May 27, 2014
French classical music is not an endangered genre in the Bay Area: San Francisco Symphony alone has just concluded subscription programs featuring Debussy's Images and coming up this week, Charles Dutoit conducts Poulenc's Gloria and Fauré's Requiem.
Still, you can never have enough of a good thing, so consider the June 20-21 First Festival of French Classical Music, presented by Alliance Française of Silicon Valley.
To be held in the Mountain View Community School of Music and Art's Tateuchi Recital Hall, the concerts present 28 Bay Area musicians in performance of music by Maurice Ravel, Ernest Chausson, Gabriel Fauré, Andre Jolivet, Darius Milhaud, Francois Poulenc, and Charles-Valentin Alkan; also songs made famous by Edith Piaf.
Music directors of the festival are the husband-and-wife conductor Mark Starr and flutist Isabelle Chapuis; general director is Max Bouchard, president of the Alliance Française of Silicon Valley. Starr says of the motivation to start the festival:
Northern California is particularly a Francophile region, and many French communities are established in the Bay Area. According to the French Consul of San Francisco, about 60,000 French people live in here, and a quarter of them work in the new technologies field.
The French are the largest European community in Northern California, a region rich in cultural diversity and historically influenced by French culture. The Alliance Française de Silicon Valley wishes to continue to honor and develop this rich heritage and relationship between French and American culture.
Among the many soloists are violinist Stephen Waarts (first-prize winner of the Menuhin International Violin Competition); pianist Gwendolyn Mok; mezzo-soprano Layna Chianakas; and Chapuis. Also participating: Ensemble San Francisco, a seven-member cooperative founded by clarinetist Roman Fukshansky and pianist Christine Payne McLeavey.
The rich and generous programming is evident in the June 20th program, "Une soirée parisienne," which opens with Milhaud’s jazzy 1923 ballet La creation du monde, which describes the creation of the world as told in African mythology. The music combines modernist musical techniques with forms from popular music, tinged with exotic rhythms from jazz and African folklore.
Clarinetist Roman Fukshansky and bassoonist Rufus Olivier join in Poulenc’s virtuoso romp, the Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon. Composed in 1922, Poulenc called it “an entertainment.”
Violinist Rebecca Jackson, accompanied by pianist Christine McLeavey Payne, will perform Ravel’s fiery Tzigane, a synthesis of elements from Gypsy music, requiring violin virtuosity.
Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 is passionate Romantic music, created during an emotional crisis in the life of the composer: his short-lived engagement with Marianne Viardot, the daughter of the celebrated opera singer Pauline Viardot. Christine McLeavey Payne is the featured pianist. Cellist Jonah Kim is on the program with a mélange of tunes made famous by Piaf.
On the second program, the major work is Chausson’s Concert pour violon, piano et quatuor a cordes, with Waarts and Mok as soloists.