Category Archives: Concerts

Anderson & Roe Piano Duo

Anderson & Roe

Anderson & Roe were the featured performers at this year’s Music Teachers Association of California (MTAC) Conference in Los Angeles, and they put on an wildly entertaining and varied recital.  The pianists are sparkling virtuosos and, in addition, they’re brilliant arrangers; turning Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, as well as several selections from Mozart operas into two piano wonders.

A personal highlight was the performance of an original two piano work by Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56b.  I was unfamiliar with this gorgeous piece and listening to these great performers, it was easy to imagine Johannes and Clara playing through it together for the first time, a love letter from the composer to the pianist.

Anderson & Roe are true entertainers, and it’s during the pieces when both pianists share one keyboard, such as Piazzolla’s Libertango or the Grand Scherzo from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, K.588, when things get interesting; smoldering looks betray what?..jealousy, passion, lust, you name it!   It’s all an act, but an enjoyable one to watch, not any different than what you’d expect to see at an opera.  The music is the thing, but it’s heightened by the drama unfolding between the performers.

After the recital ended (after several encores!), the performers stuck around and signed CDs and scores (yes, their arrangements are published and available on the Anderson & Roe website (http://www.andersonroe.com/scores/)  By the way, their arrangement of Gluck’s Ballet from Orphee et Eurydice is breathtakingly beautiful, and not outside the abilities of intermediate piano students.  I picked up both of their CDs and want to give special mention to their all-Mozart collection, An Amadeus Affair, which has been in constant rotation since returning home.  It contains four arrangements by Anderson & Roe, including their irreverent take on the Ronda alla turca, renamed Ragtime alla turca, as well as arrangements of Mozart by Busoni and Lizst, and the original Sonata for Two Piano in D major by Amadeus himself.

Barantschik and the Prodigies

I recently took in a wonderful string orchestra concert led by San Francisco Symphony Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik.  The focus was on three of the greatest musical prodigies; Mozart, Mendelssohn and Britten.

Everyone is familiar with how overbearing Leopold toured his children all over Europe in search of gifts and position.  Exploitation for sure, but the kids, especially young Wolfgang, were amazingly talented.  Mozart wrote the Divertimento for Strings, K. 138 in 1772 (exact date unknown), around the time of his 17th birthday.

Barantschik took center stage as soloist in Mendelssohn’s Concerto in D minor for Violin and Strings, written in 1822.  Mendelssohn was 13 years old at the time, already an accomplished composer/virtuoso who liked to hang out with Johann Wolfgang von Geothe; author, one of the great minds of the 18th century, and the boy’s senior by 60 years.

As a prodigy, Benjamin Britten doesn’t stack up to the other two, but he deserves to be included due to his Simple Symphony.  The piece was composed, or more accurately, arranged when Britten was 20 years old, from material based on pieces that Britten wrote between the ages of 9 and 12.

 

The Pianist of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek

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I wrapped my Christmas/New Year’s break by taking in a performance of The Pianist of Willesden Lane at Berkeley Rep.  It’s the story of Lisa Jura, as played by her pianist daughter, Mona Golabek.  Over the course of 90 minutes, Mona portrays her mother as a teenage Jewish girl intently focused on her piano studies as the shadow of Nazism begins to darken Vienna.  As her family’s safety becomes more and more tenuous, her parents manage to acquire a coveted space for the talented Lisa aboard the Kindertransport, which whisked her to Holland, then on to London.  Music plays a huge role in the play, as it did in Lisa Jura’s life – the center of the stage is dominated by a Steinway concert grand, and the Grieg Piano Concerto becomes a major character unto itself.  It’s Lisa’s favorite piece, and it bookends the performance.  Mona Golabek plays beautifully, and successfully weaves in the classical music so important to her mother during the war years.  We hear a beautiful, never-sadder Clair de Lune played by a young Lisa the day before she departs on the Kindertransport; we hear the thundering chords of the Grieg Piano Concerto go head to head against the terrifying explosions of the Blitz as Lisa’s hostel crumbles; we hear Mona Golabek channel the great Myra Hess playing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring during one of her beloved afternoon concerts at the National Gallery.  “The Pianist of Willesden Lane’ is finishing up its extended run, and the remaining performances are sold out, so you may not have the chance to see it at the Berkeley Rep.  My recommendation is to read Mona Golabek’s 2003 book The Children of Willesden Lane; Beyond the Kindertransport; A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival, co-written with Lee Cohen, on which the play is based.

