A to Z Concerts presents 8 virtuoso cellists and soprano Carrie Hennessey in “The V Concert” Saturday, September 10, 2011, to benefit Cinnabar Theater
One of the best ways to celebrate the glorious last days of summer in Sonoma County is with an outdoor concert. Next Saturday, September 10, 2011, “The A to Z Concert series,” will visit the West Petaluma gardens of Sandra and Borue O’Brien. The performance will feature acclaimed Sacramento soprano Carrie Hennessey performing Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5” for Voice and Eight Cellos and other works exclusively by composers whose last names begin with the letter “V.” “The V Concert” is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater’s opera program and is organized by Sonoma County cellists Judiyaba and Gwyneth Davis, who created “The A to Z Concert series,” a 2-year project comprising 24 concerts with composers whose names represent every letter of the alphabet. In addition to Villa-Lobos, “The V Concert” will include works by Vivaldi and by the 16th- century Flemish composer Vaet—all in one of West Petaluma’s most beautiful private gardens, surrounded by a redwood grove. Hosts Sandra and Borue O’Brien have also planned a silent auction and will serve wine, cheeseboards, and desserts.
“This is our 20th concert,” explained cellist Judiyaba, a long-term Sebastopol resident, who organized “The A to Z Concert series” (or “The Alphabet Concerts”) with cellist Gwyneth Davis, a member of the Eloquence String Quartet. “We started this series because we just love to play chamber music and this gives us an opportunity to explore new repertoire and old favorites and we’ve found so much new music. What’s fun about our group is that it is composed of eight cellists who have played in literally every orchestra in the Bay Area─the SF Symphony, SF Opera, regional orchestras─so it is very representative.”
V Concert Program: Judiyaba whimsically described “The V Concert” as a “varied, venturesome and vibrant program of virtuosi violoncelli” (using the full formal name for the cello). “The most challenging is the Villa-Lobos—it’s tricky and fun. We are doing three pieces by the composer “Vaet” [pronounced “Vate”], which are 16th-century motets, or 3-to-5 part choral pieces which could also have been played on instruments.”
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), Latin America’s most important composer, had little formal music training. He instead absorbed the influences of his native Brazil’s indigenous cultures, themselves based on Portuguese, African, and American Indian elements. Between 1930 and 1945, he composed a series of nine suites he called the Bachianas Brasileiras (“Brazilian Bach pieces”) which meld Brazilian folk and popular music with the style of Johann Sebastian Bach, applying Baroque harmonic and contrapuntal techniques to Brazilian music. The Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 and No. 5, both scored for 8 cellos, show the composer’s love for the sonorities of the cello, an instrument that he himself played in Rio de Janeiro’s cinema, theatre, and opera orchestras. Brazilian soprano Bidú Sayão was Villa-Lobos’ favorite singer and made a number of recordings of his compositions, including the definitive recording of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (which can be heard here). Carrie Hennessey will sing this haunting soprano solo in “The V Concert.”
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), the prolific Venetian superstar of Italian Baroque music, will dominate “The V Concert” program, with performances of his Concerto for two cellos (with multi-cello accompaniment), his Cello Concerto in A minor (featuring SF Opera cellist Victoria Erhlich and accompanied by….yes…more cellists!), and the lilting pastoral aria “Domine Deus” from his beloved Gloria sung by Carrie Hennessey (accompanied by cellos). All of these pieces showcase the rhythmic exuberance, harmonic invention, and virtuosic string writing that catapulted Vivaldi to celebrity during his lifetime and has kept his music in the limelight ever since.
Jacobus Vaet (c.1529-1567) was a Flemish Renaissance composer noted for distinctive and intricate polyphonic (multi-voiced) sacred music, including nine complete extant masses, and both sacred and secular motets. The three motets on this program will feature the 8-cello ensemble playing parts originally written for singing voices.
