaders about to implode in the hands of Venezuelan director Joel Novoa. A master storyteller, Novoa transforms a seemingly open-and-shut political thriller into a moving and nuanced portrayal of commitment and crusade. 90 min (Screens at 4:45 p.m.)
Saturday, August 9, 6:50 p.m.—El Critico
Sunday, August 10, noon—The Sturgeon Queens
The Sturgeon Queens Bay Area Premiere (USA, 2013) For New Yorkers noshing on smoked fish and fine appetizers wouldn’t be the same without the venerable Russ & Daughters which celebrates its centennial this year. . Julie Cohen, NY Emmy winner and founder of BetterThanFiction Productions, tells the story —100 years, 4 generations, 1.8 million pounds of pickled herring—delightfully. It’s really a love story of family bonding and fish. And of a noun called “appetizing”—a Jewish food tradition that is most typical among American (especially New York) Jews and has its origins in the Eastern European Jewish tradition of starting meals with cold appetizers, known in Yiddish as “forshpayz”….modern day translation “the foods one eats with bagels.” One hundred years ago, workaholic founding father Joel Russ started hawking fine herring on the streets of New York with a push-cart and finally scrimped enough to get his own store on the lower East Side. This is literally the house that herring built. His three daughters, the Sturgeon Queens—Anne, Hattie and Ida—helped out their dad and worked behind the counter for decades, pulling their husbands and relatives right along. In the film we hear from two of the sisters, now grandmas—100-year-old Hattie Russ Gold and 92-year-old Anne Russ Federman who still banter delightfully while reflecting on lives richly lived and customers who passed through their doors. Their grandchildren, who run the store today, Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper, talk about carrying on the Russ tradition and bringing this institution into the age of computers and author Mark Russ Federman (Russ & Daughters, Reflections and Recipes from the House that Herring Built, 2013) adds more mouthwatering detail. Well-known enthusiasts of the store add spice—Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, chef Mario Batali, New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin, and 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer. 54 min (Screens at noon) Will screen on various PBS stations later this year.
Sunday, August 10, 1:45 p.m.—Touchdown Israel
Touchdown Israel World Premiere, filmmaker Paul Hirschberger in attendance with post-screening Q&A (USA, Israel, 2014) Israel is the last place you would expect the corn-fed, Friday Night Lights tradition of American football to catch on. But don’t tell that to the passionate players and coaches in the 11-team Israel Football League, who play for nothing but pride and have had to endure years of matches played on woefully short soccer fields, under bad lighting, with no locker rooms, in front of an indifferent public. Touchdown Israel is a surprising look at how the gridiron sport has found an unlikely toehold in the Holy Land. Initially imported in the 1990s by American-born Israelis who deeply missed the scrimmages of their youth, American football in Israel has had to counter not only the vastly more popular appeal of soccer and basketball, but legions of Jewish mothers worried about their grown sons’ injuries. As league macher Steve Leibowitz claims, “Jewish mothers somehow don’t get it, it’s nice to be bruised.” But the documentary has serious points to make as well, as it examines the Jewish-Arab camaraderie (and occasional tensions) within the multiethnic lineup of the Tel Aviv–Jaffa Sabres, as well as the controversial “bad boy” profile of the Judean Rebels, a team composed largely of West Bank settlers. Some rivalries go deeper than sports. (Synopsis by Peter Stein) 85 min (Screens at 1:45 p.m.)
Sunday, August 10, 4:15 p.m.—Watchers of the Sky
Watchers of the Sky CA Premiere The term “genocide” was created by the Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, and first used in his 1944 book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. MacArthur Award-winning documentarian, Edit Belzberg, explores Lemkin’s legacy in creating an international framework for prosecuting acts aimed at the intentional destruction of a people. At Sundance, this smart doc picked up an Editing Award and Special Jury Award for Use of Animation US Documentary. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (2013), Belzberg takes you on a very disturbing experiential journey over the past century of genocide intercutting Lemkin’s story with interviews from Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz; journalist-turned-UN ambassador Samantha Power, who covered Bosnia’s ethnic cleansing; Luis Moreno Ocampo, prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, who is building the case against Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir over the deaths in Darfur; and Emmanuel Uwurukundo, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide now aiding Darfur refugees in Chad. Belberg evokes Lemkin’s spirit through quotes from his memoirs and wonderful animation. This is a must-see primer in human rights awareness and action. Watchers of the Sky will open theatrically in the US in October 2014. 114 min (Screens 4:45 p.m.)
