Review: “Pianist of Willesden Lane”—a daughter strikes a deep chord in her mother’s musical story of survival, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre through January 5, 2014
In The Pianist of Willesden Lane, piano virtuoso and author Mona Golabek channels the very spirit of her mother, Austrian pianist Lisa Jura, in the musical telling of Jura’s Holocaust survival story. This heart piercing solo show of music and words, which opened last Wednesday (Oct 30) at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, is a deeply moving triumph.
Produced and adapted by Hershey Felder, who just a few months ago brought and performed the solo show, George Gershwin Alone, to Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage, The Pianist of Willesden Lane is based on the acclaimed best-selling book, The Children of Willesden Lane (Grand Central Publishing, 2002) by Mona Golabek & Lee Cohn. The story is one of separation, sacrifice, and the power of music and family to elevate the spirit in the darkest of times. Golabek performs some of the world’s most beloved piano music in this searing tribute to her remarkable mother.
Golabek’s mother, Lisa Jura, was just 14 in March 1938 when German troops entered Vienna and interrupted her life in this cultural capital where Jews congregated. The changes were confusing and unpleasant—Lisa, a piano prodigy, could no longer take piano lessons from her beloved teacher who was discouraged from interaction with Jews. Her dream of a debut at the fabled Musikverein concert hall was shattered. The situation escalated on Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass, November 9-10, 1938), when her father—a tailor—suffered a humiliating brush with death that led to the decision to flee Austria.
The family was only able to secure a single ticket on the highly-demanded Kindertransport train which rescued children threatened by the Nazis and took them to England. It was decided that Lisa, the middle child, should go, as she stood the best chance of thriving as a classical pianist.
Bolstering Lisa throughout the ordeal were the last words her mother spoke to her—“Hold onto your music. It will be your best friend in life.” These words were uttered at the Vienna train station in November 1938 as Lisa joined hundreds of crying children in saying their good-byes forever to their parents. Many times, in those darkest of days, when disappointments, fear or pain were about to overwhelm her, Lisa recalled these words.
Jura was one of 10,000 refugee children brought to England before World War II as part of the Kindertransport mission. As soft-spoken Golabek recounts her mother’s story, we are riveted. Imagine Lisa’s anxiety when the relative, who was supposed to meet her at the station in London and care for her, was unable to fulfill his promise to her family and she was abandoned. Like many refugee children aged 14 and above, she became a domestic worker and was expected to earn her keep. She was sent to a large country estate to work. When she was unable to play the piano there, which she was told was for show purposes only; she left abruptly and travelled alone to London where she settled in at the titular Willesden Lane home for children. It was there that she slowly began to flourish—the piano as her anchor— and began life anew in London with the sad realization that she might never see any of her family members again.
Mainly seated at the Steinway piano, Golabek uses slight shifts in her posture at the keyboard and in phrasing to help tell the story of young Lisa’s gradual transformation into a young virtuoso. She plays interludes from Beethoven, Debussy, Chopin, Bach, Gershwin, Strachey, Rachmaninoff and Grieg without sheet music and also commits considerable spoken passages in the 90 minute performance to memory. Her calm delivery is achingly authentic.
From the performance’s earliest moments, we learn that Lisa dreams of making her own concert debut with Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor, Opus 16,” an exceedingly difficult and challenging piece that requires maturity, stamina and technique. The Norwegian composer was just 24 when he wrote this brilliant concerto in three movements, the only concerto he ever completed. Hershey Felder fleshes out the great storytelling moments in Lisa’s journey and loosely hangs them around the Grieg concerto and Golabek plays portions of all three movements. The audience was clearly stirred at the very exciting moment of Lisa’s scholarship audition at the London Academy of Music where she performed from stirring Bach, Beethoven, Scriabin piano classics flawlessly. But at the end of the evening, when Golabek played from the Grieg Third Movement, with its adventurous rhythms, tears flowed freely.
Well-executed décor and video projections greatly enhance the performance. A gorgeous array of huge gold gilt picture frames surround the Steinway on the Thrust stage. These antique frames serve as video portals for Felder’s well-curated of selection of personal and archival news photos, newsreel footage, and famous artworks. Set in the glow of the midnight blue stage, with Jura’s punctuated playing, it’s a sight to behold. Particularly riveting are portraits of family members, glorious shots of old Vienna, and the devastation of the London Blitzkrieg which destroyed Lisa’s place of asylum in London, the home for young refugees at 243 Willesden Lane.
The impact of this inspiring performance comes in waves…. What strength it must take for Golabek to channel her mother on a daily basis, knowing full well that she is here and only able to do what she does because of her grandparents’ sacrifice that allowed for her mother to pursue her dream.
Creative team: Trevor Hay and Hershey Felder (scenic designers), Jaclyn Maduff (costume designer), Christopher Rynne (lighting designer), Erik Carstensen (sound designer), Andrew Wilder and Greg Sowizdrzal (projection designers).
