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April 11, 2016



Jewish Museum Shoah Concert Honors Bill Graham

At 7 p.m. on May 5, the Contemporary Jewish Museum will have a special program of music to mark Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), honoring Wolodia Grajonca, a child survivor of the Holocaust, who later became one of the most famous San Franciscans, and the subject of the museum’s current exhibition, “Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution.”

At the concert, the San Francisco Girls Chorus will perform choral arrangements of some of Graham’s favorite songs, including “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones, “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead, “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan, plus excerpts from SFGC’s I Never Saw Another Butterfly CD, a collection of songs from the Terezin concentration camp.

The chorus’ artistic director is Lisa Bielawa; Music Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe conducts. The concert is free with admission to the museum, which is $5 after 5 p.m.

Grajonca, who changed his name to Graham while serving in the US Army during the Korean War, was born in Berlin in 1931, the son of Russian Jews who emigrated to Germany. In 1938, after Kristallnacht, Graham’s mother sent him to France to escape the danger that eventually killed her and one of Graham’s young sisters among millions of others.

In 1941, as part of a Red Cross effort to help Jewish children fleeing the Nazis, Graham arrived in New York, malnourished and suffering from rickets. He lived with a foster family in the Bronx and spent his teenage years in New York City before being drafted into the Army. After the war, Graham worked for a time in the Catskills and in Manhattan, where he decided to become an actor. He moved to San Francisco and became business manager for the San Francisco Mime Troupe. He was 34 years old when he organized a fundraiser to support the group founder’s legal defense on November 6, 1965. It was a transformative moment for Graham, who had finally found his calling.

Soon afterwards he took over the lease on the famed Fillmore Auditorium, where he produced groundbreaking shows, including sold-out concerts by the Grateful Dead, Cream, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Doors, among many others. Graham presented many landmark benefit concerts, including Live Aid in 1985 and two Amnesty International tours, “Conspiracy of Hope” and “Human Rights Now!” He was the driving force behind the 1987 Soviet-American Peace Concert in Moscow, organized a 12-hour rock telethon that raised $2 million for the victims of the massive earthquake that hit the Bay Area in October 1989, and more.

Graham died on October 25, 1991, when the helicopter he was riding in after a Huey Lewis and the News show in the East Bay crashed into an electrical tower. A week later, nearly half a million people filled the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park for a free concert held in his memory.


“Fire & Ice” to Benefit Youth Orchestra

“There is no experience quite like playing a major symphonic piece alongside your talented and hardworking friends in an orchestra,” says Omid Zoufonoun. The principal conductor of the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra is speaking about “friendships that are formed between the young musicians, and the deep connections that develop.” Supporting the orchestra is an investment in a young musician’s lifelong relationship to music making and music appreciation, Zoufonoun says.

The next opportunity to make that investment is on May 7, when the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra partners with the industrial-chic performing artists of the Crucible in Oakland for “Night Out: Fire and Ice,” described as an evening of live music, fire dancers, stilt walkers, interactive booths, food and drink, games, an auction, and more — all to benefit the Youth Orchestra as it prepares for a tour to Cuba in June.

The event starts at 7 p.m. at the Crucible, 1260 7th Street in Oakland, with the Youth Orchestra led by Music Director Michael Morgan and Principal Conductor Omid Zoufonoun. The evening is sponsored by Bell Investment Advisors and Chevron. The benefit tickets are priced $90-$550 and may be purchased at the orchestra’s website.

The program includes the opening theme from Game of Thrones; Borodin’s Polovetsian Dances from Prince Igor; excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet; and Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra maintains a commitment to cultural exchange through international tours every three years. Touring destinations have included many countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Prior tours have also given students the opportunity to visit and perform in the Caribbean Islands, Costa Rica, Mexico, Cuba, Australia and New Zealand.



Seventy-Two Selected for Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition

If you saw the film They Came to Play, about the saga of amateur pianists who vie for awards at the Cliburn Competition, you will want to watch free streaming from the Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition, June 19–25, in Forth Worth. The action takes place in the same Van Cliburn Recital Hall where the better known (but not more interesting) international competition is held. The next one is May 25–June 10, 2017.

The amateur competition is open to nonprofessional pianists aged 35 and older who do not derive their principal source of income through piano performance or instruction. Established in 1999 as the first of its kind in the United States, the quadrennial festival promotes lifelong music-making as a vital part of daily life. There are 72 competitors selected from around the world. From California:

  • Victor Alexeeff, 58, TV/film composer (Winnetka)
  • Gorden Cheng, 35, systems engineer (Rancho Santa Fe)
  • Brianna Donaldson, 35, nonprofit program director (Santa Cruz)
  • John Gutheil M.D., 59, CEO/medical oncologist (La Jolla)
  • Tessa Knipe, 53, attorney (San Diego); also representing South Africa
  • David Lee, 37, software engineer (San Francisco); also representing Taiwan
  • Yvonne Liu, 45, preschool music teacher (Foster City); also representing China
  • Joann Oh, 41, office manager (Irvine)
  • Janet Sommerfeld, 53, freelance writer/producer (Palos Verdes Estates)
  • Summer Stone, 39, client relations (Woodland Hills)


In Brief: Royal Ballet/S.F. Ballet Frankenstein Rehearsal

Frankenstein Reharsal from Royal Ballet - Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein ballet will have its world premiere this month in London, and U.S. premiere on San Francisco Ballet’s next season, but the Royal Ballet streamed a 90-minute introduction and rehearsal last week, and the video is available online. There is also a streaming interview with the ballet’s composer, Lowell Liebermann.

BBC-Proms Program to Be Announced This Week - Keep an eye on the biggest (and best) music festival in the world, the 121st BBC Proms (aka the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts), running three months this summer, and broadcast free on BBC-3. The program for the season’s 70+ concerts will be announced on Wednesday.

MTT on the Mahler-Schubert Connection - A Washington Blade interview with MTT last week, ahead of a brief tour to New York and Washington, quoted the SFS music director about programming Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony with Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde:

Schubert was using this sort of haunted language that was very Czech-influenced because his parents came from what is now the Czech Republic and of course Mahler did as well, so there is this sort of major/minor haunted harmonic language that’s part of it. 

On the piano you have a note which you sometimes call E flat or sometimes you call it D sharp. On the piano, it’s the same note, but in orchestral music, these two notes are actually different notes. They do different things and they lead in different directions. Schubert and Mahler are both constantly reinterpreting the meaning of a note. … You’re being kind of guided, pulled back and forth across the line of the meaning of a single note taking you into a brighter or darker world."

Crossing Grove: SFO-SFS Interplay - Karen Ames, at one time publicist Robin Freeman’s boss as PR director of the San Francisco Opera, had the same job before on the south side of busy Grove Street, at the San Francisco Symphony. Ames later created and ran a crackerjack arts PR company, Karen Ames Communications, until joining Meyer Sound Laboratories, where she is VP of Marketing and Communications.

We have yet-unconfirmed news that Freeman herself will soon exchange her former Opera association for helping to run public relations at the S.F. Symphony. Crossing Grove in Freeman’s case also involved a long sidetrip to Sonoma, where she has been handling publicity for the Green Music Center since leaving the Opera in January, 2015.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].