Tuesday, March 24

Milos KaradaglicAs we celebrate 'With a Little Bit of Pluck' during our Carnival of the Instruments, a look at how one of the top guitarists working today got his start - largely by chance. Miloš Karadaglić didn't come from a particularly musical family, and as a child in Montenegro didn't have musical aspirations - until he heard what Segovia could do.

Miloš, as he is known, has released several CDs now, both playing solo recital repertoire, as well as accompanied by orchestra. But he didn't feel the pull of a musical career early on... and benefitted from an instrument that happened to be at his house. "I didn't fancy to play the violin, or piano, or anything like that. I remembered we had a guitar, I had a good voice. I wanted to sing and play the guitar, strum a couple of chords, and that was it. And that's why I was attracted to the guitar. And I think that's how everybody's attracted to the guitar in the beginning." He says he almost gave up the instrument in the early days of his studies, "...until the time when I heard the guitar played by Segovia, and I wanted to be able to create the music on the guitar which sounded like that."

You can find out more about the KDFC Instrument Drive here.

Monday, March 23

Gil ShahamExtending the birthday celebrations a little bit, violinist Gil Shaham will be presenting a recital of solo works by J.S. Bach, the Sonatas and Partitas, at the Green Music Center this Friday night. The performance will be accompanied by original films by David Michalek. It's repertoire that Shaham shied away from performing live earlier in his career, but he's been playing them over the past dozen years, and recently released them on CD.

There's more information about the performance at the Green Music Center's website.

The solo works for violin are a rite of passage for violin students - like the solo keyboard works, they're challenging, and show what is possible to acheive on the instrument. "This is music that I think violinists like myself, we all know from childhood," Shaham says. "My teacher had it as part of our regular curriculum. All the students played and studied the sonatas and partitas of Bach." But playing them in a lesson and rehearsal setting was a far cry from taking them on stage. "After I finished school, I have to confess, I avoided performing these pieces, and I’m not sure why, looking back. I think I was intimidated. People feel so strongly about this music, and I feel so strongly about this music. I guess I didn’t feel confident to present it for an audience. It was 12 years ago when I decided to make a concerted effort (no pun intended) to start playing them in concert. I figured if not now, when, and somehow if I don’t start playing them, they’re never going to feel more comfortable, they’re never going to improve."

But as he incorporated them into his concerts, they only grew more important to him: "I discovered what so many other musicians had learned before me. Which is that this is the greatest joy for a musician. There is no greater joy than playing Bach. Nothing is more fulfilling, nothing is more engrossing, nothing is more inspiring, and even today when I go to my practice room, if I’m going to practice some Bach,  I’ll set aside a maybe half an hour, and then an hour and a half later, I’ll be looking at the clock, and where has the time gone?  A friend who’s a violinist said: 'Whenever I play bach, I feel like I’m a better person that day. I feel like I’m a better violinist that day.' And that’s true, that’s true, I think Bach’s music has this effect on everybody around it – the listeners and the players."

Friday, March 20

Johann Sebastian BachEvery hour during the day on Saturday, we'll be playing music of Johann Sebastian Bach — to help get the birthday celebration started, here's a little quiz. Can you identify these ten of his works? 

To see the answers below, click and drag over the white space...
  1. "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (from Cantata BWV 147)
  2. "Aria" from the Goldberg Variations
  3. "Air on the G String" (Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, mvt. 2)
  4. Toccata in D minor (arranged for Brass Quintet)
  5. "Badinerie" (Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, mvt. 7)
  6. "Erbarme dich, mein Gott" (from St. Matthew Passion)
  7. Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major
  8. Minuet in G Major from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach
  9. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, mvt. 1
  10. "Siciliano" (Flute Sonata No. 2 in E flat, mvt. 2)

Thursday, March 19

Death with InterruptionsThe Left Coast Chamber Ensemble will be joined by three soloists and the choir Volti tonight and Saturday for Death with Interruptions, a new chamber opera by Kurt Rohde, with a libretto by Thomas Laqueur. It's based on a surreal novella by Nobel Prize winning Portuguese author José Saramago. Fittingly, the concert will open with a movement from Schubert's Death and the Maiden quartet.