Details: The Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center is located at 1118 Fourth Street in San Rafael. Metered parking is available on the street or chose from several lots close by. The San Rafael portion of the festival starts Friday, August 8, 2014, and runs through Sunday, August 10, 2014. Tickets: $14; $13 seniors and students. Advance purchase is recommended—click on film links below or visit www.sfjff.org or call 415.621.0523. (Rafael passes, CFI Fast Passes or members’ discounts are not valid for these screenings.) The Rafael box office will not sell advance tickets; however, it will sell tickets remaining for various screenings on the day of their screening.
Full Schedule, SFJFF 34 at Smith Rafael Film Center, Friday (Aug 8)–Sunday (Aug 10)
2:10 p.m. Mamele (dir. Joseph Green, Konrad Tom, USA, 1938, 97 min)
4:20 p.m. Swim Little Fish Swim (dir. Ruben Amar, USA, France, 2013, 96 min)
6:30 p.m. The Green Prince West Coast Premiere (dir. Nadav Schirman, Germany, Israel, UK, 2014, 99 min,
8:45 p.m. 24 Days U.S. Premiere (dir. Alexandre Arcady, France, 2014, 111 min)
1 p.m. My Own Man CA Premiere (dir. David Sampliner, USA, 2014, 83 min)
3 p.m. Little White Lie World Premiere (dir. Lacey Schwartz, USA, 2014, 65 min)
4:45 p.m. God’s Slave (Ecsclavo de Dios) Bay Area Premiere (dir. Joel Novoa, Argentina, Uruguay, USA, Venezuela, 90 min)
6:50 p.m. El Critico CA Premiere (dir. Hernán Guerschuny, Argentina, 2013, 90 min)
8:55 p.m. Comedy Warriors Northern CA Premiere John Wagner (USA, 2014) 75 min
12 noon The Sturgeon Queens Bay Area Premiere (dir. Julie Cohen, USA, 2013, 54 min)
1:45 p.m. Touchdown Israel World Premiere (dir. Paul Hirschberger, USA, Israel, 2014, 85 min)
4:15 p.m. Watchers of the Sky CA Premiere (dir. Edit Belzberg, USA, 2013, 114 min)
6:45 p.m. Snails in the Rain CA Premiere (dir. Yariv Mozer, Israel, 2013, 82 min)
8:40 p.m. A Place in Heaven CA Premiere (dir. Yossi Madmoni, Israel, 2013, 117 min)
Opening Saturday, August 2—Dana Hooper and Douglas Cruickshank at Toby’s, Point Reyes Station, and Joseph McDonald and Murray Rockowitz at Aqus Café, Petaluma
Saturday, August 2nd from 1 to 4 pm, Toby’s Gallery—artist reception “Inspired by Patterns” with Petaluma artist, Dana Hooper, showing paintings inspired by rural Sonoma County, AND Douglas Cruickshank, photographer, columnist and Salon.com editor, and showing “Photographs of Point Reyes woods and water” Toby’s Gallery is located at 11250 Highway 1, Point Reyes Station, phone 415.663.1223. “Inspired by Patterns” runs through September 2, 2014.
Saturday, August 2nd from 3 to 5 pm, Aqus Café — artist reception for Petaluma photographer and Digital Grange guru, Joseph McDonald, showing recent work, and Petaluma photographer, Murray Rockowitz, showing “People and their Work.” Aqus Café is located at Petaluma’s Foundry Wharf, 189 H Street, Petaluma, phone 707.778. 6060.
