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Music News: May 6, 2014

May 6, 2014

Community Music Center's Hyperactive Spring

May 6, 2014

Martha Rodriguez-Salazar conducts Solera Singers and 30th Street Chorus at Community Music Center's 90th birthday party Photo by Mercedes RomeroSome 100 mostly Spanish-speaking older adults will come together on Friday at the Community Music Center's Mission District Branch to sing for their friends and neighbors at a free concert of great personal significance.

And, in addition to a plethora of other public events and activities (see end of this item), the 93-old Center will venture out of its Mission home on May 19 to the SFJAZZ Center for its annual gala to raise funds for music scholarships for low-income youth. James H. Abrams, a dedicated CMC clarinet student, will be honored at this year’s event "for his love of music and his invaluable legal expertise and service to the Center."

The Latin sounds of Grammy Award-winning faculty member Omar Ledezma, Jr. and his quintet will be featured, along with composer, bassist, bandleader and educator Marcus Shelby and his CMC Teen Jazz Orchestra. The headliner of the concert is Van Cliburn gold medalist Jon Nakamatsu.

The Friday event is called Summit of Older Adult Choirs, the participants have been preparing for it for months at the Center. The concert will be recorded, the CD to go on sale in the near future.

Chorus director Martha Rodriguez-Salazar says the program teaches: "Everything: how to sing, how to breathe, the correct posture." She and the singers are happy with the results which go beyond singing.

Community Of Voices choir sings at Mission Neighborhood Center Photo by Mieke StrandOne chorus member says, her words translated from Spanish by Sylvia Sherman, the Center's program director:

When I began singing in the choir I was very depressed. I didn't even want to get up and dressed in the morning. I had only been in the country (from Mexico) for two years and did not have many connections here. After joining the choir I started to come back to life. I loved singing with the choir, made several friends, and even started dancing again."

A similar experience is described by a member of El Coro Solera: "For years, I have suffered from depression; I took medicines to keep going. I didn’t know how to breathe. To sing, you need to have air. Singing has saved me. Thank you so much."

Participating in the concert are the Center's own Solera Singers and the 30th Street Chorus, which rehearse weekly, singing primarily traditional songs in Spanish from across Latin-America, but also performing songs in English and Tagalog. (Solera is a Spanish word describing the process of aging fine spirits like sherry or brandy.) Accompanying rehearsals and the concert is Jennifer Peringer.

The concert includes "Alma Llanera," a Venezuelan jarocho; "La Piragua," a Colombian cumbia; "La Bruja" and "Cucurrucucu" from Mexico, and the Cuban cha-cha-cha "El Bodeguero."

Joining in the "choral summit" will be the Community of Voices Choirs at the Mission Neighborhood Center and Centro Latino de San Francisco. They are all participants in a five-year research study examining whether singing in a community choir is a cost-effective way to promote health and well-being among culturally diverse older adults. The study's partnership between Community Music Center, UC San Francisco, and San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services senior centers is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging to UCSF.

The Community Music Center is the Bay Area’s oldest community arts organization and San Francisco’s largest provider of free and low-cost music classes and concerts. During the last school year, some 2,300 students of all ages, ethnicities and income levels enrolled in CMC programs, and over 19,000 people attended musical performances at no or low cost.

Some of the other upcoming events at the Center's Mission District Branch:

  • 7:30 p.m. May 9, "A Rose for Mom," violinist Ann Lam and pianist Candice Choi play works by Mozart, Brahms, Liszt, and Stravinsky ($10 adults, $5 kids, moms free).
  • 7:30 p.m. May 10 and 11 a.m. May 11, "Little Opera," 25 kids collaborate with 10 composers to write two short operas from scratch, about Crystal Warriors and Princesses in Antarctica ($15 adults, $10 students and seniors).
  • 4 p.m. May 11, Ina Chalis Opera Ensemble's "Music For Mothers" (free, donations accepted).
  • 2:30 p.m. May 17, Earplay Open Rehearsal (free).

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

Ballet San Jose Goes On International Tour

May 6, 2014

Natalia Osipova to tour with Ballet San JoseBallet San Jose Artistic Director José Manuel Carreño has announced that the company is going on tour with former Bolshoi Ballet stars Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in performances in Southern California, Moscow, and London this summer. The concerts will feature Osipova's and Vasiliev’s debuts in Roland Petit’s Carmen with Ballet San Jose, the rest of the program comprising pas de deux to be performed by Osipova and Vasiliev.

