ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

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

Three Great Film Festivals North of the Golden Gate Open in Early October—get ready!

Brian Percival’s film adaptation of Markus Zusak’s New York Times best seller “The Book Thief” (2013) is one of two films opening the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 3-13, 2013.  Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson star as a couple raising a young German foster child (Sophie Nélisse) and hiding a Jew from the Nazis during World War II.

Brian Percival’s film adaptation of Markus Zusak’s New York Times best seller “The Book Thief” (2013) is one of two films opening the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 3-13, 2013. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson star as a couple raising a young German foster child (Sophie Nélisse) and hiding a Jew from the Nazis during World War II.

The fall film festival season we’ve been waiting for kicks off in early October with three film festivals North of the Golden Gate—the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct 3-13, 2013), the 18th Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival (Oct 3-Nov 21, 2013) and the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival (Oct 11-13, 2013).

Stay-tuned to ARThound for detailed coverage, but below are the bare bones and ticketing information on each.  The three-day Petaluma International Film Festival overlaps with the final Fri-Sat-Sun of the Mill Valley Film Festival and the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival and Mill Valley Film Festival both share an October 3 opening, With some planning though, you can easily see plenty of films at each of these festivals.

Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct 3-13)

Heading into its 36th year, the acclaimed Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF36) kicks off Thursday, October 3, 2013 in high style with the Co-Opening night films Nebraska, from director Alexander Payne, and The Book Thief from director Brian Percival.  Bruce Dern and Will Forte will be in attendance for the Bay Area Premiere of Nebraksa at CinéArts@Sequoia in Mill Valley and Academy Award®-winner Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nélisse and Brian Percival will be in attendance for The Book Thief at the Century Cinema Corte Madera in Corte Madera.  An Opening Night Gala at the Corte Madera Town Center will follow the Opening Night Screenings where guests will enjoy delicious local cuisine and wine and music.

A scene from Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” (2013), one of two films opening the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 3-13, 2013.  Bruce Dern plays a father who receives a sweepstakes letter in the mail and goes on a road trip across America’s heartland with his son Macgruber, played by Will Forte, to claim the prize. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

A scene from Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” (2013), one of two films opening the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 3-13, 2013. Bruce Dern plays a father who receives a sweepstakes letter in the mail and goes on a road trip across America’s heartland with his son Macgruber, played by Will Forte, to claim the prize. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

On the heels of the prestigious Venice and Toronto festivals, MVFF has the proud distinction of presenting Bay Area premieres of the last five Academy Award-Winners for Best Picture—Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech, The Artist and Argo—and festival organizers Mark Fishkin and Zoe Elton expect no less this year.  Aside from its array of big premieres, big nights, stars and luminaries, and tributes and awards, the carefully planned 11 day festival offers over 150 films and events that fit the informed, progressive and Bohemian zeitgeist of Northern California.  A few of the special interest categories include—animation, animal rights, Asian, Central Europe, Children’s Festival, comedy, environment/nature, fine arts, food, health, history, human rights, indigenous peoples, women, world cinema, and war.

There’s a huge buzz about Judy Dench’s performance in Philomena Steven Frears’ heart-tugging adoption story starring Dench and Steve Coogan.  Philomena tells the story of a down-on-his-luck journalist (Coogan) who teams up with older woman (Dench, 78 in real life) whose son was taken away after she became pregnant as a teenager and was forced into a Catholic convent cum slave-labor home for unwed pregnant girls run by Northern Irish nuns. The movie is based on a true story of Irish woman Philomena Lee’s 50-year struggle to find her son, who was sold for adoption in America, as told by Martin Sixsmith in his 2009 book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a Fifty-Year Search.

Because MVFF makes ticket available to California Film Institute members in advance of the general public, many of the films and special tributes are nearly sold out before they are publicly available. (For a list of films currently at rush,  click here.)  I’ll be pointing out several films over the next few days that still have availability and are unlikely to screen elsewhere, or, that have special programming combined with their screening that make them a must-see at Mill Valley.

Details:  The festival’s homepage is hereAdvance ticket purchase is essential as this festival sells out. To purchase tickets online for MVFF screenings, browse the film listings—the full list and scheduling information are online here.  Most tickets are $14 and special events and tributes are more.  Tickets can also be purchased in person at select Marin ticket outlets.

Rush tickets: If seats become available, even after tickets have sold out, rush tickets will be sold. The rush line forms outside each venue beginning one hour before show-time. Approximately 15 minutes prior to the screening, available rush tickets are sold on a first-come, first serve basis for Cash Only.)

Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival 2013 (Oct 3 – Nov 21)

The Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County presents the 18th annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival (SCJFF) which opens Thursday October 3, 2013 at Rialto Cinemas, Sebastopol, and ends November 21, 2013.  The festival conveniently runs on Thursdays at 1 PM and 7:30 PM and presents seven carefully selected films from Israel, France, Germany, Austria and the USA.  “You don’t have to be Jewish to love these films,” says Ellen Blustein, Film Festival Director who emphasizes their great stories. “We’re committed to providing high quality, entertaining, independent films to our loyal audience – after all – they are our community.”

Alice Taglioni and Patrick Bruel in Sophie Lellouche’s romantic comedy “Paris-Manhattan,” which opens the 18th Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival on Thursday, October 3 at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas.  Photo: courtesy SCJFF

Alice Taglioni and Patrick Bruel in Sophie Lellouche’s romantic comedy “Paris-Manhattan,” which opens the 18th Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival on Thursday, October 3 at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas. Photo: courtesy SCJFF

Opening the festival is Sophie Lellouche’s debut film, the romantic comedy Paris-Manhattan (2012) screening Thursday, October 3, at 1 PM and 7:30 PM Alice (Alice Taglioni) is beautiful, successful pharmacist in her 30s who is obsessed with Woody Allen and his films.  In lieu of a manly shoulder, she spills her secrets to an iconic poster of Woody that hangs in her bedroom.  She even prescribes his films to her customers who need advice and guidance beyond the traditional medicine she dispenses. France, 77 minutes, French with English subtitles.  click for trailer. Screens with Woody Before Allen, Short film, USA, 13 minutes, English.

The SCJFF always has a special event and on Thursday, October 31 presents a screening and a special musical performance.  The evening begins with music—a quartet from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will perform for the first time ever in Sonoma County.  Then, Josh Aronson’s acclaimed documentary Orchestra of Exiles (2012) will screen—the suspenseful chronicle of how one man, Bronislaw Huberman, helped save Europe’s premiere Jewish musicians from obliteration by the Nazis during WWII.  This densely layered story of the creation of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (which in 1948 became the renowned Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, now conducted by Zubin Mehta) involves key characters including the high Nazi official, Goebbels; renowned conductors, Furtwangler and Toscanini; a future head of state, Chaim Weizmann; the families of victimized Jewish musicians who made up the ranks of orchestras across central Europe and Albert Einstein, who was an amateur violinist who liked to read music with Huberman.  The film features the music of Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman, Joshua Bell and others.  After the screening, there will be a reception where audience members can mingle with the musicians.  Details:  Click here for tickets and information about the entire festival or call 707-528-4222 or visit the Rialto Cinemas Box Office. Ticket prices range from $10-$20.

Petaluma International Film Festival (Oct 11-13)

5th Annual Petaluma International Film Festival (PIFF) runs Friday, October 11 through Sunday, October 13th at Petaluma’s Boulevard 14 Cinemas.  Organized by Saeed Shafa who founded the popular annual Tiburon Film Festival in 2002, PIFF’s programming also reflects a strong emphasis on international points of view and great storytelling.  The festival offers six screenings daily, starting at noon and running till about 11 PM, each time slot allocated to a full-length film and at least 1 short (30 minutes or less) for a total of 17 full-length films and 23 shorts. This year, filmmakers and/or films span the globe from Athens to Kosovo to remote Papua New Guinea to Senegal to Yemen.

Opening Day: The festival opens Friday, October 11 with a noon screening of Hermann Vaske’s Balkan Spirit (2013, Germany, 80 minutes).  Vaske and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek explore the cultural, philosophical, political and artistic renaissance that is literally breathing life into this amazing region after decades of war and stagnation.  The engaging film features Angelina Jolie, Isabelle Huppert, Emir Kusturica, Dušan Makavejev, Abel Ferrara, Jasmila Zbanic and many other who will be forever on your creative radar.

5 Films by Sonoma Flimmakers, Saturday October 12, 6 PM—PIFF will present a collection of films made by Sonoma County filmmakers in support of the community’s rich and diverse talent.  All the filmmakers will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.  On the program- Greg Blatman’s Kitty Litter (2012, 9 min, shot in Petaluma); Beth Nelson’s The Sky is the Roof (2013, 30 min—historical overview of pre-colonial Napa Valley); Laura Owen & Aron Campisano’s Chocolatés (5 min); Bret Smith’s Rat-Face Burattino (2013, 5 min) and Paul Winston’s The World is My Stage (2013, 26 min).

