ARThound

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.

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

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.

 

 

August 23, 2014 Posted by | Classical Music, Green Music Center | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Here’s how to get free tickets to Schroeder Hall’s 8 sold-out Grand Opening concerts this weekend

James David Christie and Brombaugh Opus Organ

James David Christie, Boston Symphony organist and one of the world’s great organists, beside the gorgeous Brombaugh Opus 9 organ installed in Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall. Built in 1972, the Opus 9 is the work of John Brombaugh, an American builder whom Christi calls “the master builder.” Christie fondly remembers practicing “for hours and hours” on this very organ when he was a student at Oberlin Conservatory and it was installed in a Baptist Church in Toledo, Ohio. On Saturday evening at 5:50 p.m., he will play it again as he performs this pipe organ’s inaugural concert in Schroeder Hall. 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. Photo: Will Bucquoy

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.

August 22, 2014 Posted by | Chamber Music, Classical Music, Green Music Center, Jazz Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Napa Valley Festival del Sole brings Pinchas Zukerman, James Valenti, and Alondra de la Parra to Weill Hall on Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Renowned violinist Pinchas Zukerman will perform the Bruch Violin Concerto at Weill Hall on his prize 1742 Guarneri del Gesù on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 as part of Napa Valley Festival del Sole.  Tenor James Valenti rounds out the evening with arias from French and Italian opera with Alondra de la Parra conducting.  Photo: courtesy Festival del Sole.

Renowned violinist Pinchas Zukerman will perform the Bruch Violin Concerto at Weill Hall on his prize 1742 Guarneri del Gesù on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 as part of Napa Valley Festival del Sole. Tenor James Valenti rounds out the evening with arias from French and Italian opera with Alondra de la Parra conducting. Photo: courtesy Festival del Sole.

Last summer, I became a Napa Valley Festival del Sole devotee when a friend suggested that their tribute to Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff looked really good and got me a coveted ticket.  I had the exquisite pleasure of attending a rare performance of a portion of Rachmaninoff’s long-lost 1939 ballet, “Paganini,” brought to vibrant life by members of Ballet San Jose, American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet.  The experience continued with an intimate wine reception at the Napa Valley Museum where we saw a special exhibition featuring materials uncovered during the ballet’s restoration.  Since its founding in 2006, Festival del Sole has showcased more than 300 preeminent artists and ensembles and paired them brilliantly with luncheons, dinners and, tastings at some of Napa Valley’s the most breathtaking venues.

This Tuesday, the festival returns to Sonoma County to Green Music Center’s acoustically magical Weill Hall.  Acclaimed violinist Pinchas Zukerman makes his debut with Festival del Sole and performs the ever popular Bruch Violin Concerto from 1866, which epitomizes how romantic music should sound— rich, melodic and lyrical.  Tenor James Valenti, celebrated by the New York Times for his “robust, ardent singing,” rounds out the program with favorite Italian and French opera arias. Alondra de la Parra will be conducting the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, the unique all Black and Latino orchestra comprised of top professionals from around the country who will close the evening with Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88, a glorious and richly diverse piece that ought to showcase both the orchestra and de la Parra’s spellbinding conducting style, a ballet like performance in itself, said to coax musicians to greatness .  De la Parra, of Mexican ancestry, is known for her electric energy and holds the distinction of being the first Mexican woman to conduct in New York City.  She has been hailed as one of the brightest young talent to show up in recent years.

PROGRAM

Bizet Carmen Overture; La Fleur from Carmen

Puccini “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca

Mascagni Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana

Cardillo Core ngrato

Tosti Ideale

Lehar Dein ist mein ganzes herz

Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26

Dvorak Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88

James Valenti sings”Addio fiorito asil” from Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”

Napa Valley Festival Sole Details:  Now in its 9th season,the 10-day festival (July 11-20, 2014) features over 60 adventures in world-class classical music, jazz, opera and ballet along with curated culinary, wine and wellness adventures that celebrate the art of life.  www.festivaldelsole.org

Tuesday concert Details: “Alondra de la Parra, Pinchas Zukerman, James Valenti and the Sphinx Orchestra” perform at Weill Hall on Tuesday, July 15, at 6:30 p.m.  Lobby and will call open at 5:30 p.m.; concert hall opens at 6 p.m.; concert starts at 6:30 p.m.  Tickets:  $35.  There are a few remaining tickets. Advance purchase is essential.  Click here to purchase tickets.

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.

Remaining Festival Del Events for which there is still availability—

Mon/July 14/8:30 p.m./Patron Dinner at Grgich Hills Estate, Rutherford

Wed/July 16/12:30 p.m./ Vintner’s Luncheon at Jaffe Estate, St. Helena

Wed/July 16/6:30 p.m./Castillo del Amoroso, Calistoga/ Zukerman ChamberPlayers: An Evening of Chamber Music

Wed/July 16/8:30 p.m./ Patron Dinner at Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville

Thurs/July 17/12:30 p.m./ Vintner’s Luncheon at Merryvale Vineyards, St. Helena

Thurs/July 17/6:30 p.m./Castillo del Amoroso, Calistoga/ Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, a Chamber Opera

Thurs/July 17/6:30 p.m./Alpha Omega Winery, Rutherford/ Patron Dinner at Alpha Omega

Fri/July 18/5:30 p.m./ Lincoln Theater, Yountville/ Dance Gala: Polina Semionova and Friends

Fri/July 18/8:30 p.m./Napa Valley Museum, Yountville/ Allegro After Party at Napa Valley Museum

Sat/July 19/11:30 a.m./Ehlers Estate, St. Helena/ Wine Country Brunch at Ehlers Estate

 

July 13, 2014 Posted by | Classical Music, Green Music Center | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Interview: Pianist Kirill Gerstein on the eve of his performance at Weill Hall with the San Francisco Symphony

Pianist Kirill Gerstein performs Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto on Thursday, June 5, at Weill Hall as part of “Dutoit Conducts Beethoven and Shostakovich,” the final concert in the San Francisco Symphony’s 2013-4 Weill Hall performance series.  Gerstein is the Winner of the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition and the recipient of a Gilmore Artist Award.

Pianist Kirill Gerstein says it’s a “special thrill and a tickle” to come to the Wine Country and perform at Weill Hall. The virtuoso performs Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto on Thursday, June 5, as part of “Dutoit Conducts Beethoven and Shostakovich,” the final concert in the San Francisco Symphony’s 2013-4 Weill Hall performance series. Gerstein is the Winner of the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition and the recipient of a Gilmore Artist Award.

