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I meet with each of the contestants several times over the course of competition week, often driving them to and from events, to get an instrument repaired, sometimes just to get a milkshake or a burger between performances.
I'm amazed at the split and multiple lives they all lead — on one hand, skateboarding, playing video games, checking out the NBA finals, and text messaging their friends, doing everything that 15-23 year olds do. Talk can range from a favorite pair of sneakers to their pick for American Idol.
On the other hand, they are each consummate and oftentimes seasoned professional musicians, performing incredibly demanding works by Bach and Beethoven, interpreting the Klein commissioned works, and carefully preparing their next performances while keeping their ears tuned to each of the competitors' rounds.
That is Larry Chung's experience of the Irving M. Klein International String Competition, of which he has been executive director for the past 12 years. Says Competition Director Mitchell Sardou Klein:
This competition was inspired by my father, Irving M. Klein, the cellist of the Claremont Quartet, and a devoted and inspiring cello and chamber music pedagogue. When he died in 1984, many of his colleagues and I searched for a suitable memorial to continue his belief in service to young musicians. Knowing that the Irving Klein Competition has become a permanent and respected part of the musical world gives us great personal satisfaction.
The California Music Center and San Francisco State University's College of Creative Arts present the 24th annual competition, June 11-14, with public concerts on June 13-14 at SFSU's Knuth Hall; tickets range from $5 to $20.
From a field of 62 entrants from nine countries, eight semifinalists are now vying for solo and recital appearances, with cash prizes, ranging from $1,500 to $14,000, to be applied to their education expenses. They include San Francisco-born cellist Meta Weiss, 21, a student of Norman Fischer at Rice University in Houston; and violinist Eunice Kim, 17, from Daly City, who studies with Wei He at the S.F. Conservatory of Music, and is also a member of the Formerly Known As Classical ensemble.
The others are Jacqueline Choi, 22-year-old cellist from Old Tappan, N.J., who studies with Paul Katz at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston; SuJin Lee, 17-year-old cellist from South Korea, who studies with Paul Katz at the New England Conservatory; Vicki Powell, 20-year-old violist from Chicago, who studies with Roberto Diaz at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; So Jin Kim, 23-year-old violinist from South Korea, a student of Cho-Liang Lin at Rice University in Houston; Nikki Chooi, 19-year-old violinist from Victoria, Canada, student of Joseph Silverstein and Ida Kavafian at Curtis; Xiang Yu, 20-year-old violinist from Shanghai, China, studying with Donald Weilerstein at the New England Conservatory.
The jury for the competition includes members of the Alexander String Quartet, members of the Cypress String Quartet, Peter Gelfand, Marc Gottlieb, Alan Grishman, Joel Hoffman, Joshua Kosman, Patricia Taylor Lee, Jeffrey Miller, and Alice Schoenfeld.More about Irving M. Klein International String Competition »
There is something in Kenneithia Mitchell's voice that goes straight to the heart. Her debut this weekend in the title role of a sensational West Bay Opera Madama Butterfly impressed with a singularly mellow voice, effortless, brilliant phrasing. She disappears in the role, serves the music and drama, no ego showing or heard in the voice — a true artist, not a star-wannabe.
George, the emeritus director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, along with conductors David J. Xiques and Cyrus Ginwala, the school's singers, the Alexander String Quartet, pianist Roger Woodward, the University Chorus, tenor Brian Cheney, and organist Jonathan Dimmock will celebrate the great composer with a generous cross-section of his works on May 16 at Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light and on May 17 at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral.
But that's just the teaser for the "well-honored" part. The concerts are benefits for causes that would have warmed the cockles of young Felix's heart and moved him to say thanks in one of the four languages he spoke fluently (German, English, Italian, and Latin).
Proceeds from the first concert will benefit the St. Martin de Porres School choral program, and the second concert will benefit the Choir of Men and Boys at Grace Cathedral — two organizations that provide music education and performance opportunities to young people.
The program contains several of Mendelssohn’s undervalued, large-scale choral works, including several from his two oratorios, St. Paul (1836) and Elijah (1846). Also one of the composer’s early string symphonies, several keyboard works, and the magnificent String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor, Op. 80. Not leaving out Felix’s talented sister Fanny, the concert includes two works by her.
It’s no wonder that a choral master, like George, would love Mendelssohn, who contributed a good portion of the 19th-century’s best choral music to the repertory. During his quarter-century leadership of the SFS Chorus (1983-2006) and before, with Margaret Hillis' Chicago Symphony Chorus, George has championed Mendelssohn's music, along with a broad range of composers, from Bach to Sondheim. Under his baton, the SFS Chorus won four Grammy Awards, including Best Choral Album (for Brahms' A German Requiem and Orff's Carmina Burana), Classical Album of the Year, and the 2001 concert production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.
George is enchanted by Mendelssohn's childhood, his visit to Leipzig at age 12, spending time with the 73-year-old Goethe. "Every morning," George quotes Mendelssohn's diary, "I receive a kiss from the author of Faust. After dinner, I entertain with Bach fugues and improvisations. I saw where Bach worked and composed!"
A few years later, the Bach-Mendelssohn connection flowered, George says, "through Sarah Itzig Levy, a sister of Bella Salomon, Mendelssohn's maternal grandmother, Felix copying the then little-known St. Matthew Passion (can you imagine that!), and then another 'activist,' the actor Edward Devrient, sang the role of Jesus, and suddenly St. Matthew was — rightly — considered the greatest German art." Devrient has been quoted saying "It took an actor and a young Jew to return the greatest Christian music to the German people."More about SFSU School of Music and Dance »
Good old Herbst Theatre had a fabulous 24 hours over the weekend. Friday night, it hosted the Philharmonia Baroque's world-class presentation of Handel's Athalia. On Saturday — instead of soloists, chorus, and orchestra squeezed onto the small stage (how do they do that?!) — Herbst showcased Nelson Freire, a solitary artist in recital ... and still created the same sort of grand experience.
The Oakland East Bay Symphony's April 17 concert at the Paramount Theatre "pairs two composers who were revolutionaries in their time, and who changed the course of music forever," says Music Director Michael Morgan. In the case of Beethoven, it's the youthful and pathbreaking 1798 Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Sara Buechner as soloist), and from Stravinsky, it's the riotous Petrouchka ballet suite (1947 version).
In addition to new harmonies and dynamics in both works, wild rhythms are special characteristics: In the third movement of the piano concerto, syncopation reaches the point of jazz, and the adventures of Petrouchka the puppet overwhelm with arrhythmical motions on the order of Chorea sancti viti (St. Vitus' dance), just on this side of dyskinesias. Both pieces burst with colors, huge swings in mood, and waves of raw power.
Petrouchka has an important role in the history of ballet. Stravinsky composed the music for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, which premiered it at the Théâtre du Chatelet in 1911, under Pierre Monteux — who, it may behoove young audiences to know, later became the longest-serving music director of the San Francisco Symphony, from 1935 to 1952. With choreography by Mikhail Fokine, sets by Alexandre Benois, and Vaslav Nijinsky in the title role, it's hard to get more historic. But the greatness of the occasion took decades to be appreciated, and the public had a hard time with the music, although it refrained from the outright riot that greeted The Rite of Spring two years later in the same Paris theater. (OEBS originally scheduled Rite, which requires a larger orchestra, for this program.)
It wasn't just the audience troubled by Petrouchka: The mighty Vienna Philharmonic refused to play the score, calling it "dirty music." I wonder what they would have made of Bartók's near-contemporary, far more erotic The Miraculous Mandarin back then; it did upset listeners in Cologne, and was banned in Germany. Thirty-six years after the premiere, Stravinsky reworked Petrouchka as an orchestral suite, but not to worry — he didn't "clean it up."
Not as well known as Wagner's "Tristan Chord," the "Petrouchka Chord" is interesting enough, with two major triads played together. Listen for this bitonality device heralding the appearance of the tragic hero of the piece.
This being Morgan's ever-contemporary OEBS, there is something new on the program. It's Mark Lanz Weiser's Four Scenes From the Story of Toccata and Fugue. The Southern California composer, 40, equally busy with movies and concert pieces, is a multiple ASCAP winner. His opera, Where Angels Fear to Tread, premiered at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.
Of Four Scenes, Morgan says: "It's a short piece, a series of selections from a film score (tonal, evocative) and because it's for string orchestra, it reminds you of that other great string orchestra film score, Psycho — but without the insanity."
The film in question is Neal Thibedeau's 2007 thriller The Story of Tocatta and Fugue, whose main characters are named Gil Toccata and Andi Fugue, played by Graham Sibley and Annika Marks. ("Tocatta" in the film becomes "Toccata" in the concert program because, as the composer admitted to us: "I didn’t want people to think I don’t know how to spell that Italian word.")
To enhance further the concert's aural pomp and grand circumstances, Morgan opens the evening with Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1888 Russian Easter Overture. Note how the celebratory theme in this piece will later resonate in Petrouchka's carnival scenes. Mother Russia will be well served.
An hour before the concert starts (as Russian Orthodox Obikhod canticles, mixed with pagan rhythms, ring out), John Kendall Bailey presents a preconcert lecture.More »