The schedule for the tour, presented by Ardani Artists: July 25-27 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA; July 31 and August 1-3 at the Stanislavsky Theatre in Moscow; and Aug. 6-9 at the London Coliseum in London.

Ballet San Jose concludes is current season May 9-11 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts with performances of Carmen and Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room.

Osipova was graduated from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in 2004, joining the company in the same year. She was promoted to First Soloist and then Leading Soloist in 2008, named Principal Dance in 2010.

Alexei Ratmansky's The Flames of Paris, starring Osipova and Vasiliev, was recently filmed by Bel Air Classiques for future DVD release. The performance was transmitted live into movie theaters across Europe.

Ivan Vasiliev was born in Vladivostok, he studied at the Dnepropetrovsk Ballet School in Ukraine and later at the Belorussian State Choreographic College in Minsk, graduating in 2006. In 2006 he was invited to join Bolshoi Ballet as a soloist, making his debut with the company, at age 17, as Basilio in Don Quixote. He was promoted to the rank of principal dancer in 2010.

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

Flicka's Kids Twinkle Like Little Stars

May 6, 2014

Stephanie Railsback instructs kindergartners at St. Martin de Porres School Photo by Chris Duffey"The kids will play a few versions of 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," writes Frederica von Stade, "and then one of our teachers has a version of the New World Symphony (10 or so measures of it) for cello and violin, so they will be doing that and a couple of other, very simple songs."

Doesn't sound like much? It actually is — a great deal. The free event is the Saint Martin de Porres School Violin Concert, by very young students, beginning at 2 p.m. on May 10, in the Sacred Heart Church, 40th Street and Martin Luther King, in Oakland.

Flicka, who has been supporting the music program for underprivileged children for years, says:

The entire kindergarten starts with violin every year and then the kids drop in and out over the following years, but this is our core group and we just added two cellos. The two teachers responsible for this are Stephanie Railsbach and David Andai. Stephanie plays with OEBS and David just graduated from the Conservatory.

We just keep plugging away and the kids love performing and get a lot out of it. David's dream is to have a mini-orchestra in the next couple of years. My dream is to expand the program to all the urban Catholic schools and to add art as well.

The concert features the first-grade ensemble in "Pop Goes the Weasel," "Rock and Roll Song," and the promised "Twinkle Variations." The second graders present "Kum Ba Yah" and "La Bamba." There will be soloists with the Middle School Orchestra, such as Ukachi Nkechi in "Long, Long Ago" and Jonathan Balthazar in the Bach Minuet #3... and much more.

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

Met Union's Bold Gesture in Contract Talks

May 6, 2014

It's doubtful that anything will come of it, but the Metropolitan Opera unions's move to include the press (and thus the public) in contract talks is, at the very least, "interesting." As reported by Jennifer Maloney in The Wall Street Journal:

The Metropolitan Opera is scheduled to kick off high-stakes negotiations on Monday with an unusually public standoff: Despite management's objections, the singers' union has invited members of the media.

As a result, the Met has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board even before across-the-table talks begin.

"The Met wants to work with ... unions in an atmosphere that encourages open and transparent dialogue, which is critical to a productive negotiation," a Met spokesman said. "Obviously, this cannot be achieved by having the press at the bargaining table."

Union leader Alan Gordon, who represents singers, dancers and stage managers, said he is pushing for more transparency as the Met for the first time in decades seeks to cut labor costs. The Met is seeking to cut pay for members of the three biggest unions by more than 16%. Union leaders are preparing for a potential lockout.

"This is supported by public money," Mr. Gordon said. "If the Met's going to go dark, people should know what's going on."

The Met, faced with declining ticket sales, an insufficient endowment and growing expenses, is hoping for a financial reset. Its operating budget grew to $327 million last year from $209 million in 2006, when general manager Peter Gelb took the helm.

In a memo to company members on Saturday, Mr. Gelb said the Met's board has agreed to rebuild the opera's depleted endowment on the condition that he achieve labor-cost savings.

"With a new business model in place, adjusted to today's reality of a smaller audience for opera, we will be able to guarantee the jobs, health care, and pensions of our hard working and talented employees," he wrote. "Without this change, the Met will not be able to survive."

The Met's three largest unions are seeking an oversight role to rein in what they see as wasteful spending by Mr. Gelb — not on labor, but on the scale and number of new productions.

The Met has 16 labor unions, all with contracts expiring in July. Labor accounts for two-thirds of the company's operating budget.