Born in Voronezh, Russia, in 1979, classical pianist Kirill Gerstein was the winner of the 2001 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv.  In 2010, he was awarded the prestigious $300,000 Gilmore Artist Award.  Gerstein first touched foot in the U.S.  at age 14, when he went to Berklee College of Music in Boston as a jazz pianist (their youngest student ever).  There wasn’t any live jazz to be heard in Voronezh, but Gerstein fell in love with it by listening to his parents’ extensive record collection and it was his skill at improvisation that led to a scholarship to Berklee.  He went on to tackle classical repertoire in summers at Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute and earned both his bachelor’s and master’s at the Manhattan School of Music at 20.  Gerstein, now 35, has spent his life balancing his love of classical music and jazz but chose to focus his energy on classical playing. And what a life he’s crafted.  With his technical prowess and ability to communicate his connection to the music, he’s emerged as one of the most respected and insightful pianists of his generation.  He manages a global touring schedule that includes recitals, chamber music and concerto solos and carves out time to teach.  Since receiving the Gilmore Award, he has commissioned boundary-crossing new works from Oliver Knussen, Chick Corea (Jazz), Brad Mehldau (Jazz) and Timothy Andres, and additional commissions are in the works.  This Thursday, at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, Gerstein performs Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 2” with Charles Dutoit and the San Francisco Symphony.  Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 10” is also in the program.  Composed after Stalin’s death in 1953, this piece, since the late 1970’s, has been seen as a depiction of the Stalin years in Russia and is considered one of the most devastating essays in the twentieth-century symphonic literature.   This is the final concert in the San Francisco Symphony’s 2013-4 Weill Hall performance series. The concert will also be performed at Davies Symphony Hall Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Gerstein’s latest album, Imaginary Pictures (Myrios Classics) which features Schumann’s “Carnaval” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” will be made available this week at Weill Hall and at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, before its general release on June 10.  Immediately after each concert, including Thursday’s performance, Gerstein will be greeting the audience and signing copies of the new cd in the lobby.  Gerstein’s recording in 2010 of the Liszt Sonata “Humoresque” and a piece by Oliver Knussen, also on Myrios Classics, was considered one of the best recordings of 2010.

Typically, a soloist as busy as Gerstein would perform one concerto and move on, but the Bay Area is in for treat because on Sunday, June 8, we will have the special opportunity to hear Gerstein perform Chamber Music with Members of the San Francisco Symphony.   This is gorgeous music that musicians love to play and audiences live to hear and Gerstein will be playing Dvořák’s “Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Opus 90, Dumky” and Shostakovich’s “Piano Quintet in G Minor, opus 57.”

Yesterday, in between rehearsals, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kirill Gerstein about his extraordinary career and his commissions.  Known for his fiery, dramatic playing, his vocal style is crisp and to the point.  In short time though, he demonstrated that his musical curiosity and insights are profound.

Here is our conversation—

You were born in 1979 in very interesting part of Russia, Voronezh—the intersection between Urals and Siberia and Caucasus and Ukraine…a real hinterland. What did you do for fun there growing up?  And when did your love of music really take hold?

I generally have fun and I don’t think, even as child, that I made a distinction between fun and non-fun—it was all fun and I didn’t have any realizations about something missing in Voronezh.  I enjoyed studying music and reading and my parents made sure that I spoke with a lot of people.  I wasn’t the tortured prodigy you sometimes read about.  I practiced but not those crazy amounts you hear about.

And when did your love of music really take hold?

Kirill Gerstein:  Music has always accompanied me.  My mother is a musician and she taught college but she also taught at home and the piano was there and she was my first teacher.  I don’t remember any time without music or the piano.  So it wasn’t a certain moment or lesson, it was just always there and my interest increased.   Most of my exposure was to classical music.  I went to a lot of concerts.  The jazz was only from recordings as there wasn’t really an active jazz scene in Russia.  There was a bit in Moscow, but not very much, and certainly not in Voronezh which was not a capital city.  I really liked Chic Corea and Keith Jarrett and listened over and over.

In reading about your life, it seems like praise has been heaped upon you since you were a child.  Who’s been the most influential teacher you’ve had and why and what hurdle did that person take you over?   Did you immediately win him or her with your playing, or was it more of a brutal relationship where you really had to strive? 

Kirill Gerstein:  There was a lot of praise and heaped is correct.  Studying music is a process where you encounter a lot of criticism that accentuates your weak spots as a player and as a person and that’s how you learn.  The process is to do justice to the music.  The two most important teachers I had were Dmitri Bashkirov in Madrid and Ferenc Rados in Budapest.  Both of them, especially the first time, were very harshly critical of what I did but it was clear to me that they had some very valuable information that I wanted and needed.  So, in spite of the ego bruising, I stayed with them and worked with them.  With Dmitri Bashkirov, who I had heard in Voronezh in concert as child, because he happened to give regular concerts there, I was transfixed, so that was particularly important.   I first played for him in Spain when I was about 17 and he was harsh but there was such insight.  I kept returning and, finally, I broke through and began to really develop my playing and took his class.  I worked with him for years.       

The lives and careers of Beethoven and Shostakovich were separated by over a century and in their works we can see how they wrestled with these big themes of freedom, liberty, and politics. The concert, I hope, will illuminate some of the subtler, musical traits that these composers have in common. What comes to mind for you in the pairing of the No. 2 and Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 10”?  

Kirill Gerstein:  I think this is a good pairing. In terms of Russian composers of the 20th century, Shostakovich was a composer of great symphonies. The symphonic composer was really defined, or let’s say redefined, by Beethoven in ways that impacted every subsequent generation from Brahms onwards, including Shostakovich.  Mozart and Haydn wrote very important symphonies but Beethoven with his nine symphonies is really a towering presence who went beyond classical music to impact all of Western culture. Shostakovich was aware of this and in many ways inspired by these symphonic models and the two do go very well together.  You could say that, in some ways, Shostakovich modeled his compositional ideals on Beethoven, not necessarily the style but concept behind it, and you have the important body of string quartets by both composers for which this also holds.

The two pieces on Thursday’s program are very different in sprit and mood because the “Symphony No. 10” is a later piece of Shostakovich whereas the Beethoven “Piano Concerto No. 2” was actually composed first. This is really the most youthful of his five piano concertos, where he’s just starting to depart form the models of Mozart and Haydn but it does so boldly, just as he lived his life.  In this concerto, he does show that he has studied and absorbed the great models of Mozart and Haydn but also that he has much to say that’s very original.  It’s also a piece filled with lots of humor and a beautiful second movement that’s very much inspired by the Italian operatic traditions because one of his teachers was Antonio Salieri, very influential.

On Sunday, at Davies you’ll be performing a very special chamber music concert which includes the Shostakovich “Piano Quintet in G minor, Opus 57 and the Dvorak “Piano Trio No 4 in E Minor, Opus 90.”  The third movement of the Shostakovich is this amazing scherzo and trio that has a kind of dark sarcasm to it.  What’s your favorite part of this piece?

