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Violinists Come and Go

December 11, 2012

[...without regard to Michelangelo; a reference, of course, to T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, a magical work of poetry ... still without appropriate music written for it.]

Mark Volkert, with the score of <em>Pandora</em> Photo by Annie PhillipsAt the Wednesday concert of the San Francisco Symphony, unveiling Mark Volkert's outstanding Pandora, the observant listener (that would be me) first noticed Volkert sitting in the orchestra during an excessively boisterous performance of Richard Strauss' Till Eugenspiegel (a rambunctious/satirical work that doesn't need to be pushed beyond what it is), then he moved into Davies Symphony Hall's poor substitute for a royal box ... and finally Volkert went to work again in the violin section after intermission; in the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5.

The orchestra's longest-serving musician is also one its hardest-working, and that's one major reason why Volkert as a composer is known for the quality, not the quantity, of his music. More would be very welcome.

Another sighting on Wednesday was also in the violin section: A rather unfamiliar face turned up in the elite front section, normally occupied by concertmaster Alexander Barantschik (joined 2001), Associate Concertmaster Nadya Tichman (1980), Assistant Concertmaster Volkert (1972), and Assistant Concertmaster Jeremy Constant (1984).

There is a fairly strict pecking (and seating) order among them, so who was the young woman in the second chair in the first half of the concert, in the fourth chair for the other half?

In Sun Jang Photo Terrence McCarthyIt's In Sun Jang, who received a one-year substitution contract in the first violin section two years ago, a regular contract last year, and is now on tenure track; part of that two-year process is to have the candidate spend a week in the front section. So every time you see an unfamiliar face in the higher regions, that means another musician may be joining permanently the 101-year-old orchestra, following the path of 40-year veteran Volkert.

But just to show how difficult it is even to begin to long road to become a member of SFS, consider Jang's background: The Seoul native and holder of a graduate degree from the New England Conservatory (where she studied with Donald Weilerstein) won a top prize in the prestigious Henryk Szeryng Violin Competition, and she has been soloist and recitalist in Korea, Japan, and the U.S. She was also invited by the late Isaac Stern to perform in Carnegie Hall during Stern's Chamber Music Workshop.

Meanwhile, there was a serious loss in the orchestra, thanks to the Chicago Symphony "poaching" SFS principal timpanist David Herbert, according to a Slipped Disc report:

Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra announce the appointment of David Herbert as its new principal timpani, effective July 10, 2013. David Herbert is currently principal timpanist of the San Francisco Symphony, a post he has held since 1994.

He served as a guest principal timpanist with the Berlin Konzerthausorchester in 2007, 2008, and 2009, and prior to his appointment in San Francisco, was the principal timpanist in the New World Symphony from 1992 to 1994. Herbert has given numerous solo performances, appearing with the San Francisco Symphony as soloist four times over the course of his tenure, as well as with the St. Louis Symphony, Shanghai Symphony, National Repertory Orchestra, and the New World Symphony.

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