January 2, 2013
The Very First Concerts series introduces classical music to babies, toddlers and older children. The semi-serious age suggestion is "0 to 6," not counting parents. Another Chamber Orchestra series consists of 45-minute family concerts, also free.
As all of the Chamber Orchestra's concerts, these events are free and open to all. Only 20 minutes long and in a children-friendly environment, the concerts offer both performances and participation in singing and dancing.
Turning 60 this year, Chamber Orchestra has employed professional musicians since its foundation by Edgar Braun and Adrian Sunshine, to provide free concerts; funding comes from membership dues, individual and foundation and NEA grants.
S.F. Chamber Orchestra music director Ben Simon encourages youngsters "to wriggle, squirm, and dance to first-rate classical music. We've designed this series for very young listeners, and to allow parents to escape the restrictions of a traditional concert hall." One of his favorite concerts was "Be a Conductor," with all the children imitating Simon, waving imaginary batons, everybody conducting.
Simon regards the project with a certain emotional gravity: "There is no classical music for children today. When I was growing up, there was music in schools, Leonard Bernstein's 'Young People's Concerts' on TV, San Francisco had three classical-music radio stations... and there is none of that today."
The conductor is famous for his informal, encouraging presentations, as far from the distant "maestro figure" as one can get. He has a great sense of humor, which he uses in preconcert lectures and interaction with children. He uses his black Macbook to play some excerpts of the program, and even demonstrates his cell phone ring.
The Very First series begin this month. Another Chamber Orchestra series consists of 45-minute family concerts, also free. The next event, in January, is "Music from the Mediterranean," with Kaila Flexer and Gari Hegedus, exploring the music of Turkey and Greece. The third family concert series, in March, is "Shall We Dance," with Berkeley Ballet Theater’s Youth Company.