Geneva Anderson digs into art

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.


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.

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

review: Lang Lang at Davies Symphony Hall

Lang Lang played Beethoven, Albeniz and Prokofiev to a sold-out audience at Davies Symphony Hall on January 18, 2011 as part of their Great Performers Series. Photo courtesy SF Symphony.

World-renowned pianist Lang Lang was in San Francisco this week for two special performances: a Davies Symphony Hall Recital on Tuesday, January 18th, under the auspices of the San Francisco Symphony’s Great Performers Series  and his 101 Pianists event Monday evening at San Francisco State University in which he joined 100 young Bay Area pianists in playing Schubert’s Marche Militaire. Both events were packed to capacity.

I caught his performance at Davies Symphony Hall on Tuesday evening, my first time to hear him live.  The program featured Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas No. 3 and 23; Iberia Book 1 by Isaac Albéniz; and Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7.  This was basically a run-through of the most popular sonatas from his best-selling Live in Vienna album recorded in 2008–his second live recorded recital after his best-selling Live at Carnegie Hall in 2004.  It’s also a program he has been touring with.

Lang Lang, now 28, has two decades of performances and celebrity under his belt.  In 2008, over five billion people watched him play in the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics, where he was seen as a symbol of the youth and the future of China.  He is said to have subsequently inspired over 40 million Chinese children to learn to play classical piano – a phenomenon coined by The Today Show as “the Lang Lang effect.”  But as much as audiences love Lang Lang for his zeal, critics waver, praising his technical virtuosity but panning his flamboyant gyrations,  interpretation and lack of emotional connection to the music.

I came expecting something bold and spectacular.  I’d read that at his last concert in San Francisco, for an encore, he played Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” on his iPad using the Magic Piano app and the audience went wild.  Tuesday’s performance was energetic but nowhere near what my imagination had conjured in terms of showing-off.

Lang Lang conducted a workshop with 100 young Bay Area pianists practicing Schubert's Marche Militaire at San Franacisco State University's McKenna Theatre as part of his 101 Pianists event on Monday, November 17, 2011.

Lang Lang quietly walked onto the stage, sat down at the piano and started immediately with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, a very challenging piece.  It didn’t take long for me to become immersed in the beauty of his playing.  Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.3 in C major, written in 1796, in four movements, roughly 24 minutes, is often referred to as Beethoven’s first virtuosic piano sonata.  It’s very demanding, especially the first movement and very emotive in the second, Adagio, movement.  Lang Lang nailed the energetic second movement and then brought it to a tempered soft close. 

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, the Appassionata, composed in 1804-5, followed immediately.  It is widely considered one of the masterworks of the composer’s middle period, very dense, evocative and meant to be played with the unrelenting ferocity that Lang Lang is often criticized for.  This was one of the first pieces written after Beethoven became fully aware of his progressive and irreversible deafness and was written during the period that he was labeled with the madman/genius image.  The Appassionata was also the first piece he wrote after having received a state of the art piano as a gift from the Érard piano company. Beethoven’s statement– this is very beautiful music that is also testing the crap out of this piano, as it is my own hearing.  How did Lang Lang do?  Respectfully well.  The piece was about twenty three minutes long.  Almost immediately, I felt myself floating away on a cloud orbiting the concert hall channeling the very deep despair that Beethoven himself must have felt. When I landed, I noticed Lang Lang’s the left hand stationary in space as the right played…the right hand then slowly and weirdly directing, coaxing the left.  There were moments too when he seemed to be acting with sensitivity to accentuate that he was playing with sensitivity.  It looked like a guy trying way too hard to manufacture feelings he didn’t have and importantly, we felt that.  And this is the core of the debate about Lang Lang.  It’s completely subjective, but the antics took away from my experience of a piece played exquisitely. 

The highlight came after the intermission with Albéniz’s Iberia, Book One in three movements, a century (1905-1909) and miles apart stylistically from Beethoven.  From the first muted bars of Evocación to El Corpus in Sevilla, Lang Lang excelled at this beautiful and richly textured piece thought by many to have been truly mastered only by the great Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha.  Book One’s three movements are typical of the entire piece—poetic middle episodes, incisive rhythms, bold harmonies, and infused with local color.  Evocación is dreamlike with a very powerful climax in the middle section which Lang Lang mastered.  El Corpus in Sevilla, one of Iberia’s most popular segments, employs a march tune from the Spanish town of Burgos.  The great procession is at first distant and then ushered in by the piano imitating drumbeats that grow louder and louder and the excitement builds.  The movement grows quieter in its mid-section, gets festive again, and then ends with a long serene coda all mystery and poetry.  Lang Lang’s body movements and hand gestures punctuated the silences as well as the counter-rhythms.

He closed with Prokofiev’s revolutionary and explosive war sonata, Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83 a piece he was clearly at ease with but passionately banged the heck out of, ending in a flurry of speed.

He encored with Rachmaninoff’s D-Major Prelude, Op. 23, No. 4, then followed with a gorgeous Chopin Etude. 

In all, I came away in awe of Lang, who like Elvis, does it his way.  Lang Lang was off the very next day (Wednesday) to play for President Obama and first lady, Michelle Obama, at a lavish State Dinner honoring Chinese President Hu Jintao.  Lang Lang will play four-hands with Jazz legend Herbie Hancock and “My Motherland,” the theme song of a famous 1956 film called Battle on Shangganling Mountain set during the Korean war.

Details: next up in the Great Performers Series is Russian opera baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in solo recital of songs by Fauré, Taneyev, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky on Sunday, February 13, 2011, 8 p.m., Davies Symphony Hall.  Tickets: $15 to $83. Box Office: (415) 864-6000 or

Lang Lang’s next Bay Area performance is this Sunday, January 23, 2011, 7:30 p.m., at the “Master Piano Series: an Evening with Lang Lang,” at California Theatre, 345 South First Street, San Jose.  Tickets: Sold Out.  Check for last minute availability.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment