Music Honoring Kristin Pankonin

Robert P. Commanday on October 6, 2014
Kristin Pankonin
Kristin Pankonin

The fitting tribute one musician can pay another is, without exception, musical. So it was Sunday when one singer after another got up on the San Francisco Conservatory stage under a photographic portrait of the late Kristin Pankonin and musically honored her memory. Several, on completion of the song, turned towards the portrait with a gesture that was either dedicatory or recognition of her role in the singer’s life, or both.

Pankonin had made a large contribution to the careers of numerous musicians, mostly singers, as an insightful coach and highly sensitive keyboard partner. Also, for many, she was a knowing counselor and friend, and she was described colorfully, emotionally, and appreciatively in words spoken by Joseph Meyers and Mark Hernandez.

The selections covered a wide range. The classics were Mozart’s evanescent “Soave sia il vento” from Così fan tutte, gently sung by Maryann Malvi and Nicolle Foland, sopranos; Michael Dean, baritone. Also featured were Schubert’s “Ganymede” (Claire Kelm), and Rachmaninov’s “Vocalise,” both moving, as played by Emil Miland, cello, and Robert Schwartz, piano.

Among the newer and unusual numbers, Pablo Casals’ “Nigra sum” was particularly affecting, (Christine Abraham, Christa Pfeiffer, sopranos, Bruce Rameker, countertenor). There was also Gordon Getty’s graceful and touching Emily Dickinson settings, “Going from the World We Know” and “Beauty Crowds Me” (Marnie Breckenridge, soprano). And David Garner’s “Fiddler Jones,” from Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology” (1915) in a light and charming setting by David Garner, (Catherine Cook, mezzo soprano). Also by Garner was a setting of a Persian folk song, “Goleh Pamchal” (Come out, come out, Primrose flower) warmly sung by Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai, soprano. Ron Valentino, piano.

All the rest of the evening’s piano support was in the light, responsive, and sensitive hands of Timothy Bach and Robert Schwartz, his performance both delicate and elegant.

Modern times was first represented by “No One is Alone” from Steven Sondheim’s Into the Woods, given a rendition by Lisa Delan, soprano, most personally connective, as was her close professional relationship to Pankonin. Then there was Frederica von Stade in a cowboy hat with Bruce Rameker, in a fedora, reverting to his baritone range, having great fun with “Anything you can do, I can do better” (Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun and on into parody verses. Joseph Meyers, in comedian mode and bright tenor, led his parodic take on “The Legend of Kleinsach” (Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, Kleinsach supplanted by Pankonin’s denticulatory dog, backed by a half dozen of the evening’s singers.

Finally, Meyers and Krista Wigle led off Bernstein’s “Make Our Garden Grow” (from Candide) while singers gradually filed onto the stage from the audience, to a number of about 45, joining in the ringing close.

Then, the sizeable houseful that had been emotionally audible, in its enthusiasm, sympathy and humor, repaired to the lower lobby for an indecently generous and varied cookie reception. There, after extended visiting and reminiscing, ended what could be called — no disrespect to the Memorial intended — the Pankonin Bash.