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826 Valencia Review Workshop

May 18, 2012

Bleiz Larzul: Barbary Coast and Beyond

May 18, 2012

Caroline McCaskey performs on musical saw <br>Photo by Kristen LokenThe Barbary Coast and Beyond was a night of the most diverse group of pieces I have ever heard. The tribute to San Francisco’s musical history glorified the city’s musically tainted past. The San Francisco Symphony presented us with works ranging from musical saw to opera to Stars & Stripes Forever.

One of the first pieces that stuck out for me was a banjo trio that played folk tunes from the time of the Gold Rush. The crowd seemed to be writhing with anticipation as if they were expecting  Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Unexpectedly, the trio came out with a soothing piece,talking about the hardships of life.

Right after this folksy tune, Laura Claycomb came out in a striking red evening gown and began singing the Filles de Cadix. She sang it sensually and passionately and started acting on stage. She sang it in a way that evoked everything that she was showing onstage, but with just her musicality.

Violin player Vladim Gluzman carried us into the next portion of the performance with a piece made famous by Ole Bull, one of the most famous violinists of the time. This piece also started with a folksy tune. The piece sounded like it should be played by solo fiddle, not a violin and an orchestra. The piece gracefully morphed into a beautiful romantic saga that the soloist put his heart into. He then poured himself back into his fiddle with a huge smile invading his face.

Now let me ask you, how did a saw get into the symphony? If you have never heard a saw being played before, you should. After many hours of contemplation, the best way I found to describe it is a cross between a high pitched wail and a violin. Even with this unruly instrument, Caroline McCaskey’s performance of Orpheus in the Underworld was played with the beauty and the precision of a violin.

The organist Cameron Carpenter walked on the stage with dazzling clothing and spiky white hair to play his version of Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. This Grammy award-winning musician seemed to be flailing his legs around underneath his chair but was actually playing the melody of the song with his sparkled cowboy boots while jamming his finger into every nook and cranny of his organ in a fiery flurry of flesh.

Michael Tilson Thomas helped the crowd sing several songs from the early twentieth century, with the help of Val Diamond, who belted out the lyrics with Laura Claycomb. By the end, everybody was thoroughly educated in the history of San Francisco.

Bleiz Larzul, 15, is a guitar student at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (SOTA).

Calder Hansen: Barbary Coast and Beyond

May 18, 2012

Soprano Laura Claycomb <br>Photo by Kristen LokenBarbary Coast and Beyond was an amazing display of musical diversity: classical, marches, marimba, banjo, national anthem medleys, musical saw, opera, and a piece that was written for fourteen pianos. Conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, it was a two-and-a-half hour-long journey through seventeen pieces from 1849 to 1925, an era of many musical styles. Narrated by Val Diamond, with projected images in the background, it was not only a concert, but a funny and intriguing history lesson as well.

The reflective acoustic squares on the ceiling gave the audience an aerial view of the orchestra as they grandly proceeded through the Coronation March from La Prophete and three lively pieces for banjo, right into an aria from Les Filles de Cadix (The Girls from Cadiz) sung by Laura Claycomb, a soprano with a clear voice and a range of pitch that could go as high as a mouse and still sound amazing. She appeared three more times, each time in a different dress.

Next came two pieces that were very different. A Mountain Vision: quiet, dewdrops, and sunrise. Then came a piece from the musical drama Mazeppa: being strapped to a wild horse, escaping wolves, and dodging obstacles.

After that came a piece that was written for fourteen pianos, but played on one. Pianist Anton Nel played amazingly well, with a lot of big arm movements that showed how much he loved playing. A few songs after that came part of the Orpheus in the Underworld overture, with the added instrument of the electric saw, played by Caroline McCaskey. It added a very dangerous and creepy feeling to the piece, although sometimes it felt disconnected from the rest of the performance.

After the intermission came a piece called The Earthquake in San Francisco, which had the piano act as both a musical instrument and a sound effect machine. A little later came three pieces in a row that really got me excited: part of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique symphony, then The Stars and Stripes Forever played on the Davies Symphony Hall’s gigantic pipe organ by Cameron Carpenter. It sounded like multiple instruments at once, and sounded even better with all the different chords in the background, although sometimes it was too much and it sounded slightly like he was pressing his arm down on the keyboard. After that came a piece from Hail! California, which was an incredible combination of the French and American national anthems.

The concert finished off with three sing-alongs that gave it a very fun end: Hello, Frisco, Hello from Ziegfield Follies of 1915, San Francisco, the previously official song of San Francisco, and California, Here I Come.

The performance ended with a minutes-long standing ovation, of which the concert was definitely worth.

Calder Hansen, 11, is a student at Dunham Academy, the Marin School for Gifted Education in San Rafael.