Review: Hershey Felder channels the angel of all pianists, Chopin, in another mesmerizing musical portrait at Berkeley Rep, through August 10, 2014
Cherish the moment. It’s Paris, March 1848, just after the February 1848 Revolution, and Hershey Felder as Polish composer/pianist, Fryderyk Chopin, welcomes you into his elegant Paris salon for an unusual piano lesson—one where he does all the playing. It seems like he is making up the music as he goes, and what beautiful music it is—full of delicate dynamics, soft tempo fluctuations, imaginative color and touch—utterly different from any previously existing in the 19th century. Throughout the lesson, he recounts his life story, from his first composition written at age 7 in his Polish hometown of Zelazowa Wola, to his complicated romance in France with the female French novelist, George Sand, to his death at age 39 from tuberculosis, to his heart’s famous burial in Poland. Hypersensitive Chopin’s story is no sweet melody but his pain and losses and moments of epiphany are punctuated with actual shifts in the tone of Chopin’s music.
Monsieur Chopin, which opened Sunday, is Berkeley Rep’s latest collaboration with Hershey Felder, who is proving his genius for bringing famous composers to life. Monsieur Chopin, which Felder both wrote and stars in, is directed by Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time) and arrives at Berkeley Rep on the heels of Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro (June, 2014) and George Gershwin Alone (June 2013). Monsieur Chopin is part of Felder’s series of musical enactments, “The Composers Sonata” which have been presented at dozens of theatres across the U.S. and around the world. The series also includes Beethoven, As I Knew Him (2008) and Hershey Felder as Franz Liszt in Rock Star (2013). As director, Mr. Felder premiered Mona Golabek in The Pianist of Willesden Lane at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in April 2012 and the musical biography delighted Berkeley Rep audiences in December 2013 and is now immensely popular in New York.
“Fryderyk Chopin, the diminutive ‘Polish Poet of the Piano’ who died at the tender age of 39 and who spent much of his adult life as the prince of the Parisian salon, took an instrument of wood, felt, and metal and made it sing,” remarks Felder. “Chopin said, ‘If one wants to learn how to really play the piano, one must listen to the best opera singers – they will show you what you need to know.’ And for almost two centuries every pianist who has ever touched the instrument strives to bring it to life by making the piano human, by giving it ‘song’ just as Chopin did. He was the first, and the piano music he left us is the music of angels, the music of another world.”
Felder steps into the role of Chopin with complete credibility—from his Polish accent and rendering of Chopin’s artistic temperament to his concert-level playing of some of the most exquisitely lush piano music ever written. He plays selections from some 15 pieces—polonaises, valses, preludes, mazurkas, and nocturnes—and seems to be spontaneously working them into the story as he goes. Felder guides you with information about the inventive and enlivening forms that characterized Chopin’s brilliance—even in his youth, he was keenly aware of the fine-line between improvising and composing—as well as his love of Polish songs and dances. And this is as much the story of music’s golden age as well—an incredibly compressed period, some 200 years— when musical and artistic genius flooded middle Europe. How profound when Chopin says, “When I was 17 and had my debut, Bach had died 78 years earlier.” Bach’s compositional genius influenced him heavily and Bach was an importance point of reference when he was teaching his students. This was also a time when high drama characterized the life of composers and transfixed the public, as much as Hollywood does today.
Speaking of transfixed, I wasn’t able to take my eyes off Felder, a natural born storyteller, and I never would have guessed that he has given this performance over 800 times. That he’s of Polish ethnicity, considers Chopin his pianistic home and lives in Paris, and even owns one of Chopin’s pianos, are no doubt huge factors in the attention to detail and care that he has poured into this.
We all love a love story and the audience on the edge of their seats as Chopin told of his relationship and semi-guarded Bohemian lifestyle with French novelist George Sand (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin), a woman whose importance as a writer has been eclipsed by her notoriety for wearing trousers, cigar-smoking and her involvement with Chopin. Strong-willed Sand was painted in broad strokes but we get enough flavor to ascertain that he was attracted to her nurturing and protective side and that she loved him and, for 8 years, tolerated his fragility, mood swings and unpredictability and then, abruptly, she ended it.