Run-time is 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Post-play discussions: Thursday 11/14, Tuesday 11/19, and Friday 12/6 following the performance and after all weekend matinees
Repartee: FREE docent talks @ 7:00 PM on Tuesday and Thursdays and free discussions after all weekend matinees
Details: Pianist of Willesden Lane, has been extended through January 5, 2014 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704. Performances are Tues-Sun with matinees on Sat, Sun and some Thurs. Tickets: $29 to $89. Discounts: Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain.
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 $3 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM or all day on Saturday or Sunday when your garage-issued parking ticket is accompanied by a free voucher ticket that is available in the theatre lobby. These new tickets accommodate the newly automated parking garage’s ticket machines and are available in a pile located where the ink stamp used to be.
It’s been somewhat of a whirlwind at Weill Hall—this Tuesday’s Silk Road Ensemble performance, which people are raving about, was the tenth concert in the Green Music Center’s (GMC) 2013-14 Mastercard Performance Series which is delivering a very strong and diverse line-up. Just eight months ago, with great fanfare, GMC welcomed French diplomat Emmanuel Morlet as its first Artistic Director. That relationship didn’t jell and Mortlett exited during the summer without having had much of an impact—the second season’s programming was locked in before his arrival. Yesterday afternoon, GMC made public the appointment of Zarin Mehta as its new co-executive director. Mehta, who turned 75 on Monday, recently concluded his 12-year tenure as president and executive director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. At GMC, he will focus on artistic planning and management alongside Sonoma State University (SSU) Chief Financial Officer Larry Furukawa-Schlereth, who also serves as co-executive director of GMC.
Mehta, the younger brother of famed conductor Zubin Mehta, currently resides in Chicago with his wife, Carmen, and will be splitting his time between Chicago and Sonoma County. Mehta will be paid an annual salary of $300,000. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars of that will be underwritten by Sandy and Joan Weill, and SSU will make up the remaining $50,000 until GMC is able to raise the funds to cover the cost, an issue their GMC advisory board met about Wednesday and assigned a very high priority.
“With the leadership of Zarin Mehta, and his world-class expertise and experience, the GMC is set to become the centerpiece of Sonoma cultural life and a major draw to the region, without doubt, from near and far,” said Furukawa-Schlereth. “I’m looking tremendously forward to working with Zarin to put the GMC on the international musical map and welcoming him to the Sonoma County community.”
“It was during Lang Lang’s recent visit to Sonoma to perform at Weill Hall last month when he asked me whether Zarin had been approached by the GMC,” said Sandy Weill. “Upon hearing that he had not, Lang Lang reached out to his mentor Zarin…and they talked about the unique opportunity at the GMC. Joan and I could not be more excited…The hard work has just begun but attracting the caliber of somebody like Zarin gives us every confidence that we can achieve greatness.”
In 2011, Weill and his wife, Joan, donated $12 million to finish GMC’s concert hall which had been 15 years in the planning but stalled due to lack of funds. After the donation, Weill became GMC’s chairman; the 1400 seat concert hall was named the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall and a grand vision emerged. GMC’s spectacular first season offered 22 concerts in the MasterCard Performance Series with luminaries as Lang Lang, Alison Krauss, Yo Yo Ma, and Joyce DiDonato. Some 60 other musical events, including regular performances of the San Francisco Symphony and the Santa Rosa Symphony that were not part of the series, were also realized.
Mehta’s artistic influence will ease itself in gradually over the next year. Under the helm of artistic consultant Robert Cole, GMC’s second season is well underway and its 2014-15 season programming is nearly complete. It was Cole, who retired recently from a very successful run with Cal Performances, who locked in soprano Renée Fleming as GMC’s second season’s opener and the renowned Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which will perform on March 11, 2014. GMC programming is tweaked on a regular basis and, at any point, Mehta can bring in additional programming. GMC reports there is room for change.
Calling on seasoned musical friendships and his broad international experience, Mehta will ultimately set the artistic vision for GMC and its year-round MasterCard Performance Series in Weill Hall, including presentations of important orchestras, ensembles and artists from a wide spectrum of classical music, jazz, world music and other forms. Each season will also continue to feature regular performances by the San Francisco Symphony and the Santa Rosa Symphony
Mehta will also cultivate GMC programming as two exciting new performance venues are completed – the 250 seat Schroeder Hall, featuring a Brombaugh tracker organ, slated to open in 2014, and the MasterCard Performing Arts Pavilion, an open-air space, expected to open in 2015. He will build and further develop public and young people’s educational programs and partnerships, including ongoing work with The Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall in New York. In all of these endeavors, he will work closely with Furukawa-Schlereth.
Mehta’s first official day on the job is Friday, November 1, 2013. “The vision that was begun by Sonoma State University’s President, Dr. Ruben Armiñana, with Donald and Maureen Green, and brought to fruition by Sandy Weill and the Board, with Larry Schlereth’s quiet hard work, is exemplary in the American musical landscape,” said Zarin Mehta. “To create a new, world-class center for music, performance, and education, in the heart of the magnificent Sonoma County Wine Country – one of the most beautiful settings imaginable – requires determination, dedication, and most of all, a true love of music…My wife, Carmen, and I, look forward to becoming part of the San Francisco Bay Area community and developing GMC into an international musical destination.”