Kirill Gerstein:  Well, I clearly like the entire piece.  You’re right, the third movement is a style of overt optimism, projected and fitting for the Soviet period but underneath anyone can detect this is not happy at all but quite the opposite.  This was a very common M.O. for Shostakovich…happiness on the face and darkness in the soul.

How do you prepare before a performance?  Is there some routine you adhere to?  

Kirill Gerstein:  I try not to subscribe to any routines because then you end up breaking the routine and it becomes all about that.  There’s a lot to coordinate—your own travel schedule, rehearsal times vary, the pieces are all varied.  Trying to have a routine is a very futile undertaking.  And the preparing, well, the performance is really a window into something that’s a very continuous process that I think about all the time.  I practice the piano whether there is or is not a concert.  Of course, a public performance brings a wonderful inspiration to the performer who has his life in music.

You have an ongoing collaboration with Charles Detoit, who will be conducting this Thursday.  You obviously have a special rapport.  What clicks? 

Kirill Gerstein:  Well, I met Charles probably ten years ago and he has been a wonderfully supportive collaborator and mentor in quite a variety of repertoire—German, modern pieces, and now the Beethoven Concerto No. 2.  I really feel an established musical and personal connection with him and can say that he is someone who is always inspiring to be with.  Professionally, he’s very accomplished and generous.

Your new album, Imaginary Pictures, to be released June 10 by Myrios Classics, features Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and Schumann’s famous “Carnaval,” both cycles of piano pieces in which the visual was the departure point that fired the composers’ imaginations—in one case actual drawings by Victor Herman and the other, masked revelers at a party.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on your pairing of these magnificent works.  Also, in preparing for the recording, was there anything new you found in these works?

Kirill Gerstein:  There are several reasons to pair the two.  Certainly, they both have overtly visual starting points but it’s not just ‘simple paintings in sound,’ which is the obvious parallel.  Both composers go much deeper to create a psychological portrayal of how they viewed the subjects and ultimately it becomes more about them as observers.  The composers themselves were both self-taught and they had this kind of wild unbridled imagination in common which led to unexpected wonderful things appearing from nowhere.  They knew the academic and classical traditions very well but were always pushing the boundaries, so even though their music sounds quite different, the creative spirit is a kindred one.  And yes, the pieces are very popular but that wasn’t sufficient—unless there was something new and somewhat subjective and different to bring to the piece, there was no point to record it.  I decided to record them because, when I looked at the score on the page, some things appeared differently to me than I was used to hearing.  For example, in “Pictures at an Exhibition”—one of the most played pieces in the piano and orchestral repertoire—some things felt like discoveries to be explored.  Of course, the process of recording itself stimulates this feeling of discovery.

I heard that you wrote the liner notes for this album too.

Kirill Gerstein:  I did that for my previous cd too by the way.  Generally, I enjoy writing.   I’ve written for the gallery section of the New York Review of Books website and that’s something I intend to do more of as I enjoy the process.  To me, that’s part of being a well-rounded expressive person not just a pianist pressing buttons on a keyboard. (Click here to read Kirill Gerstein “Tchaikovsky’s ‘Wrong’ Note,” NYR Gallery, August 13, 2013.)  Specifically, this was also an invitation to think more about the pairing and what the music is trying to express, the philosophical territory.

Speaking of visual inspiration, many composers embrace other art forms for inspiration with their music.  What other art forms have you found strong inspiration in?

Kirill Gerstein:  In general, movement is inspiring, so dance is influential, but so are painting, poetry, prose and performances from great actors as well.  Architecture is something that is inspiring for thinking about music.  But these aren’t direct influences; they are indirect and after some time.  It’s letting myself  be inspired by the many things I encounter, like seeing a great sushi chef cut the fish with a fluid movement that repeated by his hand time and time again—that’s an aesthetic pleasure that has inspiration.  In the end, it’s about walking with your eyes open.

You won the Gilmore Artist Award in 2010, which is given every four years—one of the most prestigious and generous awards a concert pianist can receive. The cash prize of $300,000 stipulates that $250,000 is to be put toward “career development.”  I understand that you are putting that to use by commissioning works by living composers, including jazz composers.  Can you tell us a little about the pieces you’ve commissioned so far and what is in the works?  Do you have ongoing interaction with these musicians?

Kirill Gerstein:  I’ve purposefully chosen very different individuals.  There’s a great figure in modern music, Oliver Knussen, the British composer and conductor.  On the other hand, there’s the young up and coming American composer and pianist, Timo Andres. Andres’ “Old Friend” had its world premiere at Boston’s Jordan Hall on Jan 31, 2014 and I played the piece.  There have been a couple of jazz-related commissions—the great jazz pianists, Brad Mehldau and Chick Corea, have both written pieces for me.  The idea was to pass this money on to other artists, in this case composers, and in return, to get an artwork that for the initial period is exclusive to my concert programs, an additional benefit.  Eventually, the pieces will be for each pianist to play and they will add variety and enrich the piano repertoire.  It’s been very rewarding being part of the impetus that gets new pieces created and out there.  The exchange between the music creator/composer is another source of inspiration and something that shows you how some of the great golden composers—Beethoven, Rachmaninoff—may have participated in that process of collaboration between composer and performer.

Did the composers you commissioned meet your expectations?

Kirill Gerstein:  I try not the have expectations.  I let myself be surprised not only by the composers but by life in general—it’s mentally more efficient.  I have been very satisfied with all of the works and inspired by the process.

Speaking of inspiration, what type of music do you listen to when you want to relax? 

Kirill Gerstein:  When I relax I don’t listen to music usually.  It’s such an intense process for me that it snaps me back into this very engaged mode.  And I don’t listen to background music either.

You started life in Russia, moved early to the States and now your parents live in Boston and you teach at Stuttgart’s Musikhochschule, and your wife, Noam, is from Tel Aviv.   Which place do you consider home and how do you define home?

Kirill Gerstein:  This is very philosophical and should be the subject of an entire interview but, having had this varied history, I feel at home in many places.  Obviously, you give up some feeling of being rooted but on the other hand what I’ve gained is being at home and comfortable in many places in the world and in different cultures and circles.  Something lost, something gained.

Have you ever been to the Wine Country where you’ll be preforming this Thursday?

Kirill Gerstein:  Yes I have.  I really enjoy the wine making region so this is a special dream and tickle. A lot of the wine that I particularly enjoy comes from this area.

 

Concert Details: For tickets and more information for Thursday’s Weill Hall performance “Dutoit Conducts Beethoven and Shostakovich”, click here.  Tickets can also be purchased in person tomorrow at the Green Music Center Box Office for this concert, at 7 PM, one hour in advance of the concert.  For the three San Francisco performances of the concert at Davies Hall, click here. For tickets and more information about Sunday’s Chamber music concert, click here.