The cellists for “The V Concert” are: Kelly Boyer, Gwyneth Davis, Poppea Dorsam, Victoria Erhlich, Leighton Fong, David Goldblatt, Judiyaba, and Ruth Lane (a Petaluma resident). And the soprano is Carrie Hennessey. A wonderful line- up!
Total run time: approximately 2 hours, with intermission. Wine, cheese and desserts.
Cinnabar Theater: “The V Concert” is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater’s opera program, its founding program. Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma’s beloved opera and theatre company, was established by the legendary Marvin Klebe in the early 1970′s in the old red schoolhouse that was the original Cinnabar School (near the intersection of Skillman Lane and Petaluma Blvd. North.) “The main reason why Marvin Klebe founded this company,” said Elly Lichtenstein, Cinnabar’s Artistic Director, “was because he wanted to do opera in a different way, with intimate ensemble works where the individual performers were treated as artists.” Over the years, Cinnabar, a nonprofit, has dedicated itself to encouraging community participation in the arts and to community education as well. The theater offers a highly regarded Young Repertory Program that trains youth as young as 4 years old in the dramatic and musical performing arts.
Lichtenstein explained that Cinnabar Theater normally produces two operas annually but this year it will feature just one opera, Mozart’s Don Giovanni (March 23-April 15, 2011), and the musical She Loves Me, which opens Cinnabar’s 39th season on September 9, 2011.
Silent Auction: all proceeds will benefit Cinnabar Theater’s opera program. Prizes include:
Vineyard tour of Kastania Vineyards, Petaluma
10 one-day passes Roxie Theatre
4 $25 gift certificates for Absolute Home and Garden
4 $25 gift certificates for Empire Nursery
The V Concert: Saturday, September 10, 2011, 4 p.m., 200 Queens Lane (off King Road), Petaluma, CA. Tickets: $20 available http://www.cinnabartheater.org/1112/The.V.Concert.cinnabar.html, or phone 707-763-8920, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Reservations highly recommended.
“A to Z Concert series:” The Alphabet Concerts is a 2 year project. “The W Concert” is October 2, 2011, 7 p.m, Petaluma Museum, featuring Kurt Weill, William Walton and more.
Cinnabar Theater: Cinnabar Theater’s fall season kicks off on September 9, 2011 with the musical She Loves Me. This delightful romantic comedy is based on the play of the same name and the popular film The Shop Around the Corner, on which the more recent film You’ve Got Mail is also based. (Book by Joe Masteroff/Music by Jerry Bock; Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; Based on Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo.) Get your tickets here or call 707.763.8920. Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA 94952, 707.763.8929.
World-renowned pianist Lang Lang was in San Francisco this week for two special performances: a Davies Symphony Hall Recital on Tuesday, January 18th, under the auspices of the San Francisco Symphony’s Great Performers Series and his 101 Pianists event Monday evening at San Francisco State University in which he joined 100 young Bay Area pianists in playing Schubert’s Marche Militaire. Both events were packed to capacity.
I caught his performance at Davies Symphony Hall on Tuesday evening, my first time to hear him live. The program featured Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas No. 3 and 23; Iberia Book 1 by Isaac Albéniz; and Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7. This was basically a run-through of the most popular sonatas from his best-selling Live in Vienna album recorded in 2008–his second live recorded recital after his best-selling Live at Carnegie Hall in 2004. It’s also a program he has been touring with.
Lang Lang, now 28, has two decades of performances and celebrity under his belt. In 2008, over five billion people watched him play in the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics, where he was seen as a symbol of the youth and the future of China. He is said to have subsequently inspired over 40 million Chinese children to learn to play classical piano – a phenomenon coined by The Today Show as “the Lang Lang effect.” But as much as audiences love Lang Lang for his zeal, critics waver, praising his technical virtuosity but panning his flamboyant gyrations, interpretation and lack of emotional connection to the music.
I came expecting something bold and spectacular. I’d read that at his last concert in San Francisco, for an encore, he played Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” on his iPad using the Magic Piano app and the audience went wild. Tuesday’s performance was energetic but nowhere near what my imagination had conjured in terms of showing-off.