As for Mehta’s hefty salary, Furukawa-Schlereth reported Wednesday that the GMC advisory board met on Wednesday and plans to fundraise to support Mehta’s position, so that the center will not be a drain on the university’s budget. For an indefinite period though, Sonoma State will pay $50,000 of Mehta’s $300,000 annual salary.
Jessia Anderson, Associate Director of Communications GMC, confirmed that Mehta is currently looking for a home near GMC and he will be splitting his time between here and Chicago. His wife of 47 years, Carmen, is a vocal instructor in Chicago and the couple has roots there so they will not be giving up their home there.
Mehta comes with considerable arts management experience. Mehta started out as an accountant in Montreal and served as managing director of the Montreal Symphony (1981-1990), CEO of the Ravinia Festival (1990-2000), and began his New York Philharmonic position in 2000 as executive director, becoming president four years later. Around 2003, when Sandy Weill was chairman of Carnegie Hall, he and Mehta (along with Philharmonic board chair Paul B. Guenther) were involved with negotiating the merger of Carnegie Hall with the Philharmonic, but the deal collapsed in 2003. Daniel Wakin of The New York Times reported September, 27, 2010, in an article about Mehta’s retirement, that Mehta’s accomplishments during his tenure at New York Philharmonic include maintaining labor peace; a record of exotic touring, including a singular visit to North Korea; and helping bring Credit Suisse aboard as global sponsor.
If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of Mehta at Weill Hall, he will not be attending Saturday’s Mariza concert. He will be back in Chicago. The question of when his famed brother, Zubin, will make his Weill Hall debut is open. As for a car, Zarin will have to scramble as brother Zubin nabbed the vanity CA plate “M8A” long ago for the commute from Brentwood to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
A big Verdi week—San Francisco Opera celebrates the composer’s bicentennial in grand style with the “Requiem,” performed by 312 choristers and musicians from Naples and San Francisco, as the magnificent “Falstaff” continues to mesmerize
San Francisco Opera’s Music Director Nicola Luisotti is preparing to conduct the performance of a lifetime on Friday— Giuseppe Verdi’s choral masterpiece “Messa de Requiem” which will be jointly performed by both his companies—San Francisco Opera and Italy’s Teatro di San Carlo of Naples. Talk about an of embarrassment riches! In case you haven’t heard yet, this month marks the bicentennial of the composer’s birth— he was born October 9 or 10, 1813 in the Italian village of Roncole—and the entire world is celebrating. And the Bay Area is not to be outdone. Our silver haired maestro will conduct 312 singers and musicians from both companies in the Requiem Mass at War Memorial Opera House on Friday evening—161 choristers (90 SFO and 71 Teatro di San Carlo (TSC)), 146 orchestra members and four soloists. In the interest of true cultural exchange, Luisotti has interspersed the SFO and TSC choruses so that a SFO chorus member sits by a TSC member.
An exacting combo of fury and fear, punctuated with hammering chords and explosive bass drum bangs and soft, chillingly quiet moments, the Requiem Mass is one of Verdi’s most striking choral works. Just as its music is characterized by wild undulations, its message too moves from the otherworldly to the fire and brimstone of inevitable mortality and judgment and back again, making for a deeply penetrating spiritual experience when performed soulfully. Vocal soloists are soprano Leah Crocetto, mezzo soprano Margaret Mezzacappa, tenor Michael Fabiano and Ukranian bass Vitalij Kowaljow. It was Crocetto, a former Adler Fellow, who gave an astounding and emotionally riveting performance as Liù in SF Opera’s Turandot in 2011, working in perfect harmony with Luisotti who seemed to pull every tender ounce of lyricism she had to give. She’ll have plenty of solo time on Friday as well.
The highly-anticipated performance of the Requiem has been sold out for months. SF Opera donors and subscribers and those with Italian cultural connections got first dibs on the tickets, leaving slim pickings for regular attendees. ARThound pounced and was able to purchase some real estate in an outer corner of Row X in the Orchestra, normally nothing to brag about because it’s beneath the dreaded overhang, but cause for celebration in these circumstances.
This unique presentation of the Requiem is offered as part of the worldwide Verdi bicentennial celebration and in recognition of 2013 The Year of Italian Culture in the United States, an initiative held under the auspices of the president of the Italian Republic.
Verdi’s Messa da Requiem premiered in May 1874 in Milan and was composed to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Alessandro Manzoni, the celebrated Italian writer and one of the leaders of the Italian Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement. Verdi himself conducted the world premiere of one hundred twenty chorus singers and orchestra of one hundred musicians. The work was immediately hailed as a masterpiece and quickly made the rounds to the world’s leading music capitals where it garnered critical and popular acclaim. Verdi’s Requiem is set in seven movements: Requiem and Kyrie; Dies Irae; Offertorio; Sanctus; Agnus Dei; Lux aeterna; and Libera me.
