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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).