Chopin’s relationship with Sand is also an effective vehicle for exploring the vibrant environment of the French salon where his small scale piano pieces, most of them brilliantly improvised, were a hit and fundamental to his legacy. “Invention came to his piano, sudden, complete, sublime,” wrote Sand who would frequently lay under the piano as he played for her.
Chopin’s dedicated student, Karl Flitsch, who Felder also lovingly draws on, wrote “The other day I heard Chopin improvise at George Sand’s house. It is marvelous to hear Chopin compose in this way: his inspiration is so immediate and complete that he plays without hesitation as if it could not be otherwise. But when it comes to writing it down and recapturing the original thought in all its details, he spends days of nervous strain and almost terrible despair.”
Felder’s works a great deal of humor into this piece and his funny and illuminating impressions of the people in Chopin’s life—like the swooning women in his audience or Hungarian composer and pianist, Franz Liszt, Chopin’s biggest “frenemy” in Paris—humanize Chopin and impart information. Liszt attended Chopin’s first concert in Paris and promptly declared him a genius and became his agent, collaborator, friend, and at times, bitter rival for public attention, and oddly, his first biographer.
Chopin’s elegant salon (sets by Yael Pardess) is framed by an ornate golden trim, giving it the feel of a romantic period painting to be entered. Chopin’s Steinway and bench are front and center and a lovely fireplace whose mantle is adorned with Sevres style porcelain vases and an ornate clock are behind. There’s a delicately carved wooden table with a pitcher where he fastidiously washes his hands, as if to rid himself of the unpleasant memories he’s just shared.
The set also features “smart drapes,” a subtle and elegant scrim for different lighting effects (Richard Norwood) and projections (John Boesche & Andrew Wilder) which change their color hue and design in accordance with various phases of Chopin’s life. In 1829, when Chopin met his first love, a singing student named Constantia Gladkowska, she was dancing a Polish Mazurka and caught his eye. Against spectacular dark lighting, she appears romanticized in a white traditional Polish folk dress, smiling and dancing the Mazurka with other young Polish girls. Felder completes the portrait with his “Mazurka in A Flat Major, Op. 50 No. 2,” a short vibrant piece which concludes in a burst of chromatic harmonies.
Sunday’s opening night became even more special when Polish Consul General Mariusz Brymora from Los Angeles, presented Felder with the “Bene Merito” honorary distinction on behalf of the Polish government. Established in 2009, this distinction “is conferred upon the citizens of the Republic of Poland and foreign nationals in recognition of their merits in promoting Poland abroad.” Felder, deeply moved, also received a beautiful Polish woodcut.
Following this, Felder/Chopin engaged with the audience in an open Q & A, further revealing his skill as an improvisational performer.
The ultimate irony, which I mention in closing, is that this performance nearly sold out before it opened and was extended until August 10 and those performances are nearly sold out. It’s much easier to get people to go to this than an actual Chopin concert. We live in the age of story and it’s the combination of music and story that brings people in. Of course, after experiencing Monsieur Chopin, who could not be hungry for more?
Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, no intermission
The music of Fryderyk Chopin is played Hershey Felder enacting Chopin
Production Team— Yael Pardess (Scenic Design), Richard Norwood (Lighting Design), John Boesche & Andrew Wilder (Projection Design), Benjamin Furiga (Original Sound Design), Joel Zwick (Director), Trevor Hay (Associate Director, production stage manager), Erik Carstensen (Sound design, production manager, production stage manager). Samantha F. Voxakia (General Manager, co-producter), Eighty-Eight, LLC (Producer)
Details: Monsieur Chopin runs through April 20, 2014 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.
Performances are Tues-Sun with matinees on Sat, Sun and Thursday, August 7.