Eleanor Gillis: Barbary Coast and Beyond

May 18, 2012

Pianist Anton Nel <br>Photo by Kristen LokenEntering Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco's Civic Center, no one knew what to expect. To help celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the San Francisco Symphony on that Thursday in May (also tied into the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Gold Rush and the Panama Pacific Explosion), the famous Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the full orchestra.

This intriguing performance had many guests to attract old-time subscribers and give them more excitement. Val Diamond was my personal favorite part of the show because of her enthusiastic attitude, coming from her former job in North Beach with Beach Blanket Babylon. Laura Claycomb performed amazingly as soprano, and we were almost transported to the Opera House in San Francisco in the performance because of her acting along with her beautiful singing. Vadim Gluzman performed a piece from fellow violinist Ole Bull without a dramatic feature.

One of the next special guests was Anton Nel, who was very involved with his work and played with his shoulders hunched forward over the piano in a very dramatic work of music. From the hours he spent practicing, I’m surprised he didn’t have a hunchback! The song had many twists and turns and surprising visits of forte and piano. The unforgettable Cameron Carpenter presented himself with a mohawk, and he had glitzed up his coat with flared ends. Bill Evans, Jody Stecher, and Scott Nygaard kicked off the show on their banjos. The banjo trio played three pieces, with Jody Stecher singing “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster. Finally came Caroline McCaskey with her diverse talent of the musical saw. After her song, Thomas gave her a hug for her courage in learning the instrument, which many of the audience members thought was funny.

To conclude the very enjoyable night, there was a sing-along of Hello Frisco, Hello and San Francisco. This very exciting and climactic night ended fantastically.

Eleanor Gillis, 11, is a student at St. Cecilia's in San Francisco's Sunset District.

Harry Trump: Barbary Coast Amazes Listeners Old & New

May 18, 2012

Scott Nygaard, Jody Stecher, and Bill Evans <br>Photo by Kristen LokenThursday, May 10, I entered the grand Davies Symphony Hall my hopes high with anticipation to see the Barbary Coast and Beyond concert. The conductor of Thursday’s concert, Michael Tilson Thomas, has never failed to add flair and magnificence to any music he conducts. With such a broad range of genres, I was impressed by how well the San Francisco Symphony could perform. And what I witnessed left me in awe.

The production was blessed with about a dozen guest performers, each with their own unique talents. The narrator was the well-known Val Diamond, whose deep yet piercing voice helped project the gravely and untamed history of San Francisco as a developing city. Each guest artist brought a new element into the production that would emphasize certain genres in the show.

An outstanding and unanticipated portion of the concert was the banjo trio (Bill Evans, Jody Stecher, and Scott Nygaard) that pleased both old symphony veterans and young novices alike. Their yodels and virtuosic fingerpicking were a fantastic addition to the program. Another guest performer who received major kudos from the audience was organist Cameron Carpenter whose flamboyance both in dress and in playing made him a stand-out.

Moving from pleasant banjo ditties to epic Sousa marches, MTT., the San Francisco Symphony, and all the guest artists put on a heartfelt and enjoyable concert. Why was this concert put on? To glorify San Francisco’s rich musical history? Maybe it was just so the symphony could get stars like Cameron Carpenter and Val Diamond to perform. Possibly for all these reasons, but most importantly to put on a production that would satisfy old symphony goers as well as today’s youth, whose awareness of classical music has decreased in recent years. With this show, the symphony did an amazing and memorable job.

Harry Trump,15, is a guitar student at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (SOTA).

Jaysen Shi: San Francisco Symphony Review: Barbary Coast and Beyond

May 18, 2012

Organist Cameron Carpenter <br>Photo by Kristen LokenOn Thursday evening, May 10th, 2012, the San Francisco Davies Symphony Hall held a performance under the name of Barbary Coast and Beyond. The performers were the San Francisco Symphony and the United States Air Force Band of the Golden West. The performance was interesting and unexpectedly exciting, and it was mostly about San Francisco’s music from the past. It turned out that every piece played that night was unique; each had its own story.

San Francisco’s music a century and more ago was inspired by the real events happening then. For example, when gold was discovered in California, famous composers began writing songs about the Gold Rush. When the earthquake of 1906 hit San Francisco, J.H. Stockman wrote a piece for the piano called The Earthquake in San Francisco.

A big part of the music that the San Franciscans heard back then was from touring musicians. There were opera singers, pianists, and violinists who came to San Francisco during the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the international fair that brought together a lot of the world’s greatest performing groups and different types of music.

The Symphony performance was really entertaining, with Val Diamond as the narrator who explained the show with humor. There was also a big screen with projected images of what the music being played was about. Besides Val Diamond, there was also a bunch of other characters that made the show more fun to watch.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the orchestra with a lot of energy. Caroline McCaskey, a woman who won the 2007 Musical Saw Championship, also participated in a piece. There were plenty of other soloists, including Vadim Gluzman the violinist, Laura Claycomb the soprano, Anton Nel the pianist.