There's more information about the performance at the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble's website.

The project came to be because of the research that UC Berkeley historian (and this work's librettist) Thomas Laqueur has been doing for the past several years, on the topic of death, and what societies think about it. He received grant money that included funding for a new opera, and knew members of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble - as an amateur cellist himself, Laqueur has studied with Leighton Fong, the featured soloist in the opera. Kurt Rohde had never written an opera before, but wasn't intimidated by the prospect. "I know what I don’t like in opera, and I know very specifically what I do like in opera… Also it’s such a great story. The words are just fantastic, so it was just very easy, it was very natural to just dive in, and it worked."

The adaptation covers the final third or so of the novella, when Death (who had decided to stop killing the people in an Iberian country) begins to kill again, but doing so in a new way: each person to die receives a letter with a week's notice. "One of the notes doesn’t get delivered, and it’s the note to the cellist, and it gets returned to her. And she is now in a conundrum, because once she says someone’s going to die, they have to die... She starts to observe him, and gets intrigued by him, and then what he does, and the music that he’s making, and over the course of her visits to him, she begins to become transformed, and fall in love with him."  The singers (Nikki Einfeld as Death, Dan Cilli as the Cellist, and Joe Dan Harper as the Scythe/Dog/Narrator) interact with the musicians on stage, since, as Rohde says, in this opera music is death's catalyst: "The way that music operates in this incarnation of the story, it is the force by which she is transformed from nothingness into something full, and her fullness is becoming a human woman. And a perfect human woman."

Wednesday, March 18

Bryan HymelAmerican tenor Bryan Hymel's new CD, called 'Héroïque' begins with an aria from Rossini's Guillaume Tell that forever changed the way composers would write, and tenors would sing. It was the first time a high-C was sung with a full "chest voice" - not using falsetto, and it upped the stakes of opera-going for generations. 

There's more about the recording at the Warner Classics website.

Bryan Hymel - although he's from New Orleans, his name is pronounced the French way, 'ee-MEL' - describes the over-the-top nature of the repertoire on the disc this way: "If you think of Hollywood blockbusters of opera… that would be the French grand opera. I mean, they all had a ballet, they were all five acts, they were all really long and it was all about the complete spectacle." And one of the reasons they're not as frequently performed as some of the other types of operas is they're prohibitively expensive to stage, because of lavish sets, but expecially finding the right casts, because there are a lot of important and difficult parts. "Certainly, you have to have a very strong cast," Hymel says. "Not just one or two really strong singers. You need four and five really top-notch singers, and it’s hard in this day and age to get a cast like that together, for them to be able to carve out that much time in their schedule, because you can’t put a Robert le Diable together in the same amount of time that you can a Carmen or a La Boheme."

The final high C in his aria from Guillaume Tell seems to go on forever, but he explains that it really was the result of a mispronunciation. He had completed one take for the recording, and thought he and the chorus would be moving on to the next aria, when the head of Warner Classics had a quibble with the pronunciation of the final word he had to sing.  "I guess because I was so jazzed after thinking I had finished that piece, and was ready to go to the next one, I got an extra-long high C in there.  I was particularly proud of that one. Someone wrote to me saying it clocks in at somewhere between nine and a half and ten seconds... If you’re going to hold it, you have to hold it in 4 measure increments, cause if you go halfway through, it’s just obvious, the music says ‘oh, he couldn’t hold it to the end of the next one.’" 

Tuesday, March 17

Peninsula Symphony 'The World'The program for the Peninsula Symphony's concerts this Friday and Saturday will visit each of the 7 continents, with music by Borodin, Vaughan Williams, Ron Miller, Saint-Saens, Villa Lobos, Copland, and Sibelius. Music Director Mitchell Sardou Klein is returning to a work that was written for the Peninsula Youth Orchestra when they were touring Australia, called Aurora Australis, with a solo part for didgeridoo.

There's more information about the concert at the Peninsula Symphony's website.