 

 

June 4, 2014 Posted by | Chamber Music, Classical Music, Green Music Center | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stars in the Making…San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows perform “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes,” at SRJC’s Newman Auditorium this Sunday, March 9

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Lively, eloquent, and intensely determined, this year’s twelve Adler Fellows are literally the most talented young opera singers in the country and many will go on to become opera legends.  This Sunday, at 4PM, five Adlers will perform an intimate program of beloved opera arias, classical and cabaret songs at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Newman Auditorium as part of the college’s Chamber Series.  Performers are sopranos Maria Valdes and Erin Johnson; mezzo soprano Zanda Švēde, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu (former Adler 2005-6) and pianist Noah Lindquist. (Full program listed at end of article.) Normally, seeing the Adlers perform entails a lot more work—crossing the bridge and parking—but SRJC has brought these young singers right to our doorstep.

 

Former Adler, tenor Thomas Glenn (wrapped in blanket) and current Adler, soprano, Maria Valdes, prepare for their performance in Donizetti’s comedic opera, “Rita,” with the New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO).  Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg watches from behind the ironing board.  The Adler residency offers many performance opportunities. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Former Adler, tenor Thomas Glenn (wrapped in blanket) and current Adler, soprano, Maria Valdes, prepare for their performance in Donizetti’s comedic opera, “Rita,” with the New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO). Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg watches from behind the ironing board. The Adler residency offers many performance opportunities. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In February, I had the pleasure of seeing two Adlers who will perform Sunday— Maria Valdes and Eugene Brancoveanu.  They were involved in a rare performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s one act comedic opera, “Rita,” with dynamo Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and her New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO).  The venue was San Rafael’s intimate Oscher Marin Jewish Community Center where the audience sits at candlelit tables drinking wine and snacking while the performance unfolds just a few feet from them.  Soprano Maria Valdes was fabulous in the title role of Rita, a tyrannical and abusive wife who is tormented by two husbands.  She sang like an angel, juggling conversation, song, drama and comedy.  We had ample opportunity to experience her tremendous vocal reserve along with her ability to calibrate it to the setting, sustaining high notes without ever coming off as shrill or too forceful…a true star in the making.  The production was impressively staged and directed by former Adler, Eugene Brancoveanu, who also tweaked the script, adding spoken dialogue in English.  His modern set was minimal and included an ironing board and some clever space saving props.  Brancoveanu, born in Romania, has an unforgettable baritone and has sung at the Met, La Scala, San Francisco and Berkeley Operas as well for Opera Parallèle.  I heard him sing Sam last April in Opera Parallèle’s wonderful production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti, a role which tested his range and acting ability.  He was on top of every note, emotionally searing and impossible to take your eyes off…what stage presence  Oh, he’s also been mentioned several times in the blog Barihunks, enough said.  You’re in for a treat on Sunday.

It’s rewarding to see young artists perform early in their careers and to track them as they move on to the world’s leadings opera houses and concert halls.  Renowned sopranos and former Adlers, Deborah Voight (1986) Leah Crocetto (2009), are shining examples.  Both are coming soon to Green Music Center’s Weill Hall—Crocetto is in recital on March 9 and Voight on April 10 (Click here for details).

More About the Adler Fellow Program:  The Adler Fellows all go through a grueling national competition to enter the ranks of the Merola Opera Program, a prestigious summer resident artist training program in San Francisco sponsored by San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Center.  A select few perform so well that they are invited to continue their training in the elite two-year Adler Fellow residency program.  Named for the late great San Francisco Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler, the Adler Fellowship Program is the Princeton of performance-oriented residencies, offering exceptional young artists intensive individual training, coaching, professional seminars and a wide range of performance opportunities throughout their fellowship. Adler fellows frequently appear in SFO productions.

2014 Adler Fellows are sopranos Erin Johnson, (Washington, New Jersey), Jacqueline Piccolino (Chicago, Illinois), and Maria Valdes (Atlanta, Georgia); mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde (Valmiera, Latvia); tenors A.J. Glueckert (Portland, Oregon), Pene Pati (Mangere, Auckland, New Zealand), and Chuanyue Wang (Hei Long Jiang, China); baritones Hadleigh Adams (Palmerston, New Zealand), and Efraín Solís (Santa Ana, California); bass-baritone Philippe Sly (Ottawa, Ontario). Johnson, Piccolino, Glueckert, Wang, Adams, and Sly are returning as Adler Fellows. The two pianists selected for Apprentice coach Fellowships are Noah Lindquist (Brooklyn, New York) and returning Adler, Sun Ha Yoon (Seoul, South Korea).

Other Upcoming Adler Fellow Performances:  Select Adler Fellows will perform Schwabacher Debut Recitals on March 30 at 2:30 PM and April 27 at 5:30 PM. Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets online or call the SF Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330.  The season culminates with a special year-end concert featuring the singers in an evening of opera scenes and arias with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. This year’s concert, The Future Is Now: Adler Fellows Gala Concert, showcasing the acclaimed 2014 Adler Fellows, takes place in November, 2104, at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.

SRJC Chamber Concert Series Details:  An acclaimed annual series of six concerts featuring a musicians performing in an intimate environment, exactly how chamber music is intended to be heard.  After this Sunday’s Adler Fellows performance, there is one remaining concert in the 2013-14 series, Afiara String Quartet on Friday, April 25, at 7:30 PM at Newman Auditorium, Emeritus Hall, Santa Rosa Junior College.  Tickets are $25 adult/$15 youth. Parking is included for all performances.  Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets by Phone: (415) 392-4400. City Box Office Hours—M-F: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM or Sat: 12 noon to 4:00 PM. Order on the Web at www.cityboxoffice.com .   Parking is included in the price of the performance.

Details:  “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes” is Sunday, March 9, 4 PM, at Newman Auditorium, Emeritus Hall, Santa Rosa Junior College, 1501 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa.   Individual tickets are $25.  Youth tickets are $15 for students with a valid ID or youth, 16 years old or younger, who is accompanied by an adult.  Order tickets by Phone: (415) 392-4400. City Box Office Hours—M-F: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM or Sat: 12 noon to 4:00 PM. Order on the Web at www.cityboxoffice.com .   Parking is included in the price of the performance.

