San Francisco and the Bay Area have some of the world’s best-known performing arts organizations and cultural offerings. As a listener-supported station, we think it’s important to let listeners know about activities, concerts, soloists and ensembles coming through the area, and with that we offer you this daily feature. The State of the Arts on Classical KDFC airs weekdays, just before 8 am, 1 pm, and 6 pm. The features are produced by Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr, a veteran of National Public Radio’s Arts Desk and Performance Today. Tune in, subscribe to the podcast, or visit this page to hear the latest edition of Classical KDFC’s The State of the Arts! For the complete archive by month, click here.
The Napa Valley Youth Symphony has a chance to play some of an unusual concerto by composer and violinist Mark O'Connor... who will join them at a gala fundraising concert Saturday night at the Lincoln Theater. Music Director Ming Luke says all three ensembles that make up the Symphony will be playing O'Connor's music, including reworkings of traditional American tunes.
Ming Luke says Mark O'Connor, who began his musical career as a virtuoso fiddler, has developed an entire curriculum of exercises and lessons for learning to play the violin - and that's just one reason his participation in the concert is so special: "The Youth Symphony has long tried to reach out to musicians and artists that have had an interest in music education," he says. "And Mark O'Connor has dedicated himself, significant amounts of time to developing an entire string method based on fiddling and wonderful string techniques... and has been performing with youth orchestras and professional orchestra all around the world."
One of the highlights of the concert will be sections from O'Connor's The Improvised Violin Concerto, which is just what it says. "We have our music that the students are playing," says Ming Luke, "but we have absolutely no clue what Mr. O'Connor's going to be playing. It's completely improvised, and it will be different every single time."
Here he is playing one of the movements of the concerto with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra:
Thursday, May 23
Marc-André Hamelin is playing two works with the San Francisco Symphony this week - Ravel's Piano Concerto in D Major for the Left Hand, and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The pairing (along with Ravel's La Valse which finishes the program) is apt, given that the young American composer and the older French one were fans of each other's music. Hamelin says this concerto doesn't get played as frequently as his G Major (which uses both hands) but represents one of the pinnacles of the repertoire.
There's more about the concerts, which include a performance at the Green Music Center tonight, and at Davies Symphony Hall Friday and Saturday at the San Francisco Symphony website.
Marc-Andre Hamelin says although it's heard less often, there's a lot more to the Ravel Left Hand Concerto than just the constraint of the compositional challenge. Pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his arm in the first World War, commissioned pieces from many of the well-known composers of his day. This is the best known of the works that resulted - a brooding, powerful single movement work that lasts just under 20 minutes, and gives the soloist a workout. "The Ravel is short enough," Hamelin says, "that another concerto, or another piece for piano and orchestra is welcome on the program, and slots in very well. But I've played it as many times where it was the sole work that I was playing on that program." In these concerts, conducted by David Robertson, he'll have an intermission separating the Ravel and the Gershwin - which he'll attack with both hands.
Hamelin has played a lot of the special repertoire that was written for left hand - including works by Leopold Godowsky, who arranged some works by Chopin for just that one hand... And Hamelin has added to that repertoire, with this piece, one of a set of Etudes he wrote:
Wednesday, May 22
The newest work by composer Lera Auerbach is called Memoria de la Luz, and gets its world premiere in a series of concerts by the New Century Chamber Orchestra this week. The string symphony that NCCO commissioned is on a program with Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, and fittingly, since this is their season ender, Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony.
There's more information about the concerts, which take place in Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Francisco (at the Conservatory of Music), and San Rafael at the New Century Chamber Orchestra website.
Lera Auerbach says when she was writing it, she wasn't thinking of Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's playing, or the sound of the ensemble - beyond knowing that they would be able to deliver in performance what she asked for. "I knew it was an excellent orchestra," she says, "so my approach was writing for the ideal sound in mind, rather than a specific group. This is the privilege of working with first-rate musicians, because you know there is no limit to what they can do... so you can really explore your own imagination and try to trace this unreachable perfection that you might dream of."
She says although the title (and her description of the movements to the players) are evocative of mood, and transitioning from darkness into light, she sees it as up to the listener to be free to "make personal connections, to connect to one's own memories. To search... a memory of primordial light." She sees that light as existing in every person - "Some kind of essence or source... where we turn for inspiration, some call it intuition, but it's this very quiet voice or light of truth that lives within us and that guides us... if we allow it to guide us!"