The didgeridoo soloist for Aurora Australis will be Zachariah Spellman, who's Principal Tuba for the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. "You have to be able to circular breathe, and you have to be able to produce these unbelievably complicated overtones on a didgeridoo," Klein says, describing Spellman as a mesmerizing performer. The other soloist is pianist Heidi Hau, who will play Camille Saint-Saens' Africa, a "mini piano concerto" written by the Frenchman after he lived for a few years in the northern part of that continent. Asia is represented in the concert by Alexander Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia, and South America by Heitor Villa-Lobos: from his Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2, the movement called 'The Little Train of Caipira.' For Europe and North America, which are always well represented in the concert halls, there are Finlandia by Sibelius, and Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. The farthest flung destination is Antarctica, which Ralph Vaughan Williams depicted in his 7th Symphony, with the subtitle 'Sinfonia Antarctica' - they'll play the Scherzo movement. 

Monday, March 16

Masterworks ChoraleMasterworks Chorale will present 2 concerts this weekend with a program called 'A Gathering of Light'. It will include the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé, along with works by Morten Lauridsen and Ola Gjeilo. Music Director Dr. Bryan Baker says the concert will be dedicated to the founder of the ensemble, Galen Marshall, who died this past December. 

There's more information about the concerts on the Masterworks Chorale website.

Dr. Bryan Baker explains the programming, coming as it does just after the Spring equinox: "The main piece is the Requiem by Duruflé, and in Requiems we have ‘Lux Aeterna’ – the Eternal Light. And so we connected it with pieces that are also about light, like ‘Sure on This Shining Night,’ and ‘Luminous Light of the Soul’. The Duruflé is a lot about chant… Gregorian chant. And these other pieces have similar qualities, chant-like qualities in them."  The programming had already been set long before the death last December of Galen Marshall, who founded the group more than 50 years ago.  "And the last time Masterworks did the Duruflé, was with our founding director, Galen Marshall, and it was almost exactly 20 years ago in this same church. So it’s really a remarkable coincidence. We didn’t know.  So we’re dedicating this concert to his honor. And so it’s really nice to be singing this piece for him. A little bit over a third of the chorus sang under him."

Here's a bit of the Baker and the Masterworks Chorale from a performance they gave last fall:

Friday, March 13

CuckooIn honor of the approach of Spring, a sampling of "Birds in the Orchestra" - composers have long been writing instrumental imitations of birds... the cuckoo is probably the easiest to recognize, and it shows up in a variety of works - and since it was first possible to bring recordings into the concert hall, there have also been times when nothing but the actual sound of specific birds will do. 

A cuckoo may have a fairly pedestrian birdcall, with only two notes, but Frederick Delius, Beethoven, and Handel all used it memorably (not to mention Laurel and Hardy's theme music). Ottorino Respighi called for a recording of nightingale songs to be played from the stage in his Pines of Rome, and Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara used field recordings of birds from the region to reflect the vast northern landscape of his Cantus Arcticus.

There are many other examples of composers taking their cues from the feathered set, famously the bird and the duck (flute and oboe, respectively) from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf; the "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks" from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition; Haydn's Symphony #83 (The Hen); The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Mahler's first symphony also has cuckoo calls, and Respighi wrote an entire work called "The Birds". But among the most fervent champions of trying to replicate the sounds of bird songs was French composer Olivier Messaien, with titles like "Oiseaux exotiques" and "Catalogue oiseaux".

Thursday, March 12

San Jose Symphonic ChoirThe San Jose Symphonic Choir is celebrating two milestones this season - the 30th anniversary of music director Leroy Kromm, and the 90th anniversary of the founding of the group. Their anniversary concert at the California Theatre on the 22nd will be a reprise (of sorts) of the first concert that Kromm led in 1985, pairing the Requiems of Mozart and Salieri.

There's more information about the concert at the San Jose Symphonic Choir website.