Tickets: $29 to 87. Discounts: Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain. Tickets and info: 510 647–2949 or visit: www.berkeleyrep.org
Parking: Paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $5 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM.
Real Russian bells will clang at Weill Hall this Saturday when San Francisco Symphony plays Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”
San Francisco Symphony (SFS) regular guest percussionist Victor Avdienko was born and raised in San Francisco and regularly attended the Holy Virgin Cathedral Russian Orthodox Church on Geary Street but, at that time, he never heard authentic Russian bells played live. Instead, he heard plenty of recordings of majestic Russian bells which always fascinated him. It was only when he visited San Anselmo’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in September 2012 and heard the rector, Father Stephan Meholick, play a real set of bronze church bells especially for him that he understood how special they were. After that, Avdienko championed the notion of featuring Russian bells in a SFS performance and dreamed of connecting with his Russian heritage through playing them.
On Saturday evening, he’ll have his dream fulfilled when the “peal” or set of Russian bronze bells that he will play will be featured, for the first time ever, in the Symphony’s All Tchaikovsky concert at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall and Lawn. Director of Summer Concerts Edwin Outwater will be conducting SFS and Macedonian guest pianist, Simon Trpčeski, from Skopje, will play the beloved Piano Concerto No. 1. The special bells will clang for a good minute at the end of Tchaikovsky’s well-known “1812 Festal Overture,” fulfilling Tchaikovsky’s vision of bells ringing in town church towers to celebrate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. Their sound will be new and distinctive because Russian bells are polytonic (acoustical analog of polychromatic), meaning they are not tuned to any specific pitch like the orchestral bells or tubular bell chimes that we normally encounter when American orchestras perform. You can expect a rich chord of many different tones.
When ARThound learned that authentic Russian bells would be played for the “1812 Overture,” I couldn’t resist investigating further. The “1812” is a thunderous Russian tune that depicts Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1812. That it became a popular 4th of July song in America during the height of the Cold War is a story in itself. In short—the “1812” always had a patriotic sound and was a great piece of music but it wasn’t until 1974, when the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler zipped it up, playing it with fireworks, real cannons and a coordinated steeple-bell choir, that it caught on like wildfire and became an American tradition. Including Russian bells is a shout-out to the “1812’s” true roots and an exciting new tradition for SFS.
I first heard the mesmerizing clang of Russian bells twenty-five years ago in Sofia, Bulgaria, at the St. Nikolai Church, whose bells were gifted to Bulgaria by Tsar Nicholas II. That rousing sound is so emblazoned in my memory that it seems like I heard it yesterday. I had no idea that North America’s foremost experts on Russian bells, Mark Galperin, was just down the road in Marin and that he has been championing their resurgence.
Galperin is a former physicist who immigrated to Marin in 1995. In 1998, he began collaborating with Father Stephan Meholick to build a bell collection for San Anselmo’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. Galperin also dutifully manages Blagovest Bells, the largest North American full service Russian bell company which has supplied over 140 churches in North America with Russian bells. He filled me in on some basics about Russian bells—history, theology, metallurgy, design and acoustics. (Detailed information can be found on the Blagovest Bells website, http://www.russianbells.com/.) Most important is that in Russian culture and history, church bells are holy and shrouded in mystery. Their clanging is said to have the power to bring people to repentance and to dissuade sin.
In the Russian Orthodox faith, bells are understood as holy, “aural icons” that project the voice of God. Before church bells are hung, they are consecrated. An interesting feature of Russian bells is that they are cast for a certain strike tone and they are finished when cast—there are no post-production adjustments. That means they don’t have a “pure” (abstract or machine-made) tone, but instead they have natural harmonics that give each bell a slightly distinctive voice, which Galperin poetically compares to the song of a nightingale—each nightingale singing its own song in its own distinctive voice, no two songs exactly alike but all nightingale songs, all uniquely beautiful. From the musician’s perspective, Russian bells are not tuned and therefore do not behave like most bells that American musicians are familiar with.