PROGRAM: “Dramatic Voices, Charming Soubrettes” SRJC Chamber Series

Songs of Travel – Vaughan Williams

The Vagabond                                                 Mr. Brancoveanu

The Roadside Fire Youth and Love

In Dreams

The Infinite Shining Heavens

Cinq mélodies “de Venise” – Fauré

Mandoline                                                       Miss Švēde

En sourdine Green

À Clymène C’est l’extase

from Floresta do Amazonas – Villa-Lobos

Canção de amor                                             Miss Valdes

Cair da tarde Melodia sentimental

from Cabaret Songs – Bolcom

Toothbrush time                                              Miss Johnson

Can’t sleep

At the last lousy moments of love Love in the 30’s

Waitin’ Amor

INTERMISSION

The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart

Crudel, perchè finora                                      Miss Valdes, Mr. Brancoveanu

 Rodelinda – Handel

Io t’abbraccio                                                  Miss Johnson, Miss Švēde

 Manon – Massenet

Je suis encore tout étourdie                             Miss Valdes

 Falstaff – Verdi

È sogno, o realtà?                                           Mr. Brancoveanu

 Le vespri siciliani – Verdi

Mercé dilette amiche                                       Miss Johnson

 Sapho – Gounod

O ma lyre immortelle                                      Miss Švēde

 The Merry Widow – Lehár

Vilja                                                                 Miss Valdes, tutti

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Chamber Music, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

interview: ARThound talks with SFS Concertmaster, Alexander Barantschik, who plays a rare Mendelssohn Violin Concerto this Thursday at Weill Hall

Alexander Barantschik, San Francisco Symphony Concertmaster for 14 years, performs and conducts "Barantschik and Friends," at Weill Hall on January 23, 2014 and "Barantschik leads Mozart and Mendelssohn," at Davies Symphony Hall on January 22, 24, 25, 26. Photo: SFS

Alexander Barantschik, San Francisco Symphony Concertmaster for 14 years, performs and conducts “Barantschik and Friends,” at Weill Hall on January 23, 2014 and “Barantschik leads Mozart and Mendelssohn,” at Davies Symphony Hall on January 22, 24, 25, 26. Photo: Geneva Anderson

On stage at Davies Hall, San Francisco Symphony (SFS) Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik seems to epitomize the intense and mysterious Russian.  The virtuoso always looks quite serious as he juggles his orchestra leadership role with that of first violinist who plays “The David,” the illustrious 1742 Guarnerius del Gesú violin, famed for its rich dark sound.  I’ve always wondered what makes Barantschik tick and about the particulars of his Russian musical upbringing.  When I had the chance to interview him in conjunction with “Barantschik and Friends“—his upcoming performance at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall this Thursday (and on Wed, Fri, Sat and Sun at Davies as “Barantschik leads Mozart and Mendelssohn“)—I jumped.  We chatted on the phone last Friday and he couldn’t have been warmer as he shared his amazing story.

Google Barantschik. You’ll learn that he’s nicknamed “Sasha” and that this former concertmaster of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and London Symphony orchestras has served under Music Director MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas) for 14 years through acclaimed cycles of Mahler, Stravinsky, and Debussy, and that he has premiered important works by André Previn and Viktor Kissine.  He’s played exquisite instruments throughout his career too. The fact that Barantschik’s first auditions in the West—for a seat and then for the concertmaster position at Germany’s Bamburg Symphony—were performed with a violin he bought in a department store as he was leaving Russia, is a little known detail I nudged out of him that makes his story all the more fascinating.  As we were talking, I got the impression that he’s a bit private but that didn’t stop me from asking for “a bit more detail.”

It took SFS Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik about a year to get comfortable with "David," the famous1742 Guarnerius del Gesú that was Jascha Heifetz’ favorite fiddle on stage and in the recording studio.   Barantschik admires the way sound projects from the violin so that even while he is playing softly, the instrument can be heard throughout the concert hall.  The violin rarely leaves Davies Symphony Hall, EXCEPT when it travels to the Green Music Center or to the Mondavi Center.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

It took SFS Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik about a year to get comfortable with “The David,” the famous 1742 Guarnerius del Gesú that was Jascha Heifetz’ favorite fiddle on stage and in the recording studio. Barantschik admires the way sound projects from the violin so that, even while he is playing softly, the instrument can be heard throughout the concert hall. The violin rarely leaves Davies Symphony Hall, EXCEPT when it travels to the Green Music Center or to the Mondavi Center. Photo: Geneva Anderson

On Thursday, Barantschik returns to Green Music Center to lead the Orchestra in an irresistible program he’s put together showcasing strings.  Following a lovely early Mozart “Divertimento in F major for Strings,”  Barantschik takes center stage to play Mendelssohn’s “D minor Violin Concerto,” one of the Romantic master’s finest creations and a delightful surprise for concertgoers who only know its more famous sibling, the E Minor.  He’ll be playing “The David,” the 1742 Heifetz Guarnerius del Gesù violin owned for many years by his idol, Jascha Heifetz.  The violin, valued at over $6 million, was bequeathed to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) in 1989 by Heifetz and offered as an extended loan to SFS in 2002, where it has been cared for and played by Barantschik.  Barantschik insists that the dollar value on the instrument is “completely irrelevant” as it’s priceless and could “never be replaced.”  Of course there are a few restrictions. This will be “The David’s” second appearance at Weill Hall—1 of 2 locations outside of San Francisco where he is allowed to take it, the other being the Mondavi Centerfor the Performing Arts at UC Davis.  Aside from these two exceptions, the instrument never travels outside of Davies.  Also on the program is Britten’s winsome “Simple Symphony,” a salute to the composer’s centenary and “Melodia-Libertango,” the sultry music of Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, the king of nuevo tango, with guest performer Seth Asarnow on the bandoneon.

Where did you grow up in Russia and what was your first experience with the violin?  

Alexander Barantschik: I was born in 1953 in St. Petersburg, Russia (then ‘Leningrad’), which was and still is the cultural capital of the country.  My family wasn’t musical, no musicians except for a very distant relative, Yefrem Zimbalist, who lived in the States but I never met him because he’d emigrated at the beginning of the 20th century.  It was pure coincidence that my mother tried to get me some lessons at the music school which was just across the road from our home.  I could walk there by myself every day and my parents thought this would keep me busy and off the streets, which was just what happened.  I was almost six when I was admitted.  My first instrument was an accordion because there was no space for another violin student in the school.  I don’t remember anything about that accordion but a violin spot opened up and the teacher thought I had a pretty good sense of rhythm and pitch and so I started playing the violin.  After a few years, I made some progress.  I can’t say I was completely dedicated to practicing or spent many hours at it but I loved music.  It took quite a few years before I truly understood the importance of practice and of the violin itself.  I was probably 12 or 13 when I started thinking this might be forever, this might be my life, and then I started practicing and then I started making real progress.

Historically, was there a “Russian style” of music playing and was that around when you were studying and is it still around today?  Who were there big mentors that you looked up to, or, perhaps, wanted to topple?

Alexander Barantschik: When we think of a Russian school of violin, we should think about Leopold Auer, basically the first teacher who could claim that he was important for the whole process of teaching great players.  His students, apart from Heifetz, were phenomenal violinists.  He wasn’t Russian but a Hungarian Jew who came to Russia (in 1868) and his Russian wasn’t perfect but he was teaching his students in a unique way—they all had something special in common.  That tradition of playing was very deeply appreciated after he left and went to live in New York for the last part of his life.  I cannot say there is a Russian tradition of violin playing that exists right now.  The world is smaller, faster, and within one week, you can be in three different continents, so things are not as personalized.  There are great players of the past who are impossible to imitate…Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin—great players who were absolutely unique.