The Met is one of the world's premier opera companies. Its 80 full-time chorus members, whose workdays sometimes stretch from 10 a.m. until midnight, earn $200,000 a year on average, according to the Met. Those earnings include revenue-sharing for high-definition broadcasts, Mr. Gordon said.

In contrast to the two other major unions, the American Guild of Musical Artists has adopted a publicly antagonistic approach. Mr. Gordon has written, and shared with reporters, fiery emails to Mr. Gelb.

"He's hurting people," Mr. Gordon said of Mr. Gelb. "There's no reason to be nice about it."

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

Presidential Scholar Annie Wu

May 6, 2014

Annie WuFlutist Annie Wu, an 18-year-old senior at Foothills High School in Pleasanton, was named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. She is one of six Presidential Scholars from California in both academics and the arts.

The other two Californians selected for arts scholarship are Gabriela F. Campo of Glendale and Angela T. Francis of Los Angeles.

Wu's teacher, Opera San Jose principal flutist Isabelle Chapuis, was cited by the White House Commission as Annie’s "most influential teacher." Chapuis says "I first auditioned Annie when she was 12. Within a few minutes, I knew she was that one-in-a-million talent that every teacher dreams will one day appear on her doorstep."

Just last week, Wu was admitted to a five-year dual degree program at Harvard University and the New England Conservatory of Music. At completion of the program, she will receive a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and a Masters in Music degree from the Conservatory, where she will study with virtuoso flutist Paula Robison.

Wu has appeared as soloist with many Bay Area orchestras and ensembles, including 11 performances of the finale of Jacques Ibert’s Flute Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony on Family Concerts. After she won the Diablo Symphony’s 2012 Concerto Soloist Competition, she performed the entire work by Ibert with that orchestra twice, under the direction of Music Director Matilda Hofman. She has also performed with the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. Last year, Annie she was selected as flutist in the inaugural season of the National Youth Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

The young flutist has performed as a soloist with the Vienna International Orchestra under the baton of Michele Santorsola. Her solo work in Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1 in D Major, and the encore of Greg Pattillo’s Three Beats for Beatbox Flute were received with ovation.

This is the 50th class of U.S. Presidential Scholars. The class is comprised of one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 chosen at-large and 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts.

The 2014 ceremony will be held on June 22, when each honoree will receive a Presidential Scholar Medallion. On June 23 at 8 p.m., the Scholars in the Arts specializing in dance, jazz, theater, music, and voice will participate in "A Salute to the U.S. Presidential Scholars," a free public performance that celebrates all of the awardees, directed by Tony Award-winner, dancer, choreographer and YoungArts Artistic Advisor Bill T. Jones at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall. The performance will be streamed live on PBS' Facebook page and YoungArts' website.

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

Music-Business News

May 6, 2014

Helen and John Meyer flank Karen Ames at the launch event for last year's Stephanie Blythe recording

Ames-Meyer Musical Troth

One of the Bay Area's most prominent and respected music publicists, Karen Ames, is closing up shop on her PR company to spend full time with Meyer Sound as its first Vice President of Marketing and Communications.

Before she formed her company, Ames occupied top communication positions at the San Francisco Opera and Symphony, and Houston Grand Opera. Her clients included Cal Performances, San Francisco International Film Festival, Green Music Center, and many others. Of her new appointment, she said:

Throughout my many years in the music industry, I have been fortunate to work with artists determined to enrich the lives of audiences. Meyer Sound's founders and engineers share that same goal. They understand what those onstage and in the audience need and want in terms of sound that communicates. They believe that, in the world of sound and sound reinforcement, everything is possible. And they have the genius, drive, and sense of adventure to achieve their ideal. I am privileged to become part of this legendary company.

Masterworks Chorale Executive Director Sought

Masterworks Chorale is hiring an executive director, "who will play a critical role in our 51st season, and beyond." He or she will reports to the Board of Directors, "ensures that the organization achieves its mission and meets its financial objectives ... responsible for aspects of season planning, fundraising, finance, marketing, outreach, administrative functions, and personnel management."

The executive director job description is available on the organization's website. Apply by mailing cover letter and PDF resume to [email protected] by June 15; send all inquiries by email. Principals only.

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

Jerry Sherk Dies

May 6, 2014

Jerry SherkRobert Zullo writes in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The best thing he did, it turns out, was not offer him the job.

