To hear pianist (and longtime SFCV contributor) Jerry Kuderna tell it, his upcoming concert at Trinity Chapel in Berkeley on June 6 was an extreme example of serendipity. There he was, innocently practicing music of the Catalan composer Federico Mompou, “the first Spanish composer who really got into my system,” he says. Kuderna normally swims in the more heavily modernist, nontonal, end of the 20th-century pool, music completely different from Mompou's. Knowing that Joaquin Nin-Culmell (1908-2004), then working in the music department at UC Berkeley, had been Mompou's student, Kuderna called him up for some pointers.
A few years later, one of Kuderna’s students, who was also a close friend of Nin-Culmell’s, gave him the four volumes of the composer’s Tonadas, some of which appear on this coming program. “They’re all fairly short pieces — dances, songs. You really feel that it grows right out of Spanish folk music — it’s deep, it’s powerful, it gets into you. I would sometimes play them during the Offertory at church, and people would always come up to me after and say, ‘What was that you played?’ I began to realize that these pieces really were communicative. I realized that if there’s quality in it, it’s worth playing.
“And then I was down at Serendipity — the bookstore — and all of [Nin-Culmell’s] music was there. All of the stuff he left behind [when he died] — they had it. So I just bought the whole lot of it. And then I found in there all this Falla and music by his other teachers, all this really rare stuff. And I started playing that, and I began to think, ‘Maybe I have some genetic connection to this music.’
“[Nin-Culmell’s] niece, Gayle Nin Rosencrantz, asked me last year to play on [the composer’s] centennial concert. The pay that I got for that concert was more scores. (You know, that’s the great thing about my life, I don’t get paid in coin, I get paid in music.) And among these were pieces Joaquin had written when he was 20, dedicated to Falla. And I thought, ‘Wow, what a talent!'”
So having lived with this music for about a year, Kuderna thought that it was time to bring together some of this unexpected wealth of music that had come into his possession in a concert. And here it is. You won’t have many opportunities to savor this music, wonderful as it is, so you should push to get to this event, and reap the rewards of the music of another underappreciated 20th-century master. “I’m just sorry,” says the composer’s newest acolyte, “that Joaquin died before I ever had a chance to tell him how great he was.”