How do you feel about David Oistrakh’s playing and did you ever happen to meet him? 

Alexander Barantschik: I loved his playing and heard him play much more than any other violinist as he was in Russia and played regularly with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.  I was dreaming of becoming his student at the Moscow Conservatory and was able to audition with him when he was performing in St. Petersburg.  I met with him in his hotel room and I played for him for about 20 minutes and he was extremely nice and accommodating and sympathetic.  He listened and made some corrections and tried to see how I reacted to his comments.  His last question after I had played was simple—’Do you think you really love violin?’—and he looked straight into my eyes as he asked me that.  I think I said, ‘I dearly love violin.’  After a second, he said, ‘Ok… I will accept you into my class.’  I couldn’t have been happier than I was at that moment. As I was preparing to take other exams at the conservatory, I heard the tragic news that he been on tour to the Netherlands and had died in Amsterdam after his concert.  I never became his student and that was the end of my training but I’m so glad I have this wonderful memory of playing for him.

What were the circumstances that brought you to the West?

Alexander Barantschik: By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I was a member of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and toured regularly.  I had visited Western Europe and Japan but I felt that, for my musical development, I needed to absorb different cultures and traditions and that the only way to achieve this was to emigrate from Russia, which I did at 26.  My first country was Germany, where I was concertmaster with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra.  This was my first job and I spent three years there learning all about German traditions—Beethoven, Bückner, Haydn—and I broadened my view and I’m still learning from different traditions today.

How difficult was it to get out of Russia to Germany?

Alexander Barantschik:  It was not easy and, let’s say, it was made difficult.  I left Russia with one suitcase—no money, no job, no references and almost no violin.  My violin was not a Guarneri but it was a nice little violin from Tirol, Austria, and at the last minute, I was not allowed to take it with me.  I ended up going to a department store, to the music section and buying a simple violin that had been made in a furniture factory.  It looked horrible and sounded accordingly.  I played my first audition, for the section, on that.  Afterwards, the committee came to me and said they were happy to offer me a job with the orchestra but that in one week they would have another audition for concertmaster and they asked me if I’d like to participate.  I didn’t think about it and just said yes.  They then asked me about my violin which was very bright red and said they’d never seen anything like it before.  One week later, I returned for the concertmaster audition and played all the solos and concerti and I got that position.   That was when they presented me with a very beautiful Guadagnini violin made in Cremona and the legend was that it has belonged to a famous German violinist Joseph Joachim who was a close friend of Brahms and who wrote cadenzas to almost every important classical violin concerto.

Do you still have that red violin?

Alexander Barantschik:  No.  I lent it to someone and this person never returned it and for that I am very sorry.  I would love to frame it and hang it on the wall for my students at the conservatory to see what my beginnings were.

“Sasha” Barantschik has compared his 1742 "David" Guarnerius del Gesú to the mysterious Italian film star Claudia Cardinale—"dark, rich and complex."  Bequeathed to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in 1989 by Jascha Heifetz, this masterpiece of spruce and maple, was named after Ferdinand David, the violinist who owned it in the mid-19th century and for whom composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote his famous violin concerto in E minor.  Heifetz died in 1987 and stipulated in his will that it be played only by "worthy performers.''  Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Stuart Canin, and Barantschik are among the very few who have since passed their bows over its venerable strings.  Image: FAMSF

“Sasha” Barantschik has compared “The David,” his 1742 Guarnerius del Gesú, to the mysterious Italian film star Claudia Cardinale—”dark, rich and complex.” Bequeathed to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in 1989 by Jascha Heifetz, this masterpiece of spruce and maple, was named after Ferdinand David, the violinist who owned it in the mid-19th century and for whom composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote his famous violin concerto in E minor. Heifetz died in 1987 and stipulated in his will that it be played only by “worthy performers.” Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham, Stuart Canin, and Barantschik are among the very few who have since passed their bows over its venerable strings. Image: FAMSF

What did it feel like the first time you had Jascha Heifetz’s fiddle in your hands?  How long has it taken you to become truly comfortable with the fact that this is now your violin?

Alexander Barantschik:  Of course, the very first time I held it, I was speechless because the sound of Heifetz had been with me in my ear since I was a child…I’ve listened to his recordings all of my life.   The violin is legendary, with a very special history of ownership and craftsmanship but it is not easy to play.  Players need to find the way to produce the sound it’s capable of and that requires a special technique.  It took me many months, perhaps a year, to meet its demands and to make it my friend so it started to like me as well.

Do you think that Guarneri has a unique voice? One of your SFS colleagues mentioned that he thought he heard a familiar voice from the Heifetz recordings when he heard you play it.

Alexander Barantschik:  I never tried to imitate Heifetz’s sound.  First of all that’s impossible as there was only one Heifetz and there will never be another.  So it’s not my intention but it does have a unique dark-colored sound and maybe some low notes sound a little familiar for those who are familiar with his recordings.

detail, “The David” made by Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri (del Gesú).  Photo: Stewart Pollens

detail, “The David” made by Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri (del Gesú). Photo: Stewart Pollens

You were MTT’s concertmaster in London Symphony Orchestra right?  You obviously have a special rapport.  What clicks?  Do you and MTT ever share a vodka before or after a performance?

Alexander Barantschik:  We met in London.  I joined the London Symphony Orchestra in 1989, the same year he started as principal conductor. We met in the recording studio when the orchestra was recording Richard Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben,” which has a huge important violin solo.  We had just one rehearsal and we didn’t have time to discuss things or work out the details—it was spontaneous—we both just trusted each other as musicians.  After this very important and stressful recording session, we immediately became friends.  I still have the cd and it’s one of the best I ever made.  Our collaboration has continued for a little over 30 years now.

As for the vodka, usually, we are both pretty exhausted after a performance and we don’t have any vodka with us.  Maybe, on a couple of occasions, when it was the end of the season, we shared a drink.

SFS Concertmaster Barantschik and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas in Cologne, Germany, in 2002.

SFS Concertmaster Barantschik and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas in Cologne, Germany, in 2002.

What’s the most stressful aspect of being the concertmaster?

Alexander Barantschik:  It is a stressful job but maybe a better word is complex.  The most stressful period was when I first started my career as a concertmaster and I had to basically learn the entire orchestral repertoire, an endless body of work.   I’m still learning new pieces and relearning old pieces and forced to make important decisions.  It’s not only about playing—it’s about preparing sheet music, working with guest conductors, auditioning musicians and all of that is very complex in this huge organization.

Historically, the SFS concertmaster has been the only musician not to have tenure.  In the last SFS contract, you were given tenured status and all concertmasters, hereafter, were given the chance to be tenured.  Was that important to you?

