21-year-old violinist Kenneth Renshaw is currently studying at the Juilliard School in New York, but the Bay Area native has already travelled extensively, as a soloist and in competition. His performance of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with the California Symphony from the Spring of 2014 will be featured on this Sunday night's edition of KDFC's Bay Area Mix.
Renshaw won the Menuhin prize in 2012 in Beijing, and has appeared on NPR's 'From the Top', before Juilliard, he was at the New England Conservatory, and before that, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The March, 2014 'Catch a Rising Star' concert he played with the California Symphony was a bit of a homecoming for the former Concertmaster of the San Fransico Symphony Youth Orchestra. "It was a very very fun experience," he says. "Particularly because the Music Director, Donato Cabrera, I had worked with in the Youth Orchestra. He was the Music Director for my last year in the orchestra there, so I knew him personally, and really enjoyed working with him." Renshaw says he honed important skills while in the first chair of the large ensemble. "The orchestra really opened up the way I listened to other musicians around me, because I'd been doing chamber music before, which is a much smaller scale, and with a smaller group of people who you get to really know well intimately, and try to match the sounds. But with an orchestra of a hundred people, you have to listen to your section, as well as listen to and blend in with the other sections of the orchestra, and know how your section's part relates to other parts."
He learned the Mendelssohn concerto when he was 12, and describes it as the sort of piece violinists return to on and off throughout their lives. He's managed to do that already a few times, putting it away for several years before bringing it back out again. "And that's been very helpful for me, because every time I come back to it, it feels like a completely new piece, because I have different ideas and notions of how I want it to soudn, and what I think Mendelssohn was getting at each time. And it grows and it develops, and turns into something different each time."
Monday, January 12
The first of its kind New Music Gathering takes place this week, hosted by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. One of the four founders, Lainie Fefferman says it's part conference, part festival, but mostly a way of providing the community of composers and performers of contemporary music with an opportunity for support and networking.
The gathering will bring more than 200 registered attendees to three days of seminars, panels, and concerts from all corners of the new music community. It got its start with a question posed by composer Matt Marks on Facebook - pointing out that individual instruments and other genres, like opera and early music have such conferences, but "is there something for us?" Daniel Felsenfeld suggested that there should be - and with Fefferman and Mary Kouyoumdjian, began to organize the event. Submissions poured in from people who wanted to take part, either in performance, or giving presentations, or just as attendees. "If you look at the topics that we're going to cover, a lot of it is 'What do we do?'" Fefferman says. "Just the basics of... 'OK, you want to write music? What do you have to do to get that done? Hopefully everyone's going to help everyone else answer those questions."
Each evening of the gathering, there will be a concert - with many short performances, headlined by flutist Claire Chase on Thursday, pianist Sarah Cahill on Friday, and the Living Earth Show on Saturday (including special guests Kronos Quartet and pipa virtuoso Wu Man.) Fefferman says each night will be like a variety show: "We have choirs, we have soloists, duos, electronics, bagpipe rock bands... There's no style or theme. Quite purposely we didn't have a theme or a sound or a style in mind. We just... We're throwing together wildly different acts, and hoping that everyone will enjoy the crazy contrast that they hear."
Since the selections go by fairly quickly, and might not be easily recognized, we'll hide the titles, but give you the ranked number of each selection. Click and scroll over the blank space below to reveal the titles.
(100) Williams: Theme from Star Wars
(94) Handel: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
(88) Mozart: Symphony #25
(87) Mascagni: Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana
(85) Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5
(95) Brahms Symphony No. 1 (95)
(80) Schubert: Symphony No. 9 “Great”
(82) Mozart: Don Giovanni Overture
(98) Khachaturian: Spartacus Adagio
(83) Dvorak: “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka
(91) Delibes: “Flower Duet” from Lakme
(92) Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
(78) Alexander Borodin: In the Steppes of Central Asia
(77) Brahms: Symphony No. 4
(84) Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1
(99) Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
(81) Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4
(89) Puccini: Nessun Dorma
Thursday, January 8
The early music group called Ensemble Vermillian plays a program of music by German composers of the 17th Century in San Francisco and El Cerrito this weekend, joined by guest artists, soprano Margaret Carpenter and her fiance, organist Nicolas Haigh. There will be works by Buxtehude, Biber and more, including 2 cantatas, and solo works.
The players in the ensemble vary according to the repertoire they're performing, but at the heart of the group are sisters Frances Blaker (recorders) Barbara Blaker Krumdieck (baroque cello), and David Wilson (baroque violin.) The addition of a singer is fairly rare, but Margaret Carpenter was living in Charlotte, near where Krumdieck lives, and played together there in small ensembles. (Carpenter met her Haigh, originally from England, when they were in school together). "We were having a little brainstorming session this summer," Krumdieck says, "and decided we wanted to do a recording project of 17th Century German music. And we had fairly recently fallen in love with Margaret and Nick, and wanted to include them in our project."