SFO also continues its acclaimed run of Verdi’s comedic opera Falstaff. If you haven’t been to the opera this season, Falstaff is the opera to see—it stars the great Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, today’s definitive Falstaff, in the lead role, supported by an outstanding cast which includes American contralto Meredith Arwady masterfully singing Dame Quickly. This Lyric Opera of Chicago production, directed by Oliver Tambosi, with scenery and costumes by Frank Philipp Schlössmann, premiered in 1999 but still feels fresh. ARThound was lucky enough to catch last Sunday’s (October 20) matinee, the most delightful SFO performance I’ve attended since the inventive Magic Flute in summer 2012, which showcased the fanciful creativity of visual artist Jun Kaneko.
After being wowed by Bryn Terfel’s intimate recital of British sea poems, lieder by Schumann and Schubert, and Celtic songs at Green Music Center on the 13th, experiencing him sing Falstaff at SFO the following weekend was even more special, as I got a taste of the range of his artistry. His fluid transformation into the fat, lecherous scoundrel Falstaff, is mesmerizing. His rich voice is so powerful that he filled the expansive War Memorial Opera House as easily as he did the much smaller Weill Hall.
Falstaff was Verdi’s last opera, written when he was near 80 and still at his creative peak. His only other comedy had been written some 50 years earlier. Ialstaff is based on Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and parts of Henry IV. In a nutshell, Falstaff, the main figure, is running out of money and looking for a quick solution. He sets his sights on two rich women at once— Alice Ford (Basque soprano Ainhoa Arteta) and Meg Page (American mezzo soprano and Adler Fellow Renée Napier)— and writes them both love letters. Of course, he doesn’t fool anyone; the crafty women of Windsor collaborate and out-scheme him and ultimately the “fat Knight” learns his lesson. Along the way, while dressed in his best red finery, he is stuffed in a laundry hamper by the women and dumped out a window into the Thames, a scene which Terfel mines for all its worth.
While all the women are in top form, Meredith Arwady, a former Adler and Merola alumna, grabs the spotlight as Dame Quickly, the pivotal emissary between the women and Falstaff. Aside from a rich and glorious voice, she’s got that magic “it” factor that makes her memorable despite the size of her role. She is on par with Terfel in her contribution to the opera’s magic. Her Act III invitation to Falstaff/Terfel to get to Herme’s Oak, leaves us wanting more from the duo who are delightful together.
Nicola Luisotti’s impassioned conducting is one of the production’s main draws. The characters’ words direct the metre and melody of the ensembles in this masterpiece and orchestra helps tell the story with an array of cheers, sighs, grunts and screams. Last Sunday, Luisotti kept it brisk and energetic and the singers, chorus and orchestra were in perfect sync. There are many musical highpoints, but Kevin Rivard’s penetrating horn call from Box Z—a distant sound that wafts over the audience—adds rich atmosphere to the Act III recreation of Herne’s Oak in moonlit Windsor Forest.
The magnificent singing, music, staging, and costumes make this the perfect Verdi experience. Sung in Italian with English subtitles. (4 remaining performances—Thursday, 10.24 at 7:30 PM; Sunday, 10.27 at 2 PM, Wed 10.30 at 7:30 PM and Saturday, 11.2 at 8 PM (all have OperaVision except Sat 11.2)
Details: The Verdi Requiem is completely sold-out. A limited number of $10 Standing Room tickets go on sale at 11 A.M. day of performance. For more information on San Francisco Opera and their upcoming performances, including Falstaff, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx
Up Wednesday, July 24, the legendary Josh Groban performs with the Santa Rosa Symphony at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall
Dubbed the “love me tenor” by adoring female fans, the dreamy-voiced Josh Groban performs with the Santa Rosa Symphony, led by conductor Sean O’Loughlin, at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall on Wednesday, July 24, 2013. If you haven’t been to Weill Hall yet this summer, their summer concerts start a little earlier—at 7:30 p.m.—so there’s lots of natural light hitting the hall’s golden-hued wood interior, making a gorgeous setting for a charming crooner like Groban.
Now 32, the Los Angeles native, is well known for his inspirational hits “You Raise Me Up,” “To Where You Are,” and “I Believe” (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever) and all of his records have topped the charts. Of late, he’s been venturing from the semi-poperatic sound that catapulted him to fame in the late 90′s and early 2000 ‘s into new territory. His latest album, All That Echoes, is an impressive crossover into pop and rock that promptly went to No 1. On the Billboard 200 right after its February 2013 release. He not only sings but had a hand in co-writing seven of the of the CD’s twelve songs. He’s really all about interpretation, finding the perfect way to express himself musically. He garnered a lot of new fans with his hilarious 2011 appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” where he sat down to the piano and set Kayne West’s insane tweets to music. He’s also known for his incredibly down-to earth stage presence and for taking a break at his concerts to chat with audience members.
Discovery: In 1998, at age 17, Groban’s voice teacher connected him with world-renowned Grammy-winning producer/arranger David Foster who liked him and began to use him as a rehearsal singer for many high-profile events. His big break came when he was stand-in for Andrea Boccelli at the 1999 Grammy Awards and rehearsed Foster’s “The Prayer” with Céline Dion. Those who heard him, like the program’s hostess, Rosie O’Donnell, immediately booked him and his career was off and running.