Lang Lang quietly walked onto the stage, sat down at the piano and started immediately with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, a very challenging piece. It didn’t take long for me to become immersed in the beauty of his playing. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.3 in C major, written in 1796, in four movements, roughly 24 minutes, is often referred to as Beethoven’s first virtuosic piano sonata. It’s very demanding, especially the first movement and very emotive in the second, Adagio, movement. Lang Lang nailed the energetic second movement and then brought it to a tempered soft close.
Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, the Appassionata, composed in 1804-5, followed immediately. It is widely considered one of the masterworks of the composer’s middle period, very dense, evocative and meant to be played with the unrelenting ferocity that Lang Lang is often criticized for. This was one of the first pieces written after Beethoven became fully aware of his progressive and irreversible deafness and was written during the period that he was labeled with the madman/genius image. The Appassionata was also the first piece he wrote after having received a state of the art piano as a gift from the Érard piano company. Beethoven’s statement– this is very beautiful music that is also testing the crap out of this piano, as it is my own hearing. How did Lang Lang do? Respectfully well. The piece was about twenty three minutes long. Almost immediately, I felt myself floating away on a cloud orbiting the concert hall channeling the very deep despair that Beethoven himself must have felt. When I landed, I noticed Lang Lang’s the left hand stationary in space as the right played…the right hand then slowly and weirdly directing, coaxing the left. There were moments too when he seemed to be acting with sensitivity to accentuate that he was playing with sensitivity. It looked like a guy trying way too hard to manufacture feelings he didn’t have and importantly, we felt that. And this is the core of the debate about Lang Lang. It’s completely subjective, but the antics took away from my experience of a piece played exquisitely.
The highlight came after the intermission with Albéniz’s Iberia, Book One in three movements, a century (1905-1909) and miles apart stylistically from Beethoven. From the first muted bars of Evocación to El Corpus in Sevilla, Lang Lang excelled at this beautiful and richly textured piece thought by many to have been truly mastered only by the great Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha. Book One’s three movements are typical of the entire piece—poetic middle episodes, incisive rhythms, bold harmonies, and infused with local color. Evocación is dreamlike with a very powerful climax in the middle section which Lang Lang mastered. El Corpus in Sevilla, one of Iberia’s most popular segments, employs a march tune from the Spanish town of Burgos. The great procession is at first distant and then ushered in by the piano imitating drumbeats that grow louder and louder and the excitement builds. The movement grows quieter in its mid-section, gets festive again, and then ends with a long serene coda all mystery and poetry. Lang Lang’s body movements and hand gestures punctuated the silences as well as the counter-rhythms.
He closed with Prokofiev’s revolutionary and explosive war sonata, Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83 a piece he was clearly at ease with but passionately banged the heck out of, ending in a flurry of speed.
He encored with Rachmaninoff’s D-Major Prelude, Op. 23, No. 4, then followed with a gorgeous Chopin Etude.
In all, I came away in awe of Lang, who like Elvis, does it his way. Lang Lang was off the very next day (Wednesday) to play for President Obama and first lady, Michelle Obama, at a lavish State Dinner honoring Chinese President Hu Jintao. Lang Lang will play four-hands with Jazz legend Herbie Hancock and “My Motherland,” the theme song of a famous 1956 film called Battle on Shangganling Mountain set during the Korean war.
Details: next up in the Great Performers Series is Russian opera baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in solo recital of songs by Fauré, Taneyev, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky on Sunday, February 13, 2011, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall. Tickets: $15 to $83. Box Office: (415) 864-6000 or http://www.sfsymphony.org.
Lang Lang’s next Bay Area performance is this Sunday, January 23, 2011, 7:30 p.m., at the “Master Piano Series: an Evening with Lang Lang,” at California Theatre, 345 South First Street, San Jose. Tickets: Sold Out. Check for last minute availability.