Alexander Barantschik:  I think the most important aspect was the recognition of me being an integral part of the orchestra, not as being slightly different from the others.

Why did you select the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in D Minor and what sets it apart from his Concerto in E Minor, one of the five great violin concertos?

Alexander Barantschik:  The D Minor that I will be playing is written for violin and strings whereas the E Minor is written for the whole orchestra with wind and brass.  This program is dedicated to SFO strings and that was my main reason.  It is also rarely played and, in fact, was completely ignored until Yehudi Menuhin found it in the 1970’s and edited the score and performed it for the first time in a couple of hundred years.  So, this is not so popular but it was a master work when Mendelssohn wrote it as a 13 year old and it has all the qualities of the works he composed in his advanced age.  You can hear from hear very first few bars that it is Mendelssohn—it is youthful, beautiful, dramatic and it speaks to my heart.

Any contemporary music for violin that you find intriguing?

Alexander Barantschik:  Of course, it depends what we’re talking about…in terms of the 20th century, which is already the last century, I love Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich the most.  If we are talking later, and more avant-garde, then there are very interesting pieces that have a new language.  The only way to encourage young composers to write is to perform their works. Without performing, we’ll never know where music is going.  On two occasions (2003 and 2012), I played the “Concerto No. 4 for Violin and Orchestra” (written in 1984 as a commission for the Berlin Festival) by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998).  I was a little nervous about how the audience would react as it’s a very complicated piece, not easy listening, but he’s one of my favorite composers and this is one of my favorite concertos.   The audience and the orchestra loved it in 2003 and when I played it nine or ten years later, it was the same story…successful.  Now, I am learning and I hope to play a concerto by John Adams.

Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik with "David," the famous Heifetz Guarneri which rarely leaves Davies Symphony Hall, except when it travels to the Green Music Center or to the Mondavi Center.  Barantschik will play Mendelssohn's "D Minor Violin Concerto" (1822), written when the composer was just 13, this Thursday at Weill Hall. About one third of Mendelssohn's music (270 of roughly 750 works) remains unpublished and mostly unperformed.  The D minor concerto hasn't been heard much since Yehudi Menuhin gave its premiere in 1952.  Photo: Lowres, SFS

Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik will play Mendelssohn’s “D Minor Violin Concerto” (1822), written when the composer was just 13, this Thursday at Weill Hall. About one third of Mendelssohn’s music (270 of roughly 750 works) remains unpublished and mostly unperformed. The D minor concerto hasn’t been heard much since Yehudi Menuhin gave its premiere in 1952. Photo: Lowres, SFS

Where else aside from Russia, London and CA have you lived and which place do you consider “home”?

Alexander Barantschik:  Without any doubt, home is where my family is— my wife Alena and son Benjamin—and we’ve been here since 2001, 13 years already.  I am very happy to call CA, the Bay Area, specifically San Mateo, where I live, my home.  After I left Russia, I lived in Germany for three years and then in Amsterdam for 22 years where, for 16 years, I combined my job as concertmaster with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic with my concertmaster position at LSO.  I then moved to California and started my job here at SFS.

Does your son have any interest in pursuing music? 

Alexander Barantschik:  He’s a high school junior now.  He loves math, science, and computer science and he plays piano for his pleasure and loves classical music but he has no desire to pursue music professionally.

Russians have a marvelous and highly creative form of cursing.  What’s your favorite Russian curse?

Alexander Barantschik:  Honestly, I don’t curse so much.  We do have a saying, ‘Ni puha ni pera,’ which is something like ‘break a leg,’ which is what you say to every musician or performer about to go on stage.  The reply to that is always ‘K chortu,’ which is ‘Go to hell,’ a good omen for Russians.

How do you feel about performing at Weill Hall?

Alexander Barantschik: We are used to our hall, Davies, where we perform and rehearse every day and it’s challenging to leave that.  Weill Hall is much smaller than Davies, has a completely different shape, and is very different acoustically from Davies.  Since we don’t have any rehearsals at Weill Hall, or at the Mondavi Center, it’s always challenging to get the sound just right.  We don’t have any experience just sitting in the hall and listening either.  On stage, we are hearing things that are so different from what you’re hearing and we have to adjust immediately without even hardly having a chance to play. This time, we’ve got a small ensemble.  I will come a bit early and check out the acoustics to make sure I remember what it’s like there.

Details: Alexander Barantschik and SFS perform “Barantschik and Friends” at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 8 p.m. AND “Barantschik leads Mozart and Mendelssohn” at Davies Symphony Hall on Wed (Jan 22, 8 p.m.), Fri (Jan 24, 6:30 p.m.), Sat (Jan 25, 8 p.m.) and Sun (Jan 26, 2 p.m.).  Tickets at Green Music Center are $20 to $156 (click here to purchase) and are $15 to $109 at Davies (click here to purchase.)  For more information, call (415) 864-6000.  For more information about San Francisco Symphony’s four concerts this season at Weill Hall, click here.

January 22, 2014 Posted by | Classical Music, Green Music Center | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two kings of Americana—Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt—perform Monday, November 18, at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall…sold out

Lyle Lovett (L) and John Hiatt (R) perform Monday, November 18, at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall.  Not just for classical music, Weill Hall, with its stellar acoustics, has already hosted Herbie Hancock, Silk Road Ensemble, John Batiste and Stay Human, and Mariza.   Photo: Green Music Center

Lyle Lovett (L) and John Hiatt (R) perform Monday, November 18, at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall. Not just for classical music, Weill Hall, with its stellar acoustics, has already hosted Herbie Hancock, Silk Road Ensemble, John Batiste and Stay Human, and Mariza. Photo: Green Music Center

He grew up in Texas, studied journalism and German at Texas A&M, was married briefly to Julia Roberts, loves the sport of reining and is known for his wild locks and wily sense of humor.  Over the span of his 30 years as a singer-songwriter, Lyle Lovett has recorded 14 albums, released 22 singles and won four Grammy Awards.  While he’s best known for his contribution to country music, Lovett is also at home with blues, jazz, swing, folk, and rock and is admired for his authenticity and audience engaging performances. Bonnie Raitt, with whom he made his first big tour, following her bus in his pickup, said that when he looks her in the eye, “her knees buckle.” Singer and songwriter, John Hiatt, a native of Indianapolis, is also no stranger to country influences and his music also mixes in folk, blues and rock.  Hiatt has released 19 studio albums and has had 11 Grammy nominations.  His songs have been recorded by countless musicians from Bob Dylan to Bonnie Raitt, and Iggy Pop to Keith Urban.

An Acoustic Evening with Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt, at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, on Monday, November 18, 2013, brings their nationwide tour to our doorstep, showcasing these two remarkably gifted singer-songwriters who have performed together periodically over the past 15 years.