Salem Salavati's documentary The Last Winter (Zemestane akhar) (Iran, 2012, 95 min) won the FIPRESCI  Prize at the Yerevan International Film Festival and screens Sunday, October 13, at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival.  With beautiful cinematography, it tells the story of rural family in a remote corner of Iran and, like many Iranian films, it employs allegory to make a larger statement the threatened culture of Iranian Kurdistan.

Salem Salavati’s documentary The Last Winter (Zemestane akhar) (Iran, 2012, 95 min) won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Yerevan International Film Festival and screens Sunday, October 13, at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival. With beautiful cinematography, it tells the story of rural family in a remote corner of Iran and, like many Iranian films, it employs allegory to make a larger statement the threatened culture of Iranian Kurdistan.

Shafa has a passion for the great poetic of film.  This year’s gem from Iran is Salem Salavati’s documentary The Last Winter (Zemestane akhar) (Iran, 2012, 95 min), an elegant parable about the threatened culture of Iranian Kurdistan told through the story of a family who is unable to change and to come to terms with a tragedy. Salavati’s documentary is an expanded version of his previous short Snowy Dreams with the same picturesque winter scenery, calm, realistic life style and culture of Iranian Kurdistan.  Screens with the short Double Occupancy at 6:15 PM on Sunday, October 13, 2013.

PIFF Details: Tickets are $11 for all PIFF screenings and are available in person or for online purchase at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas, 200 C Street, Petaluma.  All inclusive festival pass is $150 and can be obtained by phoning (415) 251-8433 or by emailing info@petalumafilmfestival.org.  Full schedule here.  Film descriptions here.

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nutcracker:” the holiday classic runs through December 27, 2011, at San Francisco Ballet—ARThound talks with two participating Sonoma County musicians

Val Caniparoli is the toymaker, Drosselmeyer, in Helgi Tomasson's “Nutcracker,” at San Francisco Ballet December 9- 27, 2011. © Erik Tomasson

Nutcracker season is here and San Francisco’s Ballet’s production, which opened last Friday, is one of the best in the country.  Its sumptuous blend of Tchaikovsky’s music, exquisite dance, and Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s ingenious bow to San Francisco─setting the ballet in San Francisco on Christmas Eve during the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exhibition─make it a unique treat.  And there’s nothing like the festive experience of dressing up and celebrating the season at the stunning grand War Memorial Opera House.  For the musicians in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, the experience is also one of endurance.  This year, the orchestra, under the direction of SF Ballet Music Director Martin West, will perform the beloved production 30 times throughout December, often twice daily, and it’s estimated that close to 100,000 people will attend.  For listeners in the audience, it’s impossible to imagine that Tchaikovsky’s score ever palls.  Parts of it are so familiar─the Sugar Plum Pas de Deux or the Danse des Mirlitons or the March of the Toy Soliders─that they are steeped in our subconscious and always enchanting.  Aside from its difficulty─it’s Tchaikovsky─one of the challenges Nutcracker presents for musicians is simply keeping it fresh performance after performance. The orchestra finished up with Carmen at San Francisco Opera and began rehearsing Nutcracker the first week of December and had a rehearsal with the actual dancers just prior to last Friday’s opening performance.  I spoke with two Sonoma County musicians in the orchestra who have each played countless Nutcrackers─bassoonist Rufus Olivier, of Sebastopol, and cellist Ruth Lane, of Petaluma and our conversations are below.   If you’re attending the ballet, especially with children, a wonderful opportunity exists before each performance to walk right up to the pit and meet and greet and observe the musicians in the orchestra who play such an integral part in the magic of the ballet.   

San Francisco Ballet Orchestra Principal Bassoonist Rufus Olivier, of Sebastopol. Olivier has played the “Nutcracker” for over thirty years at the San Francisco Ballet and will perform it thirty times this season. Olivier has recorded many movie, video, CD and TV soundtracks including Disney’s “Never Cry Wolf” and he won a Grammy for the soundtrack “Elmo in Grouchland.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Rufus Olivier, Principal bassoonist, SF Ballet and Opera Orchestras, is a Sebastopol resident and is one of two bassoonists with the ballet orchestra.  Even before arriving in the Bay Area, Olivier had quite a reputation.  In 1975, Zubin Mehta, the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, gave the 18 year old Olivier a chance to play a concerto with the orchestra and he did such a good job that, afterwards, Mehta immediately offered him a co-principal position.  Olivier went on to play with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra under Neville Marriner, and the Goldofsky Opera Tours.  He moved to the Bay Area in 1977 and by 1980, he was the youngest principal to ever play in the SF Opera Orchestra and started playing Nutcracker in San Francisco some 30 years ago with Christensen’s production which predates both Martin West and Helgi Tomasson.  Olivier studied under David Breidenthal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and currently teaches at Stanford one day each week.  Olivier has been guest soloist with numerous orchestras all over the world.   He has recorded many movie, video, CD and TV soundtracks including Disney’s Never Cry Wolf and San Francisco Opera’s Grammy-nominated CD Orphée et Eurydice, and he won a Grammy for the soundtrack Elmo in Grouchland.  Olivier’s son, Rufus David Olivier, is also an accomplished bassoonist.