Recording success: His first four solo albums (Josh Groban (2201), Closer (2003), Awake (2006), Noël (2007), have been certified multi-platinum, and in 2007, he was charted as the number-one best selling artist in the United States, with over 21 million records in the nation. He has sold over 25 million records worldwide.
Grammy: Groban earned his first Grammy nomination in 2005 for his single “You Raise Me Up” in the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance category.
Collaborations: Recent collaborations include such artists as Sarah McLachlan, Adele, Josh Groban, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monáe, Hall and Oates, Gloria Estefan, the Indigo Girls, Diana Krall, Itzhak Perlman, Natalie Merchant, Chris Isaak, Blue Man Group, Pink Martini, Brandi Carlile, The Decemberists, Martina McBride, Josh Ritter, Gloria Gaynor and others.
Olympics/ Obama: On February 24, 2002, Groban performed “The Prayer” with Charlotte Church at the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. On January 18, 2009, Groban performed as part of the Presidential Inauguration ceremonies, performing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” in duet with Heather Headley.
You Raise Me Up
Groban’s Hilarious Spoof CD compilation of Kanye West’s Tweets
Details: Josh Groban performs with the Santa Rosa Symphony is 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, July 24, 2013, at Weill Hall. Tickets: There is no remaining indoor seating. There is outdoor and lawn seating $35-$55. Recommend advance ticket purchase. Ticket purchases can be made online at www.gmc.edu, or over the phone with the Sonoma State University Box Office at 866.955.6040 or in person at the GMC Box Office, adjacent to the courtyard of Weill Hall , which is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and one hour before all performances.
Summer at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall—this evening, violinist Sarah Chang and French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet perform with Moscow’s Best, the Russian National Orchestra
There’s a special performance at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall this evening. As part of their summer programming, which has a particularly festive bend, GMC is partnering with Napa Valley’s Festival Del Sole in presenting the Russian National Orchestra (RNO), conducted by Carlo Montanaro, with renowned violinist Sarah Chang performing Samuel Barber’s popular Violin Concerto, and sensational pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet in Saint-Saëns’ “Egyptian” Piano Concerto No. 5, a rarely-performed gem. The concerts starts early, at 6:30 p.m., and ample tickets are still available in most areas except the front orchestra, so tickets can be purchased right before the performance at the GMC box office which closes at 4 p.m. and then re-opens at 5:30 p.m.
Dmitri Shostakovich / Festive Overture, Op. 96: Shostakovich wrote this short lively piece in 1954 for a concert held at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution. A victim of Stalin’s suppression, he worked heroically under stifling conditions but was unable to share his music. Many music historians have posited that piece’s ebullience reflects his relief over Stalin’s departure and his ability to practice his art freely. It is based it on Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla overture from 1842, and it features the same lively tempo and style of melody. The overture was played at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and at the 2009 Nobel Prize concert.
Founded in 1990 by pianist and conductor Mikhail Pietnev, the Russian National Orchestra is described as “a living symbol of the best in Russian art” (Miami Herald) and “as close to perfect as one could hope for” (Classics Today). The orchestra is unique among leading Russian ensembles in that it is a private institution funded with the support of individuals, corporations and foundations in Russia and worldwide. The RNO maintains an active international tour schedule, appearing in Europe, Asia and the Americas and its guest artists include Nicola Luisotti, San Francisco Opera’s beloved Music Director and Renée Fleming, who opens GMC 2nd season on September 15, 2013. The RNO is the resident orchestra of the Festival de Sole.
Camille Saint-Saëns / Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Major, Op. 103: This concerto is nicknamed “The Egyptian” for two reasons. Saint-Saëns composed it in the temple town of Luxor while on one of his frequent winter vacations to Egypt, and secondly, the music is a synthesis of his far-flung eastern wanderings displaying influences from Javanese and Spanish as well as Middle-eastern music. While it’s hard to imagine now, in 1872, Saint-Saëns received a large bequest from the estate of the director of the French Post Office, who expressed that a gifted composer should not have to work (as organist of La Madeleine in Paris) to supplement his income. This bequest, together with income from royalties and performance fees, freed Saint-Saëns indulge his passion for travel. He conducted in Moscow, London, and the United States and travelled to Egypt, Brazil, Ceylon, and Algiers. He premiered the piece in 1896 with himself as soloist at a Jubilee Concert commemorating his debut 50 years earlier.
Thibaudet is known for coaxing the most amazing nuances from each work he performs and has recorded over 40 albums. He has also collaborated on the soundtracks of Oscar-wining and nominated films Atonement and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. He was just 20 when he was invited to be a guest soloist with the Napa Valley Symphony Orchestra and performed the Saint-Saëns concerto that he will be playing this evening. For a delightful rendition of that performance and Thibaudet’s long-abiding passion for Napa Valley, click here to read L. Pierce Carson’s article in the Napa Valley Register.