Christopher Hahn [former San Francisco Opera rehearsal administrator] said he was new to San Francisco from South Africa and looking to break into opera production when he sat for an interview with Jerome Ray Sherk, then the production stage manager for the San Francisco Opera.

"I didn't know the opera world very much, but I was looking for a job as an assistant director," said Mr. Hahn, now general director of the Pittsburgh Opera. He credits the encounter with Mr. Sherk with getting the backstage and organizational experience that propelled his career. "Basically, he didn't hire me, but he introduced me to someone else in another part of the company ... and he hired me."

Mr. Sherk, director of production at the Pittsburgh Opera, died Thursday after a four-month battle with cancer. The native of Willamsburg, Mass., was 65.

"The thing about Jerry in the opera world is he is legendary," Mr. Hahn said, describing an able manager equally adept with stagehands, musicians and the world-famous performers.

"Just an enormous array of all the greats in the opera world pass through San Francisco, and he had to deal with them and he was a marvel," Mr. Hahn said. "He was so extraordinarily calm and witty. He was really the template of what you want a stage manager to be. They're very rare people."

... Mr. Sherk was production stage manager in San Francisco, a job he held for 21 years and had him working with Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Plácido Domingo, Leontyne Price, and Marilyn Horne.

Mr. Sherk's true legacy was the generations of stage managers and assistant directors he trained, now spread around the world in major positions in operas and theaters, Mr. Hahn said.

"Everywhere you go, every major theater, you will meet people who were given their first jobs by Jerry, and then he mentored them through the early parts of their careers," he said.

Mr. Sherk is survived by his wife, Tara, their two children, Charles and Odette, and his five siblings.

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

Century-Old Green Bay Symphony to Close

May 6, 2014

As many women orchestra members a hundred years ago as the Vienna Philharmonic has today (six)After more than 100 years of performances, the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming season will be its last, reports the Post-Crescent in Wisconsin:

“It was a very difficult decision to make,” GBSO executive director Dan Linssen said in a statement released Friday. “However, we cannot continue offering high-quality, professional performances not knowing from concert to concert if we’ll be able to cover our costs.”

The GBSO’s music director, Donato Cabrera [Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony], has stepped down from his position, but not as a result of the announced closure, Linssen said.

“There were conflicts in some schedule dates, and he elected to step down as director,” he said.

The Green Bay organization is trying to decide what to do with its three youth orchestras, which provide performance opportunities and education to about 200 students starting in middle school. The youth String Orchestra, Philharmonia and Symphony all will maintain their 2014-15 seasons as planned and likely will continue in some capacity, according to staff.

The adult orchestra, which includes 60-some paid professional musicians, will end after a farewell season of five performances next year. They will be directed by a guest conductor from Lawrence University in Appleton.

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

Calling All Trombones, Flutes, and Drums

May 6, 2014

It's time for both the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts and San Francisco Music in Schools Today instrument drives.

Up North, the time and place will be May 10, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Montgomery Village, 911 Village Court, Santa Rosa.

Each year at this lively event, members of the community are encouraged to bring musical instruments to donate to the Center’s Music For Schools program, which maintains an “instrument lending library,” to share those with over 300 children in the community who might not otherwise have access to musical instruction.

Donations contribute to the Center’s innovative Music For Schools program, which currently maintains an extensive collection of more than 400 instruments available for use including wind, brass, percussion, and stringed instruments and educational resources. The Center works directly with schools and instrumental music teachers to place these instruments with students who could not otherwise afford to participate in their school’s band or orchestra program. Music For Schools is the only instrument lending library in the North Bay, and one of the few in the nation.

The background to the program: In 1980, the San Francisco Board of Education was planning to eliminate the elementary school music program. Several concerned citizens, including S.F. Chronicle music critic and SFCV founder Robert Commanday, approached Sir Yehudi Menuhin and members of the San Francisco Symphony to make a presentation to the Board. After Sir Menuhin's inspired address, the Board gave a standing ovation and restored the music budget. San Francisco Instrumental and Theatrical for Youth Fund was formed by members of the original coalition shortly thereafter, including founding President Alden Gilchrist, Louise McTernan, and Joan Murray. In 1983, funding of choral programs began in San Francisco public schools.

In 1989, the program's name was changed to Music in Schools Today, supporting many choral, instrumental and comprehensive arts programs. In-school artist programs have reached 21,000 children and youth annually throughout the Bay Area, developing instrumental music, opera, theater and visual arts programs and returning to our original role in advocacy.