With over 30 seasons of Nutcrackers under your belt, how do you keep it fresh?  

Rufus Olivier: First of all, it’s Tchaikovsky and very, very good music.  Second, Tchaikovsky keeps you on your toes─it’s very hard─ and that’s takes care of keeping it fresh.  That’s pretty much it.

What is the most challenging part for you as a bassoonist?

Rufus Olivier:   There’s two—in the very beginning, in the first minute or two, there’s the woodwind interlude where there are these wild triplets, very high, and technically hard.  And then there’s the Arabian Dance (Act II) which is musically hard and, by that, I mean it’s hard to put across the expression that I would like to convey, which is actually harder than being technically proficient.  You can work through technical issues but it’s very hard to get to the point musically where I can make someone feel something that I want to convey and I want the dancers to feel something so that they dance better.  If I play it more expressively, maybe sweetly, then anything can happen with the dancers and with the audience and they won’t know why but they will feel it.  At a certain point in one’s career, the competition is with oneself.  You’re not competing with anyone except yourself and you are challenging yourself all the time.  All of my colleagues are trying, all the time, to sound as good as they can sound.

With Helgi Tomasson’s production, are there any cuts to the original score? 

Rufus Olivier: Yes. The original score would come in at over three hours and Helgi’s production comes in at about 2 hours, but all the important and well-known parts are there and, actually, he’s added some things that weren’t in the previous production.

How aware are you of what the dancers are doing? 

Rufus Olivier: I can’t see the dancers at all and completely reply on Martin who is watching the stage and I am watching him.  Unlike the opera, I can’t hear anything.

What is the most challenging thing about playing the bassoon in an orchestra? 

Rufus Olivier: Coming in when you’re supposed to (laughing).  There are so many things you have to do and you are operating at a very high level of consciousness.  By the time you reach the level of the opera, symphony or ballet, it’s almost automatic but your ears are everywhere.  You are hyperaware even though your heart rate may be at rest.  Everything can be hard but trying to play in tune with other instruments can be challenging and so can solos and dealing with conductors who can be crazy at times. And, when you’re not playing, whether it’s 3 bars or 20 bars, you can’t leave, you’ve got to sit there and be engaged and stay awake and count so you know when to come in. 

What are the great bassoon solos in orchestral music?

Rufus Olivier:  Two of the most famous symphonic solos for the bassoon include the theme for grandfather in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and the opening solo in Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring.

What performances are you looking forward to musically in the coming season? 

Rufus Olivier: We are playing RakU, which is one of the pieces written by our bass player Shinji Enshima. (RakU is part of the SF Ballet’s Program 6, and plays March 23-April 3, 2012. Click here to read more.)  The piece just premiered last year and one day it may well be one of the premiere bassoon solos. 

San Francisco Ballet Orchestra Cellist Ruth Lane, of Petaluma, in the pit before Thursday’s performance of “Nutcracker,” which runs through December 27, 2011. Lane’s cello, which is painted with images of the Sistine Chapel, was custom made for her by her husband, Anthony Lane of Lane Violins in Petaluma. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Ruth Lane, cellist, is a Petaluma resident and has been playing with the San Francisco Opera and Ballet Orchestras since 1990.  This is her 6th year of playing Nutcracker for an entire season’s run and she is one of six cellists in the ballet orchestra.  Prior to that, she played several performances annually as a substitute musician.  Lane has performed Nutcracker under Music Directors Dennis de Coteau and Martin West and under various guest conductors.  Lane came from a family that was passionate about classical music and started studying cello at age 10 and received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from USC.  In addition to the Bay Area, Lane has been heard in recital in the Los Angeles, and London.  She is a member of the Bay Area’s Temescal String Quartet and she performed this September in Petaluma in “The V Concert” (click here to read ARThound’s coverage.)  Strad magazine calls her “a cellist of scrupulous intentions and dexterous manual coordination . . . unimpeachable intonation and admirable poise.” (as quoted on the Temescal String Quartet page.)