Galperin first collaborated with SFS when he lent Blagovest Bells’ 5-bell Russian demo peal to SFS for its Keeping Score Summer Institute in June 2009. It was there that father Stephan Meholick delighted Bay Area educators with his bell ringing and shared a vital aspect of Russian culture that these teachers could then pass one to their students. Galperin also handled the loan of the St. Nicholas bells to SFS for Saturday’s concert and, over the past few days, has spent countless hours making good on his “full service” guarantee, including testing some two dozen mallets with Avdienko to get a sound that best approximates the one made with a forged iron bell clapper. (See chart at bottom of article for detailed data on the bells) Galperin is quick to point out that once Americans (and most people in general) are exposed to authentic bells, they have a real interest in them and he has an explanation for why Russian bells aren’t more widely known—
“In both Soviet Russia and American, bells experienced their own genocide for different reasons,” explained Galperin. “In Russia, they were victims of the Communist ideology. In America, they were victims of so-called electronic progress which substituted real—and actually unsubstitutable bells—with safe electronics. Sadly, the current generation of Americans has no idea of the uniqueness of bell ringing, which is different every single time. Why is this important? It’s the same reason why you pay to go to the concert of a famous singer—because each time, the song is a little different and you have a new and unique performance of a piece.”
Galperin holds it as a good sign that the tradition of using of Russian bells in classical music has continued in America in the recent works of young composers such as the popular Russian-born American composer and pianist Lera Auerbach. She used a bell peal produced by Bloagvest Bells and recorded at the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church of San Anselmo (MP 3 below) in her well-received “Russian Requiem” (2007), co-commissioned by Musikfest Bremen, Philharmonische Gesellschaft Bremen and Semana de Musica Religiosa Cuenca.
Like most stories involving Russians that I’ve reported, some wonderful connections emerged. Galperin mentioned that Blagovest Bells outfitted Victor Avdienko’s Holy Virgin Cathedral Russian Orthodox Church with a peal of 6 traditional Russian bells in 2003 and, since then, the bells are regularly rung there for Divine Services.
Festal Russian Orthodox Church Bell Ringing at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, San Anselmo. Lera Auerbach included this peal in her “Russian Requiem” (2007). Bell ringers: Fr. Stephen Meholick, Peg Golitzin, Juliana Kohl, Lea Kohl; produced by Blagovest Bells.
Pyatkov Chime by Andrei Dyachkov, led by Blagovestnik bells weighing 20,000 and 40,000 pounds, 110 seconds (courtesy Blagovest Bells)
Pyatkov Chime by Vladimir Petrovsky, called “Maestro” Petrovsky, 340 seconds (courtesy Blagovest Bells)
ARThound Interview: San Francisco Symphony guest percussionist, Victor Avdienko
When did you first hear authentic Russian bells?
Victor Avdienko: At the beginning of last season, we played Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 11 in G Minor” and needed four bells for the end of the last movement, so I went on a quest for bells which were very loud, pitched, and preferably real Russian bells. I was pointed to Mark Galperin, who gave me the history and playing tradition of Russian bells. I visited San Anselmo’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church and met Father Stephan Meholick, who played a mini concert for me on their bells. Right then and there, I knew that I had to explore this further. It felt like I was reconnecting with something deeply Russian inside me. I’ve heard a lot of carillon music from my travels in Europe and I’ve always had that in my ear defining what bell ringing should be—that they can play tunes and melodies. The Russian style is different in that they don’t play melodies or tunes; it’s more of a prayer or meditative experience to ring these bells. Because the Russian bells aren’t pitched, we didn’t use them for the Shostakovich but I kept that sound deep in me.
What does it take to play these bells successfully?
Victor Avdienko: Ear plugs. You’re very close and you need protection. There are some definite techniques because you’re manipulating up to a dozen bells with just your four limbs. All the bell clappers are attached to strings and are either manipulated by a hand by pulling them or by foot pedals for the larger bells. One person can make a lot of sound but there are different patterns too, actual rhythms, which you can achieve with the smaller bells by holding the strings of 3 or 4 of them in one hand. Father Stephan showed me the ropes. As a percussionist, it was not too difficult to get familiar with it but, for an average parishioner, it would take many months or even years of serious practice to properly run the patterns.