Slightly south of us, Music at Kohl Mansion is the Upper Peninsula drop-off location for Music in Schools Today. The instruments are collected by Music at Kohl Mansion and distributed through the schools in San Mateo County.

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

Opera's Resurgence in the Middle East

May 6, 2014

Dubai's planned Opera HouseOpera Grand is just a giant residential project in Dubai, but it's located in the Opera District, a new cultural hub being built by India's Emaar company, one of the Gulf's largest real estate developers. Before we get to the opera part, consider the statistics:

Opera Grand is a 66-story residential tower, with over 200 luxuriously appointed two, three, and four-bedroom apartments. They overlook Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Fountain, and Dubai Opera, a 2,000-seat multiformat venue for opera, theater, concerts, art exhibitions, orchestra, film, sports events, and seasonal programs.

As iconic in appearance, says the sales brochure, as the Sydney Opera House, Dubai Opera is styled on the traditional sailing vessels of the Arabian Gulf. The bow of the structure will contain Dubai Opera’s main stage, orchestra, and seating areas, as well as the proposed sky garden and restaurants.

If you're interested in an Opera Grand apartment, the sales launch commences on May 10 in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Singapore, "first-registered, first-served."

If you're interested in opera itself, especially with a local angle, here's that: just 260 miles south of Dubai is Oman and its Royal Opera House in Muscat, run by former San Francisco Opera artistic administrator Christina Scheppelmann. Before taking that job two years ago, she was director of artistic operations for Washington National Opera for nine years.

Her company in Oman is currently producing Rusalka, presented by the Janáček Opera of the National Theatre Brno, to be followed by The Lights of Andalusia, a flamenco-based concert from "Arabo Andulusian civilizations."

Oman Royal Opera House Director General Christina Scheppelmann and her inexpensive Maserati; gas there is $1.20 a gallonThe last season had Aida, La bohème, Simon Boccanegra, and Madama Butterfly; as well as concerts by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, jazz programs, and the music of Oman.

Scheppelmann's blog is a mother lode of information about Oman and the travels of an opera executive around the world. And then, there is her report on the best place to buy a 2002 Maserati Cambiocorsa for $18,000:

Cars are not too expensive here. Given the buying power in the area and with expats rotating through so frequently there are many luxury and high end used cars on the market at very reasonable prices. The Royal Omani Police drive Mercedes! I saw 3 Lamborghinis in a 2 week span! BMW, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley, etc. are frequent sights on the roads here. There are plenty more practical vehicles, too, of course, Japanese, American and European makes. The roads are in excellent condition in most places and there's no road salt to speed corrosion, so the luxury cars are all in great shape and typically have low mileage.

This is all by way of saying ... a colleague and I are now the proud co-owners of a Maserati! More formally: a Maserati Cambiocorsa 4200, make 2002, 8 cylinders, 400 horsepower. This was the first Maserati made after Ferrari purchased the company so the engine is a Formula 1 Ferrari engine.

I was going to buy it just by myself, but considering that I won't drive it every day, that some repairs will be needed over time on an 11-year old sports car and that my colleague, our Technical Director Geoff, loves old cars and has technical and mechanical car experience, I took his offer to go in on it with me. Overall it seemed convenient and comforting to me to have a car geek as co-owner of such high-powered vintage race car.

We paid less than $18,000 for our Maserati; yearly insurance: $500, no property tax, a nominal registration fee, gas: $17 for 14 gallons. This makes it relatively affordable to own such car here in Oman. I doubt I could ever do this anywhere else, so here it is, the "red beauty."

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

Forgiving Philip Glass for Decades of Ostinato

May 6, 2014

San Francisco Ballet in Robbins' <em>Glass Pieces</em> Photos by Erik TomassonThe San Francisco Ballet's last two programs of the season gave Philip Glass a new boost, in my estimation, compositions long-handicapped by endless repetitions of microscopic modulations. Yes, I have always appreciated his early short pieces, the rolling waves of the soundtrack for Mishima, much of the "Cocteau operas," and others in his amazingly large output, but too many of his works sound too much alike.

So, at the Ballet, something familiar and something new from the Glass oeuvre, all to the good. In Program 8, Jerome Robbins' inspired choices for Glass Pieces: the throbbing "Rubric" opening movement; the hushed, lyrical "Facade" for the second; and the Akhnaten excerpt — to give an idea, here's the first act of the opera.