Weill Hall….More than Classical— Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, which opened in September 2012, is one of the world’s most acoustically superb concert venues.  The hall’s variable acoustics, engineered by Larry Kirkegaard, are achieved through the use of motorized fabric banners on the east and west walls. By adjusting these banners, the hall can be fine-tuned for the specific genre of music being performed—from a single vocalist to a full orchestra setting.  This season, performances have ranged from the electric jazz of Herbie Hancock to the soulful fado of Mariza to the eastern influenced riffs of the Silk Road Ensemble.   Weill Hall lobby opens one hour prior to performances and has well-stocked refreshment bar and the concert hall opens 30 minutes prior to performances.  Prelude Restaurant is open before the concert and after the performance.

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt – Natural Forces

“Have A Little Faith in Me”… John Hiatt straight through his heart

Lyle Lovett with John Hiatt “Nobody Knows Me”

The performance will last roughly 2 hours.

Details: An Acoustic Evening with Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt is 8:00 p.m., Monday, November 18, 2013, at Weill Hall, Green Music Center.  GMC/Weill Hall is located on the Sonoma State University campus, 1801 East Cotati Blvd., Rohnert Park.  Parking:  Parking is included in the ticket price.  Park only in the Green Music Center lots (directly in front of the concert hall, or you may be ticketed.

Tickets:  The concert is sold-out.  A small number of tickets are expected to be available on Monday throughout the day on a first come first serve basis due to patrons donating or exchanging tickets.   Tickets may also be available right before the concert.  Ticket purchases for this concert are best made by phone through 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.

November 16, 2013 Posted by | Green Music Center | , , , , , , , , , | 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

San Francisco Symphony performs with MTT at Weill Hall this Thursday, September 12, 2013

Grammy award-winning pianist Yefim Bronfman, or “Fima,” performs with SFS at Weill Hall on September 12, 2013.  No stranger to the Wine Country, the passionate pianist has a wine named after him—Fimasaurus—a blend of cabernet and merlot produced by John Kongsgaard in Napa Valley.  Chocolate, cassis, and saddle leather lead its aromatic profile. Photo: Dario Acosta

Grammy award-winning pianist Yefim Bronfman, or “Fima,” performs with SFS at Weill Hall on September 12, 2013. No stranger to the Wine Country, the passionate pianist has a wine named after him—Fimasaurus—a blend of cabernet and merlot produced by John Kongsgaard in Napa Valley. Chocolate, cassis, and saddle leather lead its aromatic profile. Photo: Dario Acosta

As an appetizer to the delights that await us at Weill Hall in its second year, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) heads North this Thursday, September 12, for “MTT conducts Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1,” the first in a four concert series at Green Music Center (GMC) scheduled for the 2013-14 season.  In his only GMC performance this season, Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), who became SFS Music Director in 1985, will lead SFS in a program that includes the highly-anticipated West Coast premiere of young Canadian conductor Zosha Di Castri’s “Lineage.”  Di Castri, 28, is the first recipient of a New Voices Commission a program conceived of by MTT in collaboration with SFS, the New World Symphony Orchestra and publishing house Boosey & Hawkes.  The headliner is renowned guest pianist, Yefim Bronfman, who joins SFS for Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, one of the musical icons of Russian Romanticism and one of Bronfman’s signature offerings. SFS also plays Prokofiev’s otherworldly, outrageous, and over-the-top Third Symphony, based on material from the composer’s daring opera The Fiery Angel.

Program—Michael Tilson Thomas conducts SFS, with guest artist Yefim Bronfman

Zosha Di Castri

Lineage (New Voices Commission)

Tchaikovsky

Piano Concerto No. 1

Prokofiev

Symphony No. 3

Concert is approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, including intermission

Inside Music at 7 PM:   Composer Zosha Di Castri and Peter Grunberg, musical consultant to SFS and Musical Assistant to MTT, will give an informative talk.  Free to ticketholders.

Yefim Bronfman— Affectionately known as Fima, Yefim Bronfman has been a frequent guest of the San Francisco Symphony since 1984.  He last performed with MTT and the Orchestra at Davies Symphony Hall and the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University in December 2012 in concerts of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5. Among his recent recordings is one of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 with Mariss Jansons and the Bayerischer Rundfunk (2007) on Sony. He performed Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No. 2, commissioned for him, with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic and released on the Da Capo label. This year The Wall Street Journal praised Bronfman as “a fearless pianist for whom no score is too demanding,” and added, “…a more poetic touch has lately complemented his brawny prowess.”

Zosha Di Castri talks with Jeff Kaliss of San Francisco Classical Voice about “Lineage.” Video by Beth Hondi

Zosha Di Castri— The inaugural New Voices composer, Zosha Di Castri is a Canadian composer and pianist living in New York. She is currently pursuing doctoral studies in composition at Columbia University, studying with Fred Lerdahl and teaching composition, electronic music, and music history.  Her work has been performed in Canada, the US, and Europe by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Internationale Ensemble Modern Akademie, L’Orchestre de la Francophonie, the NEM, JACK Quartet, L’Orchestre national de Lorraine, members of the L.A. Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Talea Ensemble.  She has participated in residencies at the Banff Center, Domaine Forget, the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne’s Forum, and the National Arts Centre’s summer program.  She was named a laureate of the 3rd International Composer’s Competition for the Hamburger Klangwerktage Festival, won two SOCAN Foundation awards for her chamber music in 2011, and in 2012, tied for the John Weinzweig Grand Prize for her first orchestra piece Alba, commissioned by John Adams and Deborah O’Grady and premiered at the Cabrillo Festival in 2011. Recently, her work Cortège garnered her the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music.

Di Castri’s work includes interdisciplinary collaborations in the realms of electronic music, sound installation, video, performance art, and contemporary dance. Her latest mixed-media works include Akkord I for flute, piano, electronics, and large sculpture, and a collaboration with choreographer Thomas Hauert of the ZOO Contemporary Dance Company on a new piece for electronics and dance at Ircam in Paris. She is also creating a new evening-length work for ICE in collaboration with David Adamcyk for ICElab 2014.

 

Details:  “MTT conducts Tchaikovsky” is September 12, 2013 at 8 PM at Green Music Center. Tickets $156-$20.   Advance ticket purchase for SFS at Green Music Center must be made through the SFS Box Office Box Office at (415) 864-6000 or online here.  You can choose your seat yourself only by phone; if you purchase tickets in advance online, best available seating will be assigned.  Tickets can also be purchased on September 12 in person at the Green Music Center Box Office one hour before the performance.   As of Tuesday morning, there was amply orchestra seating available.

For more information about San Francisco Symphony, visit http://www.sfsymphony.org/index.aspx

For more information about the Green Music Center, visit www.gmc.edu.

September 9, 2013 Posted by | Green Music Center, Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment