Charles conducting
As president of the Royal College of Music, Charles conducted the RCM’s Elastic Band orchestra | Credit: RCM

There is musical and local background to the dramatic news of the royal succession following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 8 and the accession of the former Prince of Wales.

Both visited the San Francisco Bay Area, the Queen and Prince Philip in 1983 and Prince Charles — now King Charles III — during an extensive California visit in 1977, which included the War Memorial Opera House.

That was one of opera’s storied nights: SF Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler’s premiere of the Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production of Puccini’s Turandot, with Montserrat Caballé and Luciano Pavarotti, conducted by a then-24-year-old Riccardo Chailly in his San Francisco (and American) debut and, to date, his only appearance here. Also in the memorable cast was a bevy of young talent, including Leona Mitchell, Pamela South, Carol Vaness, and Gwendolyn Jones.

Meanwhile, the opera world has paid tribute to the late queen, with many of the U.K.’s major companies releasing statements in her memory.

Beach Blanket Babylon
Charles during the 1977 visit to San Francisco, which included Beach Blanket Babylon (shown here) and San Francisco Opera | Credit: Chris Stewart/The Chronicle

The king, born Charles Philip Arthur George, has always been a music lover and learned to play trumpet and piano as a child, making his public debut aged 15 as a trumpeter in St. Giles’ Cathedral. He played with the 80-piece orchestra at his school in Gordonstoun, Scotland, and later played the cello in the orchestra at Trinity College, Cambridge.

In a recent interview with Classic FM, Charles named some of his favorite classical pieces, including Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, choruses from J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, the “Bridal March of the Birds” from Hubert Parry’s The Birds of Aristophanes, and the Chopin piano concertos.

He told Classic FM: “I find the whole experience of being with the orchestra or listening to it in a wonderful great hall, I mean it is extraordinary because the sound completely surrounds you and there is nothing to substitute for that, I think. It’s that wonderful sensation of being part of an immense whole.”

As president of the Royal College of Music for over two decades, Charles took to the podium and conducted the RCM’s Elastic Band orchestra. Last year, when he became patron of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, he conducted the RPO at a concert in the Barbican.

CD back cover
Charles illustrated Sony’s Royal Edition Label of 119 CDs

An important, lengthy musical project with Charles’s involvement was Leonard Bernstein’s Royal Edition Label for Sony, featuring 119 CDs “with paintings by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales” on their covers.

Charles has had warm relations with musicians, such as Jonathan Dunford, the American violist who has been teaching and performing Baroque repertoire in France.

Dunford told SFCV: “As you may know, Charles III is a cellist. I have letters from his office, giving me permission to dedicate my Stöeffken CD to him.” Composers who contacted Charles about their projects usually received warm greetings and encouragement from the then-prince.

Dunford also calls attention to the great significance of Charles I and Charles II in music. The court of King Charles I (1625–1645) was resplendent with the highly refined music of a new and confident English school of composers that began with Orlando Gibbons and ended with the Lawes brothers and Charles’s execution in 1649.

Charles II, the “Merry Monarch” (reign from 1660–1685), was responsible for the revival of many of the arts during the Stuart Restoration, especially theater and music, the latter graced by Henry Purcell, Matthew Locke, Pelham Humfrey, John Blow, and others.

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