Can you describe what happens for you musically in the “1812 Overture”?
Victor Avdienko: The piece is very well-known for its cannon fire that everyone looks forward to. If it’s played outdoors, they’ll often use real cannons fired off in the distance. For indoor concerts it’s usually done with a recording or with a really large drum. We’ll use a synthesized cannon sound on Saturday. The bells have always been more of an afterthought that we’ve handled with chimes. The specific passage that calls for bells is in the key of E-flat. The chimes we traditionally use can be tuned just like a xylophone or glockenspiel so you can actually play an E-flat major scale and it fits the piece and sounds like a bunch of bells in the background. When you play bells that have a definite pitch to them, you have to play in the key of E-flat for it to sound good, otherwise it just sounds like you’re hitting a bunch of random pitches. Russian bells aren’t pitched a certain way, so it’s going to be more a wall of sound coming out and it won’t make any difference which bell I hit because the bell will always sound the way it should sound. What Tchaikovsky had in mind when he wrote the piece was to have all the bells in the Russian town square play at the same time to sound like a jubilant celebration of victory over Napoleon. So we are taking it back to its authentic intention.
The bells occur twice—at the very end where there are cannons and full orchestra and that’s about a one minute section and there’s a section about two-thirds into the piece where we hear roughly the same Russian hymn that cellos open the piece with but, this time, the full orchestra is playing with the bells playing in the background. The mood is jubilant because this after the victory. I am looking forward to this. Mark and I have talked about this for two years now and I’m glad that the conductor was curious enough to let this happen.
What will you be hitting the bells with?
Victor Avdienko: I’m not sure yet. Normally, internal clappers are pulled by a string that is manipulated by a player. In the past, we’ve always used a rawhide mallet or a large acrylic beater. Mark Gaperin and I started out with about two dozen mallets. We tested about a dozen of them and settled on a special hard wood mallet engineered by a German percussion instrument design firm that very closely approximates the sound extracted by an actual bell clapper. Or, I may just go ahead and use the native forged iron clappers. It all depends on what I can get away with. We’ll either have all four bells arranged on the upper beam of a rack or they’ll be in a double tiered rack with three on top and one on the bottom.
Have you ever had a Russian conduct you in the “1812”?
Victor Avdienko: Most conductors just ‘play the ink’ as they say but when we get Russian conductors coming in, they will sometimes want to add some realism to the piece that most American orchestras don’t necessarily do. About ten years ago, Yuri Temirkanov (then Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic since 1988) asked for both a Russian choir to sing a church hymn for the opening of the overture and for real bells. At that time, I didn’t know Mark or of any Russian bells in the area, so we just pulled together all the bells we could get our hands on. SFS actually owns two European-style bells that we use for Berlioz’ “Symphony Fantastique” but those are pitched very strongly in C and G for that piece, so he sat us down and gave us a lesson in what proper Russian bell ringing should sound like and for me that was the beginning of my curiosity about Russian bells.
Any other special percussion effects in Saturday’s concert that you’re looking forward to?
Victor Avdienko: Tchaikovsky wrote very nice percussion parts. I’ve always really identified with his cymbal crashes because they are very colorful, explosive and impactful, occurring in the right moment and emotional context. In the past, for the “1812,” I’ve always really found myself in playing those cymbal crashes correctly because you have to make the sounds of artillery fire, a celebratory crash and complete jubilation and it almost requires three personalities to pull that off.
Concert Details: San Francisco Symphony’s All Tchaikovsky concert at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall and lawn is Saturday, June 26 at 8 p.m. All indoor seating is almost sold out. Lawn seating is still available at $25. Purchase tickets online here, or over the phone with the Sonoma State University Box Office at 866-955-6040. Tickets will also be available one hour prior to the performance (7 p.m.) at the Green Music Center box office. Immediately following the concert, there will be a fireworks display. Excellent Visibility: Views of the stage are amplified by giant video screens, giving everyone a “front row” experience. Snacks: A variety of food and beverages will be available for sale.