Jean-Yves Thibaudet on Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5 – The Egyptian
Samuel Barber / Violin Concerto, Op. 14: Commissioned by Philadelphia soap magnate, Samuel Fels for Russian violinist Iso Briselli, this controversial concerto, completed in 1939, was subsequently rejected by the Russian virtuoso. Its tragic lyricism is in large part due to its dramatic violin parts which should find their true intense expression under Sarah Chang. Since her debut with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 8, Chang has performed with the greatest orchestras, conductors and accompanists internationally in a career spanning more than two decades. Her latest recording of the Brahms and Bruch violin concertos (EMI, Bruch: Violin Concerto No.1 / Brahms: Violin Concerto, 2009) has been voted one of the top 250 best recordings of all time in Gramophone magazine. If you’ve never seen Chang perform live before, you’re in for a remarkable experience. Her intense bow strikes often seem like attacks. Her restless stage presence includes bending backwards, flipping her hair and making anguished facial gestures all while donning a body-hugging evening gown.
Sarah Chang performs Bruch Violin Concerto 3rd Movement
Sarah Chang age 12 masters Paganini’s Violin Concerto
Details: Ticket purchases can be made online at www.gmc.edu, or over the phone with the Sonoma State University Box Office at 866.955.6040 or in person at the Box Office which is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and one hour before all performances.
For more information about the Green Music Center, visit www.gmc.edu .
For more information about Festival del Sole, which runs through July 21, 2013 and presents over 60 events featuring the stars of music, dance and theatre, visit www.festivaldelsole.org .
Review: Two Italian Dynamos—Nicola Luisotti and pianist Giuseppe Albanese—and the SF Opera Orchestra, kick off SF Opera’s Summer Season at Zellerbach Hall
There’s only one Nicola Luisotti—the magical maestro! Last Friday’s symphonic concert with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra at Zellerbach Hall, a San Francisco Opera and Cal Performances co-production, was everything we’ve come to expect when Luisotti is at the helm of this very talented orchestra—heart-felt passion and mesmerizing music. It was wonderful to be able to actually see this talented orchestra, which normally resides in the pit during operas, and to place some faces with soloists we’ve come to respect and love. Last Friday’s program included Nino Rota’s rarely performed “Piano Concerto in C,” featuring Italian pianist Giuseppe Albanese; Puccini’s early piece, “Capriccio Sinfonico;” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F major.
The surprise treat was Giuseppe Albanese, in his West Coast premiere, who not only proved to be un talento enormo on the piano but a curly-haired young Italian heartthrob to boot. He appeared in bright red shoes, a feat not many guys (apart from Jean-Yves Thibaudet!) can successfully pull off ..…he owned it. It was his smile, sensual verve and engagement with the music and orchestra that melted the audience and led to several standing ovations and a sensational triple encore. His encore included an uncannily virtuosic rendition of Scriabin’s “Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand” (Op. 9, No. 2), which he knocked out with playful swagger. I would have sworn there were at least two hands on that keyboard if I hadn’t seen Albanese’s right hand alternately hanging by his side or pressed up expressively against his heart.
The evening opened with Puccini’s “Capriccio sinfonico,” a rarely performed work the composer wrote as a 25-year-old at the conservatory in Milan. The Capriccio was Puccini’s final student work, written to satisfy the requirements for his graduation in July 1883. He hadn’t yet written his first opera (although the work is full of operatic grandeur—and even contains passages that the maestro later used in “La Bohême”). One of Puccini’s biographers, Julian Budden, has this to say about the Capriccio: “Performed at the annual students’ concert on July 14, it at once alerted the critics to a new voice in Italian music. Filippi of La perseveranza shed all his reservations of the previous year. ‘In Puccini,’ he wrote, ‘we have a decisive and rare musical temperament and one which is especially symphonic. There is unity of style, personality, character. In his Capriccio sinfonico there is a good deal that more experienced composers . . . have not succeeded in doing. . . There are no uncertainties or gropings in the young author. . . The ideas are clear, strong, effective and sustained with much truth.’ (PUCCINI: HIS LIFE AND WORKS by Julian Budden, 2002)
The opera orchestra’s performance of this precious archive from Puccini’s repertoire was indeed inspired and so was Luisotti’s conducting, a feat of passion and pure embrace of sound. Luisotti, who at times appeared to be writing in the air with his sweeping gestures of the baton, guided the orchestra into a lush performance, reminding me that it’s hard to beat an Italian conducting an Italian.
Up next was pianist Giuseppe Albanese in Nino Rota’s rarely performed “Piano Concerto in C,” a piece that had his curly hair flouncing and his fingers flying as he executed complex crossovers matching blow for blow Luisotti’s passionate baton waving and flying locks. As both men became one with the music and the orchestra, it was a pleasure to sit back, watch and listen. Rota has composed four piano concertos but is best known for his film scores, which date back to the early 1940s. He’s collaborated with Federico Fellini, Renato Castellani, Luchino Visconti, Franco Zeffirelli, Mario Monicelli, Francis Ford Coppola (he received the Oscar for Best Original Score for The Godfather II), King Vidor, René Clément, Edward Dmytrik and Eduardo de Filippo. Additionally, he composed the music for many theatre productions by Visconti, Zefirelli and de Filippo. It’s natural to wonder whether his film and concert music are similar. The Piano Concerto in C has a strong melody but didn’t evoke any filmic moments for me. The drama and passion was injected by Albanese who had the audience’s rapt attention throughout. So much so that, afterwards, he received a long standing ovation and came out for an encore— Denis Zardi Prelude, Op. 6, No. 24—followed by another ovation. It was his second piece— Scriabin’s “Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand” (Op. 9, No. 2)—where he delivered the goods, a technically challenging one-handed performance of great beauty and emotional richness. After that, as if egged on by Luisotti behind the curtain to “go for it,” he came out again with Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” arranged by Earl Wilde, a familiar piece he played to the hilt while taking every opportunity to lap up the much-deserved limelight.
The evening concluded with Brahams “Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90,” which I had never before heard. All four of it movements end quietly and its most powerful moments are quite restrained. Coming on the heels of the robust first half of the concert, this subdued but highly complex piece was a soothing end to the evening. The third movement started with a wonderfully low and flowing cello passage that was followed later by Kevin Rivard’s tender horn solo. What a treat to hear this masterpiece for the first time performed with such passion by Luisotti’s orchestra.
Author Barbara Quick, well-known for her best-selling novel, Vivaldi’s Virgins, has just finished a new historically-accurate novel called “Saving Puccini” and gave ARThound a good deal of insight and perspective on the Puccini performance.
For more information about San Francisco Opera’s Summer 2013 season, which includes Tales of Hoffman (6/5-7/6/2013), Cosi fan tutte (6/9-7/1/2013), and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (6/19-7/7/2013), click here.
Up Thursday at Weill Hall—San Francisco Symphony performs Carter, Ravel and Gershwin, with David Robertson, conductor, and Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Ravel, who heard jazz in Harlem with Gershwin, was utterly dazzled by Rhapsody in Blue, which Gershwin played at a birthday party for the French composer. The piece, composed in 1924, epitomized modern urban sophistication. Ravel’s jazz-influenced Concerto for the Left Hand, written six years later, was created for a pianist grievously injured during the First World War. The brooding work is held up as a brilliant distillation of Ravel’s rarely revealed sinister side. Both these pieces reflect the arrival of jazz into the concert hall. Ravel’s La Valse (1919-20) pays homage to the Viennese waltz and suggests a furious and dark farewell to the gentility of post-war Europe. Eliot Carter’s non-traditional Variations for Orchestra, from 1955, is not as accessible. Nothing Carter does in this fragmentary piece is traditional. He even varied from the traditional way of exploring variation— where a single theme was the basis of a series of contrasting variations. Besides the official theme, which is an extended and twisting melodic line, Carter’s piece has two other melodic ideas that are subjected to bold variation: scale-like patterns of notes, one that picks up speed as it unfolds, and another that slows down. It’s exhilarating, abrupt, fitful, and quite intriguing. This multilayered piece has not been performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 50 years!
The common thread in all of these pieces…the changing of the times! San Francisco Symphony with David Robertson, conductor, and Marc-André Hamelin on piano, performs all four pieces in its last concert of Green Music Center’s (GMC’s) inaugural season this Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 8 p.m.
The treat: another chance to hear a world-class pianist, Marc-André Hamelin, on Weill Hall’s Steinway in what promises to be a spell-binding one-handed performance of Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand. Hamelin, who made his SF Symphony debut in 2006, is the known for “hurling himself with gusto” into his performances. We’ll expect a full display of agility, precision and passion on Thursday as he tackles the Ravel and reinvigorates Gershwin’s beguiling masterpiece, Rhapsody in Blue, which, sadly, has been so played to death with such mediocrity that we’ve lost touch with its power.
Robertson leads Ravel and Gershwin will also be performed at Davies Symphony Hall, in San Francisco, on Wednesday, May 22, Friday, May 24 and Saturday, May 25, 2013.
Ravel | La Valse
Details: For tickets and information, call (415) 864-6000 or visit www.sfsymphony.org.
Eliot Carter talks about his “Variations for Orchestra” in an excerpt for the film Music Makes a City (2012) winner: 2012 Gramophone Award, Best DVD/Documentary
Tara Erraught—she came she conquered! Monday, April 22, 8 a.m.—Green Music Center 2013-14 Subscription Tickets go on sale to the public
For those who missed mezzo Tara Erraught’s recital today at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, she was FABULOUS. The young Irish-born mezzo is blessed with a huge expressive voice, blissful tone and a radiant style that enchanted the audience through two encores. Erraught sang rarely performed songs by Ottorino Respighi and Hugo Wolf as well as Brahms, Handel and Rossini—she explained that the common thread was their engrossing stories. The repertoire was varied and performed in German and Italian, giving a good opportunity to hear her impressive range as well as linguistic dexterity. In the second half, Handel’s “Dopo notte: from Ariodante and Rossini’s “Una voce poco fa” from Barber of Seville, were so enthralling that you could have heard a pin drop as the audience reveled in her dynamic and colorful voice accelerating into divinely executed trills. This was my first time hearing her live and this repertoire and the acoustics of Weill Hall combined to create the perfect vehicle for her to display what’s so special about her singing. She topped off the afternoon with an encore that included ”Danny Boy” and the rapt audience immediately began sniffling and wiping away the tears. What a joy to experience a young singer at the top of her game, something we’ll brag about years from now.