They'll also be playing music by Heinrich Biber, both as an ensemble (although without vocals) and, David Wilson says, he'll take advantage of a tuning trick that Biber - himself a violin virtuoso - was known for. "A technique called 'scordatura', where you tune the strings of the instrument differently than normal. Other people have done this, but no one quite as dramatically as Biber." It's customary in their concerts for the players to have a solo turn - "I thought," he continues, "why don't I do the Biber Rosary Sonata that's in the same tuning as the ensemble piece that we're doing. That turns out to be Sonata 10, "The Crucifiction", from the Rosary Sonatas... Just changing one note changes the whole sound of the instrument. Depending on how you tune the violin, it makes double-stops that are impossible in normal tuning suddenly possible."
The concerts are Friday night at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in San Francisco, and on Saturday, the Hillside Community Church in El Cerrito.
Wednesday, January 7
There are many Unfinished Works in the world of Classical music, for many reasons... whether they were put off to be completed later, abandoned as unworthy, or in some cases, left behind after the composer's death. Depending on how decipherable sketches were, some of them have been completed, and others stand as they were written, even trailing off into a single final note, as in J.S. Bach's Art of Fugue.
Perhaps the most obvious example is the Symphony that has the nickname "Unfinished" - Franz Schubert's work that, despite the name, has two complete movements - which are played that way in concert performances. It's only because it's the 'front end' of the expected form (and because sketches exist for the remaining two movements) that it goes by that name. Even though he died very young, Schubert lived for several more years after leaving that work behind - so it wasn't something he was working on as death approached. Likewise, the manuscript of the final movement of Bach's Art of Fugue trails off as though it was his final act, but he was dictating revisions to the complicated set of fugues after his sight failed him.
Puccini's final opera, Turandot, was only completed through half of the third act - ironically just as the slave girl Liu's dead body is taken off stage by the chorus - and although at the premiere an ending existed, (written by Franco Alfano, based on Puccini's sketches) conductor Arturo Toscanini put down his baton, and told the audience at La Scala "Here the Maestro laid down his pen..." But what happens when there isn't that kind of a line of demarcation? Mozart's Requiem remained unfinished at the time of his death (Amadeus on stage and screen notwithstanding) and the job of completing it fell to his student, Franz Xaver Sussmäyr. But Mozart had only completed about a third of it, with sketches for choral parts, and other clues for various movements as a starting point. There have been several other notable efforts to complete it, including by musicologist Robert Levin, who's been a scholar of Mozart's work and musical voice for decades.
Sometimes the composer doesn't want to release work into the world, and would rather have it destroyed - such was the case of Jan Sibelius, who after several years of working on a planned Eighth Symphony, promising it to conductor Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra fed the manuscript to the fire. It was only comparatively recently that musicologists discovered tantalizing sketches in the Finnish National Library's collection of Sibelius's papers that date from the time he was working on the piece. Fragments were recorded by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, although they haven't been released yet on disc.
Tuesday, January 6
It's going to be re-opening this Spring as the newest of A.C.T.'s stages, but the original building housing The Strand already has quite a story. Carey Perloff, Artistic Director of the American Conservatory Theater says the location, on what used to be San Francisco's 'Great White Way', will help make it a hub for a variety of artists and art forms.
The theater is located right next to the costume shop of A.C.T., on Market Street opposite UN Plaza, and Perloff says it's changed a lot in the past hundred years. "This was originally a vaudeville house, and a movie house, and a porn theater, and then it was sealed by the SFPD. When we first entered it, the shell of it was still the bones of a wonderful theater... This was the Great White Way of San Francisco. There were vaudeville houses and movie houses all up and down the block. It was thrilling, and then it all went away. And this will be, I hope, a catalyst to bring a lot of that back." The 285-seat main stage will be complemented by another, smaller 'black box' theater upstairs, which will provide an even more intimate venue for a variety of area performances. "I'm hoping that this will be a hub," Perloff says, "...and an amazing gahering space for many different branches of the community to come together in terms of conversation and live performance. And to actually help activate a neighborhood that could really use the arts as a catalyst."
The lobby for The Strand will have a two-story window looking on to Market Street, a cafe that will be open through the day, and a giant LED screen (18 by 28 feet) that will display program information, as well as video art, which Perloff says will also be a 'community billboard'... fitting since the headquarters of Twitter are just a few blocks away. Here's how the artist rendering imagines the finished space looking:
As the curtain rises on 2015, here's a little collection of some memorable and auspicious beginnings from the world of classical music... Works that right from the starting gate hint at the masterpieces that are to follow.
If you want to see whether you're able to identify what those works are, click and drag over the blank spaces below to reveal the titles.