What are the most important and challenging parts of Nutcracker for cello? 

Ruth Lane:  We don’t have any solos and I am one of six cellos and we are all playing the same music.  Woodwinds have the solos and the strings, which are a quieter instrument, tend to be like a chorus—it’s all the instruments together that create this blanker of sound that you recognize as the orchestra.  The cellos play throughout but, in Act 1, we play what used to be a bear dance but is now a solider dance.  We also play a lot in the battle scene and also in the Russian Sailor’s Dance.

All Tchaikovsky is challenging because he writes for the breadth of the cello and its very passionate music, so it really takes your all to play it well.  You’ve really got to draw on that emotional level of interpretation beyond the technical.  Performing a piece like Nutcracker so many times and trying to really keep it vital is very demanding emotionally.

With so many Nutcrackers under your belt and so many coming up, how do you keep it fresh night after night?  

Ruth Lane: What I always draw on is the audience.  Every night, at least 30 children with their parents will come up to the orchestra pit before the performance and they are pointing and waving and they are so excited.  It’s so different from the opera performances where some of the front row is falling asleep.  This just doesn’t happen in the Nutcracker.  We’re always joking about how the age goes down by about 20 to 30 years across the board, from the performers to the audience, when you go form opera to ballet and the Nutcracker is just full of children. It’s that and the music itself which requires a lot from you.

How aware are you of what the dancers are doing? 

Ruth Lane: From where I sit, I can usually see the dancers from the chest up, so I see them moving up and down.  I follow the conductor and it’s his job to keep the orchestra and the dancers all together.  I really like Martin West in conversation with Tchaikovsky─it’s passionate but he doesn’t tend to go overboard.   He keeps the tempos up.  Martin is very very good at coordinating the action he is seeing on stage with the sounds that come out of the pit.  I haven’t worked with anybody who is as good as doing that as he is. 

What’s your favorite ballet in terms of music?

 Ruth Lane:   Well, Nutcracker has some of the greatest music but my very favorite ballet is Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev which we are also performing later this season. The cellos do the love scene on the balcony, which is incredibly emotional and passionate, which keeps coming back again and again. 

The scene on the back of Ruth Lane’s exquisite custom-made cello was inspired by a dream her husband Anthony Lane had. Lane, a highly respected violin maker, drew the basic design and artist Margrit Haeberlin did the actual painting and the cello was Lane’s gift to his wife. Photo: courtesy Anthony Lane Violins of Petaluma.

I know that some string instruments are extremely valuable and are meticulously handcrafted.  Is there anything special about your cello? 

Ruth Lane:  Yes, my husband, Anthony Lane of Lane Violins, custom built my cello for me about 10 years ago and it’s got a wonderful sound and is beautifully decorated with painted images from the Sistine Chapel and the life of a violin maker. I’ve really enjoyed this special gift.

What’s the biggest challenge during the Nutcracker? 

Ruth Lane:  It’s stamina.  The Nutcracker and Tchaikovsky in general require a lot of muscle when playing the cello.  For example, the Pas de Deux (Act II), at the end, is so rigorous that I have to know when to lay back and when to really pull out all the stops.

Do you have a favorite part? 

Ruth Lane:  I’ve always like the Trepak or Russian Sailor’s Dance (Act II) and the Pas de Deux (Act II) at the end.

Two Great SF Ballet Orchestra Nutcracker Recordings: 

 Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (1991) with Denis de Coteau.  This recording is groundbreaking.  The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra collected money from each individual musician and recorded this on their own at Skywalker Ranch in 1988.  They were the first group to record and self-produce Nutcracker and received all royalties. 

Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker- San Francisco Ballet (2008) with Martin West, available as a DVD of the ballet performance or as a CD of the music.  

Details:  San Francisco Ballet performs at the historic 1932 War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. Nutcracker runs December 9 through December 27, 2011.

Tickets: $22 to $275 available (415) 865-2000 or  www.sfballet.org/nutcracker

Parking:  Civic Center Garage (on McAllister Street between Larkin and Polk); Performing Arts Garage (on Grove between Franklin and Gough streets); Opera Plaza Garage (valet only, 601 Van Ness, enter on Turk).

Arrival Time:  Plan to arrive early to enjoy the sumptuous atmosphere and to ensure that you are seated.  The theater enforces a no late seating policy and guests will not be seated after the lights have dimmed. Latecomers will be asked to stand until there is a break in the program, and will be seated at management’s discretion. 

Run-time: Two hours with a 20-minute intermission.

December 18, 2011 Posted by | Classical Music, Dance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment