These lively Q&A's aim to shed light on the personalities behind the music. Get to know your favorite artists...or discover someone new!
Some classical musicians are stars within the genre. Others have become known outside the classical field. And then there’s Yo-Yo Ma. He’s a classical music superstar, of course, but he’s also a musician who has tackled everything from Brazilian rhythms to the music of Appalachia; an educator; an almost insanely prolific recording artist; and a person who actively takes part in promoting music for all. Although his time is limited, he did talk a bit about performing with the San Francisco Symphony this coming week, as well as about some of his recent and upcoming projects.
In the middle of an extended weekend’s showcase by Stanford Lively Arts, composer Steve Reich sat down in a hotel lobby to talk about his five decades of exploration in the musical outback. Like much of his music, Reich’s discourse is energetic and propulsive, as well as ingenuously eclectic.
Acclaimed for his “physical, sensual relationship” with his instrument, British cellist Steven Isserlis is an artist who combines brilliant technique with innate feeling. His 2009 appearance with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra was one of the year’s highlights on the Bay Area music scene; this month, he returns under the auspices of San Francisco Performances in a duo recital with Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein. The program, Jan. 10 at Herbst Theatre, includes the Cello Sonatas of Britten and Rachmaninov, as well as Isserlis’ own arrangement of Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 3.
Jeffrey Thomas is preparing American Bach Soloists for their two performances of Handel’s Messiah at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral this weekend. He is also writing a book on Handel’s masterpiece, leading the ABS into new educational territories (including a summer training program), and finding time to create the occasional chilled-avocado and seafood soup.
Tell me how you got started writing your book.
Canadian-born pianist Marc-André Hamelin is recognized as one of the top talents in the concert hall today. He’s a champion of both undiscovered and standard piano repertoire, he’s prolific in the recording studio, and he’ll see his first published composition released next fall. Speaking to me from his Boston home, Hamelin declines to be defined by any one of these activities, especially his legendary technical ability. Rather, he’s a guy who’s just “trying to make music.”
Joana Carneiro, the music director of the Berkeley Symphony, has established herself as a conductor at the relatively young age of 33. After several prestigious conducting fellowships (the last with the Los Angeles Philharmonic), she is having a breakout year, conducting the opening concert of the Venice Biennale festival, making debut guest appearances with the Toronto and Seattle symphonies, and giving performances of John Adams’ A Flowering Tree in Paris and Cincinnati, as well as cutting a CD with Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Orchestra.
Renée Fleming is one of the opera world’s most recognizable divas. Blessed with gorgeous good looks and a golden voice, the Pennsylvania-born soprano started her career in Mozart roles and soon moved on to her favorite composer, Richard Strauss. Today, her repertoire includes a wide variety of roles, including Rusalka, Tatiana, Alcina, and Blanche DuBois in André Previn’s Streetcar Named Desire, a role she brought to luminous life in the opera’s world premiere at San Francisco Opera. Fleming returns to the Bay Area for a recital Dec.
William Bolcom has always made his own way. Throughout his career, which has produced symphonies, operas, chamber pieces, and piano and vocal works, the Seattle-born, Michigan-based composer has often rejected the prevailing notions of what “serious” music should include.
When mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato made her San Francisco Opera debut in 2003, as Rosina in The Barber of Seville, it was immediately apparent that audiences were hearing an artist of extravagant vocal gifts. The Kansas native has gone on to sing a wide variety of roles — from Cherubino and Cenerentola, to Octavian (which she sang in San Francisco in 2007) and Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking.
Still, there’s no finer Rossini interpreter working today.