Directions: Green Music Center is located at 1801 East Cotati Drive, Rohnert Park. CA. Weill Hall and the Green Music Center are located on the campus of Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California, at the intersection of Rohnert Park Expressway and Petaluma Hill Road. From the South, take U.S. Highway 101 north to the Rohnert Park Expressway exit. At the end of the exit ramp, turn right onto Rohnert Park Expressway. Drive 2.2 miles to the Sonoma State University entrance on your right. From the North, take U.S. Highway 101 south to the Rohnert Park Expressway exit. At the end of the exit ramp turn left onto Rohnert Park Expressway. Drive 2.2 miles to the Sonoma State University entrance on your right.
Parking: Parking for this performance is complimentary. Ample parking, with excellent handicap availability, in the campus’ dedicated lot, right next to Weill Hall.
San Francisco’s Jewish Film Festival kicks-off this Thursday, July 24, with a line-up highlighting the diversity of films and cultures and a long-weekend of programming in Marin, August 8-10
The 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF 34) opens Thursday evening at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre with the West Coast premiere of Nadav Schirman’s “The Green Prince,” the opening night film at Sundance and the winner of the World Documentary Audience Award. The double-dealing doc follows a Palestinian in Ramallah, Mosab Hassan Yousef, who grows up angry and ready to fight Israel. When he is arrested for smuggling guns at the age of 17, he’s interrogated by the Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, and sent to prison. Shocked by Hamas’ ruthless tactics in the prison and the organization’s escalating campaign of suicide bombings outside, Mosab agrees to spy for Israel. For him, there is no greater shame. For his Shin Bet handler, Gonen, there is no greater prize than “operating” the oldest son of a founding member of Hamas. Their forced relationship and its complex psychological dynamic fuels a well-told story. Director Nadav Schirman’s previous films include The Champagne Sky (2007) winner of the Israeli Academy Award for best documentary film and the John Schlesinger Award for Outstanding First Feature, and In the Dark Room (2013). Schirman will be in attendance on Opening Night and on Saturday, July 26th at the CinéArts@ Palo Alto screening. Additional screenings will take place on Sunday, August 3rd at the California Theater in Berkeley and on Friday, August 8th the Smith-Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. (Click here for additional information on screenings.)
A festive Opening Night Party at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco follows Thursday evening’s opening night screening.
SFJFF 34 includes 67 films from 17 countries, including 44 premieres, a wide spectrum of stimulating discussions, 33 visiting filmmakers and international guests and several wonderful parties.
There are eight Bay Area venues—
Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (at Market), San Francisco, (July 24 – Aug. 3) Click here for screenings.
Rayko Photo Center, 428 Third Street, San Francisco (Aug. 1) Click here for screenings.
California Theatre, 2113 Kittredge Street, Berkeley, (Aug. 1 – Aug 7) Click here for screenings.
Berkeley Repertory Theater, 2025 Addison St, Berkeley (Aug 2) Click here for screenings.
Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Avenue, Oakland (Aug. 8 – 10) Click here for screenings.
New Parkway Theater, 474 24th Street, Oakland (Aug. 7) Click here for screenings.
CinéArts @ Palo Alto Square, 3000 El Camino Real Bldg #6, Palo Alto, (July 26 – July 31) Click here for screenings.
Smith-Rafael Film Center, 1118 4th Street, San Rafael (August 8-10) Click here for screenings.
Stay tuned to ARThound for detailed coverage of the festival’s 14 films which will be screened at the acoustically stellar Smith-Rafael Film Center on Friday, August 8 through Sunday, August 10, 2014.
Details: San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 34 is July 24 to August 10, 2014. For general festival programming and to purchase tickets, visit www.sfjff.org or phone the Box Office at 415.621.0523. All-Festival passes, discount cards and special prices for students and seniors are available.