The ensemble, which began as the Vallesingers in 1924, before changing its name to the San Jose Municipal Chorus, has grown to about 110 voices - and Leroy Kromm has now been at the helm for a third of their 90 years. He took the podium when, in the middle of the 1984-85 season, the previous conductor decided to step down. "I inherited the season that we were to present, and the next concert was the Missa Solemnis and the C minor mass of Mozart. And I thought… ‘No. There’s no way we can do both of these pieces.’" So he was looking for a solution to his programming problem when it found him - in the stacks of the Berkeley music library.  "While I was perusing scores, I was looking in the S section, I thought… 'Schubert, maybe Schumann wrote something…' And from the top shelf, a score fell out and hit me, fell on the floor, and it was the Salieri Requiem." The concert that they're doing on March 22nd will echo that programming, with a slight variation... "It was decided on that fateful day, when the score hit me on the head, we would do the Salieri Requiem. So we’re in a sense recreating that concert, except instead of the C Minor Mass, we’re doing the two Requiems."

Despite the pair of Requiems (and their remaining concert in the Spring is Benjamin Britten's collossal 'War Requiem') the concert is celebratory. And Kromm says that Salieri wasn't commissioned to write the piece - it wasn't for anyone's death, although it was played at his own funeral years later. Rather, it was Salieri's way of bowing out of being a busy working composer. "He had been an extremely popular and celebrated opera composer, but he was so disillusioned by what was happening in music, it was the act of just saying ‘I’ve had enough.’ He actually wrote it… In a way, it was like the commemoration of the end of his career." Kromm describes the rarely-heard piece as sounding in parts like Haydn, sometimes like Handel, and often... like Mozart. 

Wednesday, March 11

Jennifer KohJennifer Koh brings a recital of solo works for the violin to Hertz Hall through Cal Performances this Sunday afternoon, in a program called Bach and Beyond. It includes two unaccompanied sonatas by Bach, and two works that continue the tradition that he began: Luciano Berio's Sequenza, and a new work (and Cal Performances co-commission) by John Harbison called For Violin Alone.

There's more information about the recital at the Cal Performances website.

Jennifer Koh began the project she calls 'Bach and Beyond' a few years ago - when she got over being intimidated about performing his solo works to an audience. "For a long time I did not perform Bach in public, actually, and I began to question why… I think for me, there was a great weight to the kind of performance tradition that had existed before.  And I think the other part of it was also that it’s such personal music that I felt very vulnerable performing these works in public." She's able in the concerts to use the unaccompanied sonatas and partitas as natural bridges to the newer music that looks back to them. "The reason I created “Bach and Beyond” was in part to explore the weight of Bach both on performers as well as composers. And I wanted to create a historical journey of Bach’s influence on composers throughout history. That of course included the present, so I wanted to include newly commissioned works as well." Some of the composers whose works have been included in the project have been Missy Mazzoli, Phil Kline, Kaija Saariaho, and John Harbison, whose new piece will be on the program Sunday. Koh describes the Harbison piece this way: "His entire work is very much steeped in tradition, and he wrote his piece in the form of Partitas… they’re actually literally dance movements. But what’s interesting is he really contemporizes it, by pulling from American dance forms and American music."

One side benefit of the project, in addition to teasing out connections through music history, is that Koh is helping to create a larger body of solo works, which also helps her prove her case that, like the piano, her instrument has the richness and depth to sustain an unaccompanied recital program. She describes the earlier days of 'Bach and Beyond' in this video:


Tuesday, March 10

Urs Leonhardt SteinerThe Golden Gate Symphony Orchestra (formerly the San Francisco Sinfonietta) offers a concert called Old and New 'New Music' this Saturday evening at the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco. Conductor and group founder Urs Leonhardt Steiner gives a preview, as the ensemble continues to celebrate its 20th anniversary season.

There's more information about the concert at the Golden Gate Symphony Orchestra website.

The ensemble will be playing Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, plus two brand new works by members of the orchestra: principal clarinetist Michael Kimbell's Barcarolle, and Metamorphosis by Stardust, who is the second oboe and English horn player. "I aked both of them, as a celebration to our name change, to write something short for us," Steiner says. "So we're going to celebrate that." He says the group grew out of their previous name. They're made up of both professionals and amateurs, and also have a chorus, (sitting out this performance, but they'll be in action for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which will be their next set of concerts in May and June.

On the decision to program Shostakovich for a community orchestra, Steiner says: "Classical music, you don't have easy pieces. They don't exist. And over the years, my experience hgas been that if you give people more difficult music, they will work on it really hard. If you give them music which they perceive as easy, they don't do so well. And on top of it, it's very difficult music for anybody. And we played it in 1999 for the first time, so we have... a few of us have been part of that."

Monday, March 9

Smuin Ballet's 'Untamed'Smuin Ballet brings a program called 'Untamed' to Walnut Creek this Friday and Saturday (then Mountain View and Carmel the following weeks) - with a new take on Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings by choreographer Garrett Ammon. Plus Amy Seiwart's Objects of Curiosity, and the return of Michael Smuin's retelling of the Frankie and Johnny story, with a Cuban setting. Artistic Director Celia Fushille gives a preview.

You can find out more about the performances at the Smuin Ballet website.

Garrett Ammon, who is the Artistic Director of the Denver-based dance company Wonderbound, has set the Tchaikovsky score that for eighty years has been linked with George Balanchine's piece Serenade. "I love that he was willing to do so, because it certainly deserves to be danced to," says Celia Fushille. "To see this modern treatment of it is just fabulous. It's a contemporary ballet - he picks up the whimsy, the humor, the sensitivity; it's a lovely piece on the company." She had wanted to work with Ammon for several years, and when Smuin was touring in Colorado a year and a half ago, she went to see his company. "They were rehearsing Serenade for Strings, and I got to see a complete runthrough of the work. Afterward I said, 'OK, great, how soon can we do it?' It was just one of those that I saw and thought 'this is a perfect fit for Smuin.'"

Smuin Ballet 'Frankie and Johnny'The program also brings back Amy Seiwert's 2007 production of Objects of Curiosity, with a score by Philip Glass and Gambian composer Foday Musa Suso, as well as company founder Michael Smuin's Frankie and Johnny - which moves the tragic story of doomed love to the streets of Havana, with an all-Latin score. Celia Fushille (who danced the role of Frankie in 1996) gives the brief synopsis, which is the same as the legendary song: "He does her wrong, and so she does him in!" (There is a "for mature audiences" notice in the program). Because many of the works that Smuin performs are more abstract, Fushille says they're really enjoying rehearsals so far - "It's lovely for the dancers to be sinking their teeth into character roles, so they're having a blast doing that too. It's been a while since we had a narrative, and Michael was just such a masterful storyteller!"

Friday, March 6

Simone Dinnerstein's Broadway-LafayettePianist Simone Dinnerstein has paired Ravel and Gershwin with a concerto written for her by Philip Lasser called The Circle and the Child on a new CD called Broadway-Lafayette. She says performing Rhapsody in Blue is as close to playing in a jazz band as most classical musicians get, and one of the few occasions both soloist and orchestra members get to be happy at the same time.

There's more information about the CD on Simone Dinnerstein's website.

There's clearly an exchange of influences between Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Ravel's Concerto in G Major... they share bits of American jazz and lush impressionist harmonies, with phenomenal parts for the soloist throughout. Simone Dinnerstein says putting them together makes sense: "It’s so natural. I’ve performed the two of them in concert together quite a few times, and you really hear the link between the two of them.  Both played their own music, and that’s something that people used to do – is that the composers played their own music, and therefore it was written in a certain kind of style." It starts with the crack of a whip, but Dinnerstein prefers the contemplative second movement to the pyrotechnic outer ones: "It’s very reminiscent of Satie… and to me that’s the best part of the piece, is the slow movement. I think it’s just outstanding. It’s like a long dream."

She included an earlier work by composer Philip Lasser on another CD, and a few years ago commissioned him to write her a piano concerto, which he's called The Circle and the Child. "It took him about two years to compose the piece, and he would show it to me as he was writing it, which was really great and exciting. And so I got to see it come to life, and change and develop... It was very much written for me. I think that all of the different values, and the writing… tonally, and  colors, the touch, the lyricism of it, the counterpoint in it, the way the piano and the orchestra interact… All of these things. It just feels like it was almost like a letter written to me. It’s just an incredibly beautiful, deep piece of music, and I loved it so much that I really wanted to make a recording of it. And that’s what sparked off the idea of this recording."

Thursday, March 5

Thomas AdesTonight through Saturday, the San Francisco Symphony presents a program of works having to do with the creation of the world. It will be guest conducted by composer Thomas Adès, whose In Seven Days is featured, complete with piano soloist Kirill Gerstein and video projection. 

There's more information about the concerts at the San Francisco Symphony website.

Along with his own piece, the concert will comprise Darius Milhaud's La Création du monde (The Creation of the World), Luonnotar by Sibelius for soprano and orchestra (sung by Dawn Upshaw) and Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question. "The Milhaud and the Sibelius were very obvious pieces to put with it," Adès says, "because they were both on the same theme – creation myths, or narratives.  The Ives puts us in this sort of question of 'how did we get here?'  I guess that is what the Unanswered Question is, something like that, how or why, but particularly how in this concert." 

For In Seven Days, the piece progresses through each of the days of creation, depicting each of them musically. Adès was inspired by looking further back than the best known translation of Genesis. "In the King James Version, we begin with the word void… which isn’t quite right because that implies there’s nothing. What the original has is more of a sense that everything is there, it’s just all in the wrong order. It’s not been joined up correctly at all, all the elements are jumbled. And that to me was in a way a more exciting idea of chaos than it being empty, because it’s also a fairly true description of what it can be like if you’re starting to write a piece. Everything is already there, but you have to then put it in a new order."

Wednesday, March 4

Glen DicterowThe New Century Chamber Orchestra plays four concerts this week, led by the violinist who was the longest-serving concertmaster at the New York Philharmonic before his retirement last year: Glen Dicterow. The program includes Mozart, Brahms, Holst, and Grieg. Dicterow says the ensemble has made him feel right at home, and they're "having a grand time."

There's more information about the concerts at the New Century Chamber Orchestra website.

The job of the concertmaster is to be the liason between the string section and the conductor, Dicterow says, in addition to deciding on bowings and playing the violin solos in orchestral pieces. "You’re basically like an ambassador or a diplomat, not only having to learn the parts and the solos, and everything like that, but sort of a go-between, and trying to make peace amongst a huge section. They have a huge string section, you have to get along with everybody and get the work done, get the job done." So what to make of a conductorless ensemble? His wife, violist Karen Dreyfus, used to play in the Orfeus Chamber Orchestra, and he attended some rehearsals, but it's taking some getting used to. "I thought it was extremely refreshing," he says, "not to just have somebody on a podium always telling you what to do. And being for 34 years in the New York Philharmonic, and 8 years in the L.A. Phil, it was totally alien to me to be able to have the whole orchestra, not just somebody in the first seat express their views... I was a little bit apprehensive about this kind of an arrangement, having done the other so many times, but I feel like part of the family."

The repertoire for the concert includes a one-to-a-part Brahms Sextet, a Mozart Divertimento, and Holst's St. Paul's Suite, which Dicterow says he had never heard before: "That’s something that was a surprise to me – that… Gee, where has been my whole life? Of course I’ve been a member of major orchestras, and you don’t generally shave it down to string orchestra." Also new to him, as well as the NCCO, was Grieg's Two Nordic Melodies. "I was captivated, absolutely stunned that such a piece, that I’d never even heard before in my life – I’d never played it in two orchestras… Another surprise was that the New Century Chamber Orchestra had not even done it… I said, ‘Wow! Something that they haven’t done!’ I mean, you look for string pieces, and it’s not a huge vast repertoire available."

Here's a video the New York Philharmonic produced leading up to Dicterow's final season:


Tuesday, March 3

The Knights - The Ground Beneath Our FeetThe Knights - an orchestra that was started by two of the members of the quartet Brooklyn Rider - has had from its beginning a unique (and friendly) dynamic. Their new CD, The Ground Beneath Our Feet, traces the idea of the concerto grosso with music from Bach to Reich and beyond (including a brand new work for violin and a traditional Persian instrument). Colin Jacobsen says they're following their father's example of playing music with friends.

You can find out more at The Knights' website.

They call themselves an 'orchestral collective', and it began as a group of their musician friends. "Our dad played in the Metropolitan Opera for over thirty years, as a violinist," Colin Jacobsen says. "And he would play a show, and then come back with friends and play chamber music all night. And I think we saw there was a joy that had a very social element to it with music...So as soon as we were old enough, we started having house parties of our own, where we would just read chamber music all night. And out of those bonds of friendship, we decided to put together a string orchestra." By 2005 or so, they had been successful enough to include wind players too. They can grow or shrink as required by the music, and include among their friends and collaborators singer/songwriters, and several members of the Silk Road Ensemble. That's where Jacobsen met Siamak Aghaei, who plays the Santur, a traditional hammer-dulcimer like instrument from Ancient Iran. "I don’t think anyone has written a violin and santur concerto before, so that seemed like a corner of the world that needed to happen," Jacobsen jokes. Given the political difficulties of Aghaei travelling to the U.S., they worked together on the piece in Amsterdam (and when it was to be premiered in the States, a couple of senators had to help make his getting a visa possible during a federal government shutdown.)

The recording was made live in concert at Washington DC's Dumbarton Oaks, the mansion and museum that's celebrating its 75th anniversary. The disc includes the work of the same name by Igor Stravinsky (which, coincidentally, the Jacobsens' father played at the same site thirty years earlier) - a work influenced and inspired by Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. There's also a violin and oboe concerto by Bach himself, the title track, which several members of the ensemble composed (with an improvisatory feeling over a traditional bassline that repeats) and it begins with Steve Reich's Duet for two violins and strings. "I don’t know these days how many people sit down, put on an album, and listen to the whole thing through," says Jacobsen, "but I think if people were to do that with this album, they would feel a nice sense of progression between the pieces. And the Reich does sort of serve as setting the tone of the album. I always feel like that piece invites a listener in."


Monday, March 2

Mobius TrioThe Mobius Trio is one of the few ensembles playing music for three classical guitars - and because that's the case, they've taken it upon themselves to commission new works for the combination. They'll play a concert of some of them this Friday evening at the Old First Concerts series, including a world premiere by Aaron Gervais called Adderall (the first of an anticipated suite of six pieces each about a prescription drug).

There's more information about the concert at the Old First Concerts and Mobius Trio websites.

The members of the trio, Robert Nance, Mason Fish, and Matthew Holmes-Linder met while they were students at the San Francisco Conservatory, and they realized just how limited the repertoire was for guitar trio after Fish commissioned a new work for them to play. Holmes-Linder explains: "Then we needed… we were students at the time, and we needed to put together a full program to premiere this piece. 'OK, there are five pieces that we know of written for guitar trio – they’re mostly pretty good, but that’s not even enough for a full program!'" Nance says that's why they've been so busy continuing to keep the new works coming. "Before we came along, I don’t think there was much more than about a dozen pieces for the guitar trio. And so we like to think that we’ve kind of created probably about 80 percent of the repertoire for guitar trio at this point."

Mobius Trio

One of the pieces that they'll be playing Friday is a work written by Brazilian guitarist Sergio Assad. "Mason and I were students of Sergio's," Holmes-Linder says, "and Rob rehearsed with us in our lessons, almost every lesson. So when we finally convinced him years later to write a piece for us, it was called Kindergarten. And it's about the three of us as Kindergarteners, (I'm the space cadet!) - There's a lot of personality and theater and playfulness in it." They say that some composers who are more used to the set roles of a guitar quartet - mimicking the string quartet's division of labor - need to learn that their dynamic is different. Other than the extra bass string on the guitar Mason Fish plays, they're equal partners. "I think it's really spatially on stage important for us to play in a relatively egalitarian way, in terms of the divide between melody and accompaniment. That kind of spatial play makes the music more exciting, I think, on the whole," Holmes-Linder explains.