Jon Nakamatsu at Yoshi’s

Jon Nakamatsu performed at Yoshi’s in San Francisco last night as part of KDFC’s classical series. Jon’s an amazing pianist and the relaxed setting of Yoshi’s allowed him the opportunity to introduce each piece and even hold a brief Q&A with the audience. Here’s his setlist:

Schumann/Liszt: Wigmund (Dedication)
Rameau: Gavotte et doubles
Schubert: Impromptu in E-flat Major, Op. 90, No. 2
Liszt: Sonnet 47 of Petrarch
Mendelssohn: Rondo capriccioso, Op. 14
Brahms: Allergo from Piano Sonata in C, Op. 1
Liszt: Dante Sonata
Chopin: Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, Op. posth. 66 (encore)

Kudos to you, Jon, for offering a wonderful program with several rarely heard selections!

Cough, cough! (Giggle) Cough!

During my recent visit to the San Francisco Symphony, the concert featured string serenades by Mozart, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. At the conclusion of the first (very famous) movement of “Eine kleine Nachtmusic,” the audience broke into spontaneous applause. Now, every classical music fan knows that you’re not supposed to do that! As the Romanza began, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d get applause again when the movement ended. Well, as the section came to a close, I got a reminder of what usually happens: a barrage of coughing! Somehow, 10% of the audience had managed to stifle their coughs until the exact moment that the music stopped. As the rest of the program continued, the same scenario unfolded over and over. When the music paused, 250 patrons immediately began their 15 second coughing jag while the rest of the audience shifted in their seats uncomfortably or quietly tittered. While I smiled at the people around me who were giggling at the people coughing, I came to the realization that the symphony had become a completely new interactive experience. But not in a good way! Listening to this awkward, distracting call and response throughout the evening, I had an “Aha!” moment. Why not applaud between the movements? It had happened during the Mozart and we all came out unscathed! Simply put, if we can’t have the short moment of reflective silence that’s supposed to go there, why not instead share our appreciation for the music and the fine job that the orchestra is doing?

Up until about 100 years ago, it was the norm to clap between movements! Here’s a link to a wonderfully detailed examination of when and why concert goers stopped applauding between movements by Alex Ross. If you want to truly understand 20th century music, you should to read his incredible book The Rest Is Noise.

Ahn Trio perform at Yoshi’s San Francisco

After my recital on Sunday, my wife Shirley and I went to Yoshi’s to hear the Ahn Trio. That’s pianist Lucia above, and her twin sister, cellist Maria to the left. Their sister, violinist Angella, had left for the airport right after the concert. The sisters opened the concert with a beautifully atmospheric composition written for them by Pat Metheny named “Yu Ryung” containing a striking riff in the cello that any guitarist would love to play. Several pieces written by Kenji Bunch were featured, all written specifically for the Trio. Of special interest was the piece “Danceband,”a five-part suite that includes sections with unique piano effects. The “Sarabande” movement had a short section where Lucia leaned in and strummed the piano strings with a guitar pick, producing the unmistakable pluck of a harpsichord. During the movement titled “Backstep,” Lucia placed a towel between the frame and the strings to replicate a surprisingly true banjo sound. It was fun and slightly disorienting to hear bluegrass music performed by a Korean piano trio in a Japanese sushi restaurant/jazz club. The most unusual piano technique came during the Ahn Trio’s version of the Door’s “Riders On the Storm.” When the trio wanted a storm effect, Lucia provided the thunder by bouncing a tennis ball on the bass strings of the Steinway. It’s not every day that you get the chance to hear talented musicians playing music that, for the most part, was written expressly for them. Be sure to catch the Ahn Trio live: these ladies enjoy playing together and their energy and enthusiasm is what makes live music so exciting!
Follow this link to hear the future of the piano trio.

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San Jose Piano Teacher

Piano lessons are taught in my San Jose home, conveniently located near Willow Glen, Almaden, Evergreen, Santa Teresa, Campbell and Morgan Hill.

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