Geneva Anderson digs into art

“101 Pianist’s” at Weill Hall Sunday─ Lang Lang’s dedication, passion, and teaching prowess front and center

Lang Lang at

Lang Lang at “101 Pianists” at Weill Hall on Sunday, October 4, 2015. The superstar spent two hours guiding 100 young pianists, from all the Bay Area, in an on-stage music workshop, culminating in a performance of Schubert’s “Marche Militaire” No. 1 and Brahm’s “Hungarian Dance” in F sharp minor. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Green Music Center’s season openers are always magical but yesterday’s finale event, “101 Painists,” led by Lang Lang, was most of my most memorable afternoons ever at Weill Hall.  One hundred gifted young piano students, from all over the Bay Area, gathered for an on-stage music lesson and performance with Lang Lang.  The piano legend, who gave the very first performance at Weill Hall in 2012, opened GMC’s 2015-16 season on Saturday evening with a sold-out concert of music from Chopin, followed by a gala reception and dinner.  Sunday’s finale concert, though, was all about kids and musicianship and giving back.  Packed to capacity with families and scampering kids of all ages, Weill Hall was hopping as we experienced Lang Lang inspiring the next generation of young musicians with his passion, humor, and undeniable gift for communication.

After initial preparation with their local music teachers, the lucky 100 young pianists, sitting two to a keyboard, perfected and performed Schubert’s “Marche Militaire” No. 1 and Brahms’s “Hungarian Dance” in F sharp minor.  Since its launch in 2009, “101 Pianists” has been presented in global cities from Amsterdam to Kowloon, to Rome to Washington D.C..  Rohnert Park is the 14th participant to date and 1400 young pianists have participated so far.  The program allows students of the solo piano to enjoy the social nature of creating music as an ensemble.

Green Music Center executive director, Zarin Mehta, introducing Lang Lang to a crowd of proud families and young musicians at Sunday's

Green Music Center executive director, Zarin Mehta, introducing Lang Lang to a crowd of proud families and young musicians at Sunday’s “101 Pianists” at Weill Hall. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In between the rehearsal and performance portions of the two-hour session, Lang Lang took questions from the students and responded thoughtfully about his favorite music, his practice routine, and how to infuse music with emotion.  He revealed that he began playing at age two and a half and had a rigorous rehearsal regimen─ six hours a day on weekdays and longer on the weekends.  Now days, though, he practices 2 hours daily, unless he’s preparing for a concert.  He revealed frankly that there’s no sense practicing if your heart is not in it, “best to take a break.”  There’s great complexity in motivating young musicians to imbue their playing with heartfelt emotion.  He encouraged parents to motivate their children with positive reinforcement, mentioning Transformers (toys) and candy.  Many of us recall the relentless pressure that Lang Lang’s parents placed on him at a very young age to succeed.  Lang Lang, now 33, seems to have digested that and is trying to inspire a passion for playing with much gentler methods.  And, as a teacher, he is gifted─within minutes he helped the group work through nuances in pacing, volume and pitch relationships that made a tremendous difference in their final performance.  There were one or two moments of fast-handed flash but Lang was very focused on bringing out the color in the students’ playing.

It was endearing to hear Lang Lang relate how, at age 17, he got his big break from GMC executive director, Zarin Mehta, whom he considers one of his great mentors.  Mehta, at that time, was in Chicago, working with the Chicago Symphony, and was president and chief executive of the Ravinia Festival.  Lang Lang was a student at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Having heard Lang Lang audition at length on a Tuesday for the following year’s Ravinia festival, Mehta called him up and asked him to return to Chicago on Saturday to play with the Chicago Symphony for their “Gala of the Century,” as a last minute substitute for André Watts.  The piece─ Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  Lang Lang’s intensity, delicacy, fabulous technique and absolute control through those unforgiving tempos in that performance launched his career.

Lang Lang has also long been championed by Joan and Sandy Weill, who met him in 1999, when he was 17, and gave a stunning performance at Carnegie Hall for significant donors.  Over the years, they have become musically and philanthropically entwined and have become friends. Since 2008, Weill has been on the board of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation and it was Lang Lang who convinced him to invest the money ($12 million) that finished the concert hall that was ultimately named Weill Hall.  Lang Lang also suggested that Zarin Mehta would be perfect for the executive director position at Weill Hall.

The afternoon was also a great success in audience building.  Afterwards, there were lots of kids asking their parents if they could come again and the season brochures were flying off the stand.

Now Smell this─ This past January, Lang Lang launched his first fragrance, “Amazing Lang Lang,” for men and women (90 to 100 Euros and initially available just in Europe).  I didn’t get close enough for verification but the two scents apparently share notes (pun intended) of jasmine, kyara wood, and pepper.

October 5, 2015 Posted by | Classical Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Green Music Center welcomes Zarin Mehta as its new Executive Co-director

Zarin Mehta, the former president and executive director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, is the new co-executive director of Green Music Center.  He officially starts work on November 1, 2013.  Mehta will focus on artistic planning and management of GMC alongside Sonoma State University CFO Larry Furukawa-Schlereth, who also serves as co-executive director of GMC.  Mehta is pictured standing in the Joan & Sanford I. Weill Hall.  Photo: Kristen Loken

Zarin Mehta, the former president and executive director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, is the new co-executive director of Green Music Center. He officially starts work on November 1, 2013. Mehta will focus on artistic planning and management of GMC alongside Sonoma State University CFO Larry Furukawa-Schlereth, who also serves as co-executive director of GMC. Mehta is pictured standing in the Joan & Sanford I. Weill Hall. Photo: Kristen Loken

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.

November 1, 2013 Posted by | Classical Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Update: San Francisco Symphony Musicians are on still Strike—Sunday’s Mahler Concert Cancelled, status of East Coast tour will be announced later today

Today’s (Sunday) 2 p.m. scheduled San Francisco Symphony (SFS) concert at Davies Hall of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 has been cancelled. With just three days before their East Coast tour, the orchestra members, who announced their strike on Wednesday, March 13, 2013,  are still on strike. Late night negotiations continue and the musicians have been asked to bring their instruments in to be packed up for the three-city tour in the event a settlement is reached today. The Symphony will give word later today about the status of the tour.  (Read ARThound’s earlier coverage here.)

Along with higher salaries, the musicians are seeking increases in benefits and pension contributions commensurate with the nation’s other premiere orchestras and to offset the high cost of living in the Bay Area. SFS administration and the Musicians Union of San Francisco, Local 6, representing the 103 musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, have been in intense negotiations over the musicians’ three-year contract since Wednesday.  The orchestra is supposed to leave on Tuesday for two concerts at New York’s Carnegie Hall, one in Newark, N.J., and one at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Read about the concerns of the musicians’ union here.

Read the latest SFS administration press release here.

Patrons can obtain up-to-the-minute information on concerts, ticket exchanges and customer service by calling the Symphony Box Office at (415) 864-6000 and on the Orchestra’s website at

March 17, 2013 Posted by | Symphony | , , , , , , | Leave a comment