Erraught’s ascent has been rapid, so much so that when the programmers at Green Music Center booked her, it was solely on the basis of her acclaim for jumping in with five-days’ notice to perform Romeo in a new production of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Bavarian State Opera. She nailed it. Since then, she’s been booked with debuts in several continents. She is scheduled for a second North American recital tour in 2014, so you may be able to catch her then.
In all, the GMC’s talent spotting radar has proved impeccable and that’s in large part due to Robert Cole whose connections are golden. The inaugural season brought well-known delights—Joyce DiDonato, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, and Alison Krauss—and introduced some top world musicians less familiar in these parts—Spanish world-music singer Buika and Mexican-American singer and composer Lila Downs.
Now is the time to lock in tickets for the second season. Tomorrow at 8 a.m. (Monday, April 22, 2013), subscription tickets go on sale for the 2013-2014 season.
Green Music Center’s 2013-14 MasterCard Performance Series Season:
Six preset subscription packages are available for purchase at 15% off single ticket prices. Four of these packages are classically focused, featuring an assemblage of instrumental, choral, orchestral, and vocal performances. Two packages separately consist of jazz and world music offerings.
Subscriptions have already been offered to high-level patrons, followed by current subscribers and MasterCard cardholders. On Monday, subscription tickets will be made available to the general public. ARThound checked with the GMC box office just before they closed on Friday and there are still plenty of great seats to be had, except for Renée Fleming, the season opener.
Opening Night Celebration, Sunday, September 15, 2013—Reminiscent of last fall’s inaugural festivities, this year’s season opener is global celeb soprano Renée Fleming, one of the world’s most beloved vocalists. The unique rear wall of Weill Hall will be open to the terraced lawns and offers expanded seating for 5,000 additional outdoor patrons. There is very limited inside hall seating for this special performance. The only way to secure a ticket is to buy either a set subscription to one of the six pre-set series and purchase the concert as an add-on OR as part of the “Pick 6” package which allows patrons to select any six performances from the season lineup at a discount of 10% off single ticket prices.
Festivities will continue throughout the month of September with two additional Indian summer concerts utilizing the outdoor seating of Weill Lawn, beginning with world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman on Sept. 21, and followed by jazz legend Herbie Hancock on Sept. 28.
Orchestral headliners of the season include the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in March, The English Concert performing Handel’s Theodora, Venice Baroque Orchestra with rising star counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky, and returning holiday favorite Handel’s Messiah by Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale.
Acclaimed sopranos Jessye Norman, Ruth Ann Swenson, and Deborah Voigt are featured in a phenomenal vocal lineup, that also includes baritones Bryn Terfel in October and Florian Boesch in May, accompanied by Malcolm Martineau on piano. “An Afternoon of Opera” in March pairs operatic sensations Leah Crocetto and David Lomeli, accompanied by Weill Hall’s resident orchestra, the Santa Rosa Symphony.
An array of award-winning instrumentalists is intertwined throughout the twenty- three concert season, beginning with a return performance by Chinese superstar Lang Lang. The season also features fellow pianists Garrick Ohlsson and Richard Goode, as well as acclaimed violinist Hilary Hahn, and a performance by The Takács Quartet.
JAZZ & WORLD MUSIC:
Six jazz and world music concerts showcase an impressive range of artistry, including Portuguese fado artist Mariza, Spanish flamenco sensation Estrella Morente, the distinguished Silk Road Ensemble, the inspirational Bahia Orchestra Project, and rising jazz stars Jon Batiste and Stay Human.
Descriptions of all packages and purchase options are at: www.gmc.sonoma.edu
Package prices for three-concert sets range from $78 to $204 and four-concert bundles range in price from $138-$336. The “Pick 6” package allows patrons to select any six performances from the season lineup at a discount of 10% off single ticket prices. SSU students receive a 50% discount on all tickets (limit one per student per event) and SSU faculty and staff receive a 20% discount (limit two per employee per event).
Ticket purchases can be made online at www.gmc.sonoma.edu, or, over the phone with the Sonoma State University Box Office at 866.955.6040. Regular business hours are Monday through Friday from 8am to 4:30pm.
Single tickets will go on sale this summer.
Programming in addition to the MasterCard Performance Series includes a full season by Weill Hall’s resident orchestra, the Santa Rosa Symphony, led by music director Bruno Ferrandis and performing seven triple-sets of classical works and a variety of family and youth concerts.
The Grammy award-winning San Francisco Symphony returns to Weill Hall for a second year, featuring four concerts led by Michael Tilson-Thomas, Semyon Bychkov, Alexander Barantschik, and Charles Dutoit.