Under Martin West's direction, the Ballet Orchestra followed its fine work in Stravinsky's still-startling, mercilessly 12-tone Agon and the Schoenberg orchestration of Brahms in the Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet with a splendid performance of Glass at the Saturday matinee.

The long, floating saxophone solo of "Facade" from "Glassworks" sounded especially sumptuous in Dave Henderson's performance.

In Program 7, Glass' Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was used wisely and well by Liam Scarlett for his terrific Hummingbird.

Brenda Tom's <em>Angels and Watermarks</em> CDThe music — conducted by West and featuring the brilliant pianist Brenda Tom Vahur — is melodious, interesting, and the second movement has great lyrical beauty.

In an excellent performance of Helgi Tomasson's The Fifth Season on Wednesday, concertmaster Roy Malan (in his 39th and final year with the orchestra) shone in violin solos of Karl Jenkins' score.

Tirol Concerto pianist Brenda Tom — her professional name — has just published a CD of Howard Hersh's Angels and Watermarks. The harpsichord suite was composed in 2004 at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Its title comes from a story by Henry Miller, in which he continually alters a painting until he discovers an angel, his watermark that was waiting to be revealed.

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

A Love Letter to Chamber Music and Theofanidis

May 6, 2014

Miró QuartetPatricia Kristof Moy, executive director of Music at Kohl Mansion, was pleased as punch with recent audience response to the series. Asked for specifics, she proudly shared this from Rick Gydesen, an art enthusiast I remember in the Oakland Ballet administration at the glory days of that organization. The note says, in part:

As far as I'm concerned, Music at Kohl Mansion has entered the Pantheon of California presenters.

As I begin to write, it's intermission of the May 4 closing concert of the season. This delightful 30-year chamber series is hosted in the Great Hall of the 100-year-old Kohl Mansion, located at the summit of the Sylvan Mercy High School campus in Burlingame.

The wonderful Henschel Quartett, based in Munich, is featured. Helmed by an attractive pair of siblings (the brother on first violin, his sister on viola), this ensemble made a startling impression from their very first notes as far as the really big sound they can produce. And not by faking it through volume, but from their remarkable depth of tone: There were moments when I swear I was hearing an entire string section.

The two classical pieces on the program received a first rate performance: the Mendelssohn E Minor, Op. 44 No. 2 (such a nice piece of music — I mean, truly lovely), and the Mozart A Major, K. 464 (the so-called "Drum", one of the six "Haydn quartets"). The Mozart (to my ears) is one of his less memorable pieces; a casual listen can go in one ear and out the other (largely because it lacks a Big Tune or memorable melodic hook.) But Herr Henschel and his compatriots managed to make it interesting, even compelling. They made you pay attention, and in the process hear why this may in fact be one of Mozart's better quartets.

But the true revelation of the evening was the contemporary piece before intermission, the 1997 Visions and Miracles by the American composer Christopher Theofanidis, who wrote the splendid music for Heart of a Soldier, the "9/11 opera" premiered at San Francisco Opera three years ago. Although I had mixed feelings about the opera itself — the libretto, and the fact that it really wasn't about 9/11 — the music was attractive, accessible, and at times, even remarkable.

And so it was this evening with this early quartet by Theofanidis. I was beyond mesmerized, it's been ages since I've heard a new piece of music that had me on the edge of my seat the way this wonderfully inventive, vivid, and intensely musical three-part suite did tonight.

But the real clincher came in retrospect during the evening's first encore: The quartet performed the final movement to Dvořák's "American Quartet," and I realized that the Theofanidis was every bit as good as the Dvořák!

And I saw something I thought I'd never see: the audience, consisting largely of elderly, conservative listeners in their 70s and 80s, gave it a standing ovation. When it's always the "modern" work on the program they complain about.

A couple of years ago Kohl presented a quartet who performed Samuel Barber, and the audience had to be carefully prepped beforehand so they wouldn't revolt. Yeah, the Barber String Quartet with its famous Adagio. You know, the one that's appeared in about a gazillion Hollywood movies. That's how spooked audiences have learned to become when it comes to modern music.

But tonight, no one was spooked. In fact, they were elated. After the concert concluded, I heard the board member say, "We need to see about doing more stuff by this Theofanidis fellow."

So I think I may have found the diamond in the coalbin after all: a contemporary "classical" composer who can actually write good music. And REAL music, not just another dreary, faceless, Pulitzer-bound piece of academia. And just when I was on the verge of concluding that it was no longer humanly possible. Look up this amazing composer.

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

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