The person who seemed the most interesting, however, was Cameron Carpenter, the organ player. Cameron had stylish hair and shiny clothes, and at one point in his performance, he played the organ with his feet!

There were some spectacular pieces featured in the evening. Violinist Vadim Gluzman gave an exciting and skillful performance of Kreisler’s Tambourin Chinois. Cameron Carpenter played his own loud and awesome arranged version of Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever.

Although most of the performance was fabulous, there were also a few dull pieces thrown into the pot. The three banjo players played slowly and tediously, almost like a boring lullaby. Stockman’s The Earthquake in San Francisco didn’t seem like anything special.

At the end of the show, Val Diamond and Laura Claycomb led the audience through three sing-alongs. Then the show was over. The San Francisco Symphony’s Barbary Coast and Beyond was excellent. It was a great and exciting experience.

Jaysen Shi, 13, is a seventh-grader at Hoover Middle School in San Francisco's Sunset District.

Maia Cluver: Barbary Coast and Beyond

May 18, 2012

Val Diamond, Soprano Laura Claycomb and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas<br>Photo by Kristen LokenThe May 10th performance of Barbary Coast and Beyond drew in crowds of all ages to Davies Symphony Hall. Michael Tilson Thomas, the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, started off the night with an enjoyable, brief introduction about the history of San Francisco.

The hall was beautiful. It was filled with velvet chairs and glass panels dangling from the ceiling. Val Diamond from Beach Blanket Babylon couldn’t have been a better choice as narrator. Her loud, melodious voice traveled through the hall wonderfully, and she’s a great San Francisco icon who has an amazing stage presence. She came onstage in a sparkling, sequined shirt, which was almost as stunning as the music. She spoke about a wide variety of San Francisco’s historical figures, including Lola Montez, a showgirl. Laura Claycomb, an incredibly gifted soprano with an outstanding range, paid tribute to Lola in her first appearance on stage. Laura Claycomb entered wearing a gorgeous red gown that I would wear any day, and she impressed both the audience and me. She not only sang gorgeously but had loads of personality and attitude. Laura Claycomb reappeared throughout the evening, with lots more costume changes.

The program was filled with well-known songs played with a twist, like The Stars and Stripes Forever, which was played on organ by Cameron Carpenter. He wore a sparkling suit and had spiky hair. He played enthusiastically and moved all over the organ, pressing and stomping on keys, buttons, and pedals, and I thought the Stars and Stripes had never sounded better. The show ended with a standing bow, but the applause tonight was not just for the performance, but for one hundred years of the Symphony.

Maia Cluver, 12, is a homeschooler in the Pacifica School District.

Rebecca D. Landau: A Wild and Wooly Night with the San Francisco Symphony

May 18, 2012

Val Diamond narrates <br>Photo by Kristen LokenThe Barbary Coast concert at Davies Hall on Thursday, May 10th was completely different from what I’d expected. I’d anticipated classical music--quiet, refined and maybe a bit hard to stay awake during. Instead, the concert was a musical history of San Francisco from the Gold Rush to a decade after the 1906 earthquake.

There was a huge range of pieces, from a banjo rendition of Hard Times Come Again No More to Verdi. In Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, there was musical saw, by far my favorite part of the concert. It had a strange, wobbly vibrato sound, almost like an opera singer. I was also impressed by Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique. Cameron Carpenter, the organ soloist wore a vest which sparkled in the stage light. I’d never heard organ music before, and I liked it very much. The organ, with its complex harmonies and rhythms, was practically an entire orchestra all by itself.

The most fun part of the concert was Val Diamond’s narration. She had the best gossip on musicians from San Francisco history, told in a very funny style.

The concert ended with three sung pieces, Hello Frisco Hello, from Ziegfeld’s Follies, and two classic San Francisco songs, San Francisco, and California Here I Come. The audience was invited to sing along (and did, a little quietly). For Hello Frisco Hello, Val Diamond and the soloist Laura Claycomb sang together. It was strange to hear Val Diamond’s big brassy voice with Laura Claycomb’s delicate, pretty soprano. The audience didn’t know that song, but as Val Diamond said, “You’ll all be singing it in the shower tomorrow.”

Not every piece was equally strong (of course). A Mountain Vision, by the Danish violinist Ole Bull, went on too long, though violin soloist Vadim Glazman displayed impressive playing across his range. Saint-Saens’s combination of The Star Spangled Banner with The Marseillaise was overly loud, and the two songs didn’t fit well together. But overall, the concert was interesting and enjoyable, and not your usual night at the symphony.

Rebecca D. Landau, 16